A D.C. Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that the District-based anti-violence youth group Peaceoholics misused city grant money to buy two high-end SUVs and then ordered the organization and its co-founder to pay about $639,000.
Last year, the District’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against the organization and its co-founders, Ronald L. Moten and Jauhar Abraham. The suit claimed that Peaceoholics obtained grants worth nearly $180,000 in 2009 and 2010 from the city-funded Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp. after submitting a grant application that included a 2006 federal nonprofit tax return. That tax document, the lawsuit said, contained false income information for Abraham and Moten.
Judge Brian Holeman found that Abraham “unlawfully” diverted funds to buy the two SUVs, as well as a certificate of deposit for Peaceoholics, and entered a default judgment against the organization and Abraham for $638,989.
Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan said the judgment will serve as a warning to other organizations or individuals who misuse D.C. grants for personal use.
“This judgment shows that persons who receive District grants and use these funds other than for the intended purposes or for their personal benefit, will be held fully accountable,” Nathan said in a statement. “We will do all we can to execute the judgment, which will remain in the public record should Peaceoholics or its operatives seek any additional government grants in the future.”
District officials said that neither Abraham nor Peaceoholics nor any attorneys associated with them attended the hearings, an unusual move that resulted in the default entry against them.
But Abraham called the judge’s ruling and the accusations against him “ridiculous.” He said he did not attend the hearings because he was never told of them.
Abraham also denied the accusations that he spent money on personal items. “I have never spent any money from grants on anything other than for what the money was given,” he said.
The District’s case against Moten, who was also the organization’s former chief operating officer, is still ongoing . A hearing is scheduled for Thursday.
Johnny Barnes, Moten’s attorney, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that his client was not involved in the Peaceoholics’ finances and that he is looking forward to going to trial before a jury.
Barnes said that the District originally charged Moten with three counts associated with misuse of the funds, but that prosecutors recently dropped one charge of unjust enhancement.
Barnes said that although Moten at times held the title of chief operating officer, he spent more time “in the streets” working with youths and left the finances “to others” in the organization.
Before Adrian M. Fenty (D) became mayor in 2007, Peaceoholics was a new group that mediated disputes between rival or warring city youths and gangs and relied on sporadic government grants and donations. The organization, which was founded in 2004, flourished during the Fenty administration, becoming one of the District’s most visible anti-gang organizations and securing city grants to quell teen violence.
Barnes said that Moten resigned from Peaceoholics in 2009. The organization, which was based in Southeast, disbanded in 2012. That same year, Moten ran unsuccessfully for Ward 7 D.C. Council seat as a Republican.