Cornell Jones, ex-drug kingpin, swindled D.C. for $330,000, jury finds


A Superior Court jury found Cornell Jones and his nonprofit misused HIV/AIDS funds; the city has alleged the funds were used to open this Queens Chapel Road NE strip club. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

Updated 6/25 to correct that verdict was returned Monday, not Tuesday; updated 6/26 to clarify that while the city has alleged that the HIV/AIDS funds were used to build the strip club, the jury was not charged with making that finding

A former drug kingpin who received more than $300,000 from 2006 to 2008 to build a job-training center to people with HIV/AIDS misused the funds, a D.C. Superior Court jury found Monday. Those funds, the city has alleged, were used to build a luxury strip club.

Cornell Jones and Miracle Hands, the nonprofit group Jones founded after serving nine years in prison on narcotics charges, falsified nine documents or statements to support grants worth $329,654, the jury found after a four-day trial and seven hours of deliberation.

Jones, once the king of the notorious Hanover Place NW drug market, converted much of those city funds for wrongful uses and unjustly enriched himself, jurors found.

The District sued Jones in August 2011, alleging he had used the grants to renovate what became the Stadium Club — a popular strip club Jones co-owns on Queens Chapel Road NE — rather than build the job-training center, which never opened.

Two years earlier, The Washington Post had documented the questionable use of grant funds by Miracle Hands, including a questionable relationship between Jones and the District’s former HIV/AIDS housing chief, Debra Rowe. Subsequent articles in The Washington Times explored the link between Jones, the city grants his nonprofit had received, and the strip club.

The coverage prompted D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) to request that Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan investigate Miracle Hands, leading to the 2011 lawsuit. After the District filed its suit, Jones filed a countersuit alleging defamation, which was dismissed in 2012.

According to a news release issued by Nathan’s office, witnesses testified that Jones moved to open his nightclub only four months after receiving grant funds to put the job center in the same building. District officials were not informed of those plans, and Jones and Miracle Hands submitted invoices for work that was either never done or done without permits.

In a statement, Nathan said the verdict “should serve as a warning to all those who would attempt to misuse District grant funds.” Paul S. Blumenthal, Jones’s attorney, did not immediately return an e-mail seeking comment Wednesday evening.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis | June 24