Saturday, July 5, 2008
Bill Youngblood, who had helped Jack Johnson by holding campaign fundraisers, received help himself when Johnson stepped in on a development deal, according to records and interviews.
In November 2003, Youngblood was struggling to find money to buy a three-acre parcel on Annapolis Road from the town of Cheverly, where he wanted to build luxury condominiums. In a letter to then-housing director Thomas M. Thompson, Youngblood urged that the county commit in writing to provide an $800,000 grant for the project, as well as help him secure a $5 million bond for a parking structure at the site.
The county came through: Two months later, Johnson wrote to Cushman & Wakefield, the group helping Youngblood find a partner and financing. The county executive promised that the Prince George's Redevelopment Authority would contribute $6.85 million, including the $5 million bond -- more than Youngblood had requested in the letter to Thompson.
"In return for the above, I would like to see your company not only finalize the negotiations . . . but also move quickly to finalize the construction financing shortly thereafter," Johnson wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Post. "As I am sure you know, there are many more opportunities for your company and this County to collaborate . . . "
Cushman & Wakefield succeeded in finding an established developer as a partner for Youngblood: A month after Johnson's letter, Republic Land Development, a Northern Virginia-based company, joined the Cheverly project, said Stacy C. Hornstein, Republic's director of development.
Youngblood had also received help in 2003 when he failed to make a $2,800 monthly interest payment required in his agreement with Cheverly. The county paid it for him, according to records and interviews.
"The directives to pay the interest payment came from the county executive's office," said Bradley Farrar, former deputy director of the Redevelopment Authority. "There's no doubt in my mind about that. Tommie [Thompson] told me that the county executive wants us to make sure this gets handled appropriately.
"I can't recall us ever doing that in another transaction," Farrar said. "Now, would they have done that for any other Joe Blow developer who walks in off the street? Probably not. That really is unusual."
Asked about Farrar's statement, Thompson said, "I don't remember giving him those specific instructions, but that was some time ago."
James Keary, the county spokesman, said that "no such payment was ever made according to public records."
Youngblood's deal with Cheverly fell apart in April 2004, however, and the county helped again. Three months later, the Redevelopment Authority signed a contract to buy the land from Cheverly and, without seeking other bidders, eventually gave Youngblood and Republic the contract to develop it.
"No, it didn't go out to bid at all," Farrar said. "It should have, yeah. . . . Did he get favorable treatment because of his relationship with Jack and Tommie? Probably more likely than not."
Youngblood denied that his ties to Johnson have yielded him special treatment.
"Jack had nothing to do with me getting this land," he said.
Youngblood became friends with Johnson after meeting him when he was running for state's attorney. "I've always maintained a good feeling about him," Youngblood said. "He's done more than an admirable job."
Youngblood, 48, and his wife, Colette, contributed $7,000 to Johnson's campaign between 2002 and 2005, records show. He held a fundraiser for Johnson in October 2005, less than three weeks after his bids won two contracts for land. The event raised $42,000, according to Maryland campaign finance records.
Youngblood has had ongoing money troubles, records show. He defaulted on a loan for property on Prospect Hill Road in Glenn Dale when he fell $60,000 behind, according to an Oct. 9, 2007, letter to his company, Stepping Stones Development, from an attorney for the sellers, obtained by The Washington Post.
In August 2007, a bank began foreclosure proceedings on his Bowie home when he fell more than $45,000 behind, records show. Youngblood said that the house is no longer in foreclosure and that he has paid $7,000 and "worked out a plan" to pay the rest.