Former Park Southern property manager is ordered to pay $240,000
political power broker in Southeast Washington must repay more than $240,000 that she improperly diverted from a housing nonprofit organization.
A former political power broker in Southeast Washington must repay more than $240,000 she improperly diverted from a nonprofit organization that owned and managed a low-income housing complex, a judge has ruled.
Rowena Joyce Scott, a minister who until recently was property manager for Park Southern Apartments and board president of the Park Southern Neighborhood Corp., must return $242,605 to the organization, D.C. Superior Court Judge John M. Mott ordered this month.
The judgment comes after a civil suit by D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D), whose office alleged that Scott violated the District’s Nonprofit Corporations Act. In court documents, the attorney general said Scott lived rent-free at Park Southern and paid herself an excessive salary even as the 360-unit building in Ward 8 lapsed into disrepair and fell behind on utility payments and a government loan.
Racine said in a written statement that the judgment was a victory in a city where affordable housing is scarce.
“Preserving habitable affordable housing is a top priority for my office,” Racine said. “The people charged with carrying out a
not-for-profit mission to support such housing cannot be allowed to misappropriate funds for their own benefit.”
Scott’s attorney, Johnny Barnes, said Scott is weighing her legal options and that he has urged her to appeal. He said that she was not granted a jury trial and that the court made a number of decisions that “disadvantaged” her.
Mott first ruled in May that Scott violated her obligations under D.C. law to act in the best interests of the nonprofit and held a subsequent bench trial to determine how much she owed the group.
“I have encouraged Pastor Scott to appeal for the range of reasons that in my view tilted the scales of justice unfairly towards the government,” Barnes said. He declined to discuss those reasons, stating that they would be revealed in a brief if Scott chooses to appeal.
Mott’s ruling brings closer to its conclusion the long-running saga of Scott’s controversial leadership at Park Southern, a hulking apartment building that sits on the District’s southeastern border with Maryland.
Scott, a former chairwoman of the Ward 8 Democrats, was once sought out by D.C. politicians for her influence with the poor and predominantly African American voters east of the Anacostia River. In 2004, she moved into Park Southern and in 2007 was elected board president, court documents state.
In 2014, after years of aligning herself with then-Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), she shifted her allegiance to Muriel E. Bowser (D), then a Ward 4 council member — a defection that infuriated Gray. Bowser went on to win the Democratic primary and general election.
Around the same time, Park Southern residents, city officials and news reports began to disclose the building’s decrepit state — infestations of cockroaches, defective ventilator fans, broken security doors, and cracked, mold-covered walls and ceilings.
The nonprofit managing the building had also fallen into financial disarray, failing to make payments on a $3 million loan from the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development and racking up unpaid utility bills amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Scott lived at the building without paying rent and collected tens of thousands of dollars annually for management duties she said she performed, according to court documents.
“Scott diverted [the Park Southern Neighborhood Corp.’s] money into her own pockets and away from its non-profit mission,” Mott wrote in May, when he first ruled against Scott. “She also presided over the physical deterioration and financial mismanagement of the Park Southern Apartments, failing in her duty to serve as a caretaker for the corporation’s most valuable asset.”
Racine had already secured rulings in the case that allowed for the election of a new board of directors at Park Southern and the building’s sale in January.
The Rev. Rowena Joyce Scott lived rent-free at Park Southern even as it collapsed into disrepair.