updated 7/29/2009 6:36:07 PM ET 2009-07-29T22:36:07

Members of the country’s oldest black sorority are suing to remove their president, alleging that she spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of the group’s money on herself — some of it to pay for a wax statue in her own likeness.

In the suit filed in Washington, D.C., the Alpha Kappa Alpha members also alleged that international President Barbara McKinzie bought designer clothing, jewelry and lingerie with the sorority credit card. She then redeemed points the purchases earned on the card to buy a big-screen television and gym equipment, the lawsuit said.

“This is extraordinarily shocking if not illegal conduct,” Edward W. Gray Jr., an attorney representing the plaintiffs suing the Chicago-based sorority, said Wednesday.

McKinzie denied what she called the lawsuit’s “malicious allegations,” saying they were “based on mischaracterizations and fabrications ... not befitting our ideals of sisterhood, ethics and service,” according to a statement issued this week by the sorority.

The lawsuit also accused the sorority’s board of directors of signing off on spending funds on McKinzie without the required approval by the group’s membership. For example, the lawsuit says the board approved a monthly “pension stipend” of $4,000 for four years after she leaves office and purchased a $1 million life insurance policy for her. The suit demands McKinzie be fired and return money to the sorority.

In the sorority statement, McKinzie took particular offense to the accusation that she commissioned a life-sized wax figure of herself that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. She said the sorority’s board approved the money to “help defray overall expenses for our 2010 convention.”

She said a total of $45,000 was spent on a wax figure of her and the sorority’s first international president, the late Nellie Quander. McKinzie also said the expenses were “consistent with furthering AKA’s mission” and did not violate any of the group’s bylaws.

The lawsuit says $900,000 was spent on the McKinzie wax statue, but Gray said he has since learned the amount was for the two statues. The statues reportedly are to be displayed in the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, Md., he said.

The lawsuit is a rare sign of discord within in the century-old sorority that boasts a worldwide membership of 250,000 women, including prominent black businesswomen and such luminaries as author Toni Morrison.

Within the 38-page lawsuit filed last month, the sorority, which Gray called “one of the crown jewels of our community,” is portrayed as a troubled organization rife with financial improprieties.

For example, the lawsuit alleges that McKinzie and Betty James, the executive director who is also named as a defendant, oversaw the preparation of the organization’s tax return’s that include many “unreasonable large and inappropriate” deductions.

McKinzie also invested millions of dollars of the sorority’s money in stocks and bonds — investments that have since lost huge amounts of money, according to the lawsuit.

But the president said that under her leadership, the organization has erased “past IRS liabilities and cost overruns” and said auditing practices have improved.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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