Kareem Abdus-Salaam
Contributed to Johnson campaign

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Kareem Abdus-Salaam, who said he met Jack Johnson through Laurel internist Mirza H.A. Baig, has landed several deals for county property, records show.

In December 2004, county officials sold him101 acres on Swanson Road in Upper Marlboro for $1 million, passing on a $1.75 million bid from Prince George's developer Mark Vogel, according to county records, which show it was the highest submitted.

Abdus-Salaam said he paid "fair value" for the land. "There has been a clear, open policy, so no one can ever say it wasn't open," he said.

County spokesman James Keary said the highest bid was rejected because the bidder said he was a broker and "was merely someone who would acquire the property and flip it for a profit to develop large single-family homes."

But records show that Vogel's bid made it clear he was a developer, not a broker, and in an interview, he said the suggestion that he was planning to flip the property was "absolutely false."

In 2005, Abdus-Salaam won a contract to buy an 18-acre former public housing site known as Baber Village for $800,000. Five months later, the county, without explanation, dropped the price for that Capitol Heights property to $600,000.

Keary said the price was reduced to compensate for requirements that the developer offer affordable housing, lower density and more green space.

Abdus-Salaam's development experience includes working with a New York company to develop housing in Capitol Heights and with an Atlanta-based company on two student housing projects, including one at Bowie State University. In both cases, he acted as an intermediary.

"He was going to be the developer but realized he needed someone with experience developing student housing," said Cecil Phillips, president of Place Properties in Atlanta. "He was the one who interfaced with the administration of the university."

Abdus-Salaam, 48, made contributions to Johnson's campaign totaling $3,040 in 2004 and 2005. He said in an interview that he supported Johnson's opponent, Rushern L. Baker III, in Johnson's first run for county executive, in 2002.

But he became familiar enough with Johnson to seek his help in getting another property, about 10 acres in Laurel.

Abdus-Salaam said he proposed to Johnson on May 15, 2004, that he develop the land on Laurel-Bowie Road, according to a transcript of a Redevelopment Authority board meeting. He submitted the proposal nine days after his company contributed $1,000 to the county executive's campaign. Johnson accepted his plan and later declared the land to be surplus. Abdus-Salaam signed a contract to buy the land last year.

Johnson, through his spokesman, said he never discussed the project with Abdus-Salaam.

Although a county appraisal had set the value at $845,000, an appraisal submitted by Abdus-Salaam eight months later set the value at $567,000, the figure he paid. He said the lower price reflected the newer appraisal and the costs he would incur, including a required donation in the future of $225,000 to set up multimedia rooms at three local public schools and $50,000 to a county housing fund.

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