Ex-drug kingpin swindled D.C. for $300,000, jury finds; job center funds used for strip club

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

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 decided after a four-day trial and seven hours of deliberation.

Jones, once the king of the notorious Hanover Place NW open-air drug market, used much of those city funds for his personal uses and unjustly enriched himself, jurors found.

The District sued Jones in August 2011, alleging that he 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 documented the suspect use of grant funds by Miracle Hands and 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; that suit 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. D.C. officials were not informed of those plans, and Jones and Miracle Hands submitted invoices for work that was 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 return an e-mail seeking comment.

The final amount for monetary penalties against Jones and his nonprofit is still being determined. Under the District’s False Claims Act, the city could get up to triple the loss it suffered.

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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