District Files for Takeover of 2 Homes for Mentally Disabled

By Henri E. Cauvin and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The District filed court papers Monday seeking a takeover of two group homes, saying the operators of the privately run facilities are endangering the health and safety of the mentally disabled residents.

The homes are two of the 11 facilities operated by Individual Development, a nonprofit group whose board includes three politically connected lawyers, David W. Wilmot, Frederick D. Cooke Jr. and A. Scott Bolden.

A federal court monitor and legal advocates for the mentally disabled have been raising concerns for years about the quality of care at IDI's homes, Sandy Bernstein of the advocacy group University Legal Services said Monday night.

After an investigator from ULS found that one resident had inexplicably lost 26 pounds in a month, the court monitor asked the District to act on a long list of concerns about IDI's homes on 53rd Street SE and Edson Place NE, Bernstein said.

"I think this was action that needed to be taken," said Bernstein, who represents the plaintiffs in a long-running class-action lawsuit against the District over services for the mentally disabled.

In announcing the court action, D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles said that investigators from two D.C. agencies had found chronic and serious problems at the group homes, substantiating four complaints of neglect, one of abuse and one involving serious physical injury.

"This court action," Nickles said in a statement, "sends a clear signal to providers that the District will not tolerate recurrent deficient practices that put our most vulnerable citizens at substantial risk to their health, safety and welfare."

The complaint pits Nickles and his hard-nosed style against some of the most influential players in D.C. politics. Wilmot, who is chairman and president of IDI, frequently represents major companies in dealings with the city. Cooke, the nonprofit group's secretary, once held Nickles's job as the city's top attorney and is well known as the personal attorney to D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8).

Bolden, who's the treasurer of IDI, has been tussling with Nickles and the city of late. He won a court victory for Cora Masters Barry's nonprofit group after the city moved to evict it from the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center. And the city backed off a plan to remove 170 special education students from a private Springfield school represented by Bolden.

After the complaint was filed Monday against IDI, Bolden said the accusations are unfounded.

"We categorically deny that we've been responsible for any abuse or any neglect," said Bolden, who said he was speaking as the nonprofit group's attorney.

He said many of the incidents occurred outside the homes while the clients were at adult day-care facilities, but IDI reported those incidents, working with monitors, city officials and consultants.

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