Amid questions about nonprofit’s housing plan, Gray wants tighter disclosure rules

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the date of a meeting between community leaders and city officials about a property on Congress Street. It occured in March 2011, not this month.

March 10, 2012

The Gray administration is seeking to tighten disclosure rules after a nonprofit group that received millions of dollars in District money to build housing did not disclose its ties to an architect who worked at the city agency that doled out the money for the project.

Peaceoholics, which works to curb youth violence, had to give up its operation of the housing project after repeatedly running into trouble. The management of the project is under investigation.

Jauhar Abraham, the group’s co-founder, said architect Paul K. Walker conducted an inspection on one of the buildings Peaceoholics bought with the city’s money. But he said he saw no need to reveal to city officials that he and Walker have an indirect relationship through marriage.

Abraham is the former stepson of lawyer Sharon D. Anderson, who performed the legal work on the project for the city. Her current husband and Walker’s wife are siblings. “They’re not blood relatives,” Abraham said. “I didn’t go in and say, ‘Let me pick Paul Walker.’ ”

Peaceoholics, which sought to build the housing for at-risk young men in 2008, no longer owns the three apartment complexes acquired for the project, which were bought with money from the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development. When the project began to falter in 2010, the housing agency transferred the properties in 2011 from Peaceoholics to Richard Hagler, who has faced more than a dozen lawsuits in the District and Maryland alleging such problems as shoddy construction and breach of contract.


Jauhar Abraham, co-founder of Peaceoholics, sits for an interview Jan. 23 at The Washington Post. (Wendy Galietta/THE WASHINGTON POST)

At one of the complexes, some tenants complained of poor maintenance, rodents and other issues. Another complex in Southeast Washington appears to have been renovated but remains shuttered.

Peaceoholics’ deal with the Department of Housing and Community Development that eventually grew into to a $5.5 million investment for the city. Records show that the department paid $30,000 to Anderson for legal services on the Peaceoholics project.

Abraham said he also saw no need to disclose his relationship with Anderson. “It isn’t relevant,” he said. “I’m going to bring people around that I trust. . . . Why would I go deal with someone I don’t know?”

The connections among Abraham, Anderson and Walker add another layer to the troubled project.

There also appears to have been poor oversight of the project by city employees. Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s administration has asked for probes by the Office of the Inspector General and the Office of the Attorney General. DHCD moved to terminate one employee and placed another on leave. The Washington Post has identified those employees as chief program officer Chris Earley and project manager Ray Slade, respectively.

Najuma Thorpe, a spokeswoman for DHCD, said in an e-mail that the connection between Abraham and Walker “ is several levels removed,” so “the need for disclosure was not triggered.”

She said Walker, who declined to comment and referred questions to DHCD, explained that his wife and Anderson’s brother are half-siblings and are not close. “Mr. Walker says that he knows Mr. Abraham but does not have a personal or business relationship with him,” Thorpe said. “Mr. Walker did not know Ms. Anderson was working on this project at the time he conducted a cursory inspection of the project.”

John E. Hall, director of DHCD, found no conflict of interest because Anderson’s job was unrelated to Walker’s on the project and neither allocated money to Peaceoholics, Thorpe said.

However, Thorpe said Hall is concerned about the lack of a more expansive ethics policy and “is working with the District’s ethics counselor to determine which positions must report potential conflicts of interest.”

On behalf of Peaceoholics, DHCD entered a risky agreement by putting up three apartment complexes — one on Meigs Place NE, another on Oklahoma Avenue NE and a third on Congress Street SE — as collateral so that the nonprofit could secure a construction loan from a private lender.

The buildings are in danger of foreclosure.

Anderson said she was unaware of Walker’s involvement. “I didn’t deal with inspections,” she said.

She also said that she thought Abraham had disclosed that she had previously been married to his father: “When we sat at the table [with city officials], people in the room knew we were related.”

In addition, she said the Peaceoholics board knew of her relationship with Abraham and approved her representation.

She said she reviewed all contracts until closing. “After that, I had no idea what happened,” she said. “My passion is service, and I wanted to see them succeed. It broke my heart to know this didn’t happen the way the organization intended.”

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) said it appears that Anderson received $30,000 for her services. But Anderson said her records show that she was paid $20,000. She said she charged $250 an hour for work that included reviewing contracts and developing an independent living program and affirmative action plan. “Probably my time extended beyond $20,000,” she said.

Abraham said Anderson had volunteered her services for two years before she got paid. “She knew this business very well,” Abraham said. “She said she would help me. . . . She’s a good lawyer with a good reputation.”

Sandra Seegars, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 8, said that Hagler, his brother, Slade and Walker attended a meeting with community leaders in March 2011 to discuss plans for the Congress Street property. When Peaceoholics still had ownership a year earlier, the community had protested its opening, worried that it would be a group home.

The building, which has undergone some renovations, remains shuttered.

The Oklahoma Avenue property, a two-unit building that Abraham said Peaceoholics bought from an associate of his cousin, appears to have tenants.

The Meigs Place property is open and filled mostly with formerly homeless families placed through an assistance program. Some of the tenants have complained of poor maintenance and poor construction. Hagler began making repairs after the Post’s inquiries last month.

Abraham said Walker, who has worked for the city since 2003, was the construction inspector on Meigs Place when Peaceoholics first bought the property. But he said they had a disagreement and he asked DHCD to assign a different employee. “Me and him had a big falling-out with how things were being done,” Abraham said.

But Abraham said he still did not reveal their ties. “If you’ve been in this city for four generations . . . I have access to people,” he said. “This is a small city for people who have been here.”

Researcher Jennifer Jenkins and staff writer Debbie Cenziper contributed to this report.

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