A for­mer

For­mer Park South­ern prop­erty man­ager is or­dered to pay $240,000

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY PETER JAMISON

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.

MICHAEL S. WIL­LIAMSON/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

The Rev. Rowena Joyce Scott lived rent-free at Park South­ern even as it col­lapsed into dis­re­pair.

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