Last October, Rosa Sockwell was reading one of the local newspapers when she saw an advertisement for a four-bedroom house for rent in Northeast Washington for only $250. "Oh, boy, I thought it was a bargain. I went gunning for it," she recalled yesterday.
At the time five of Sockwell's 19 children were living with her in a two bedroom apartment with no heat on Maryland Avenue. It cost them $175 a month. Stockwell, 49, said she went to the house for rent, located at 1241 Morse St. NE, and paid $250 as a security deposit to Clay Williams Jr., the man who had placed the ad.
Last Sunday, Sockwell paid Williams another $250 for a month's rent and finally moved her family into the house. On Monday, Lula Mae King, the mother of nine children, showed up at to 1241 Morse St. NE. also ready to move in.
On Tuesday, two more women showed up at the house receipts in hand also claiming they had rented the house.
On Wednesday evening, D.C. police arrested Williams who is blind, at his new address at 4604 15th St. NW. and charged him with false pretenses. Det. Earl Gould of the police consumer fraud division said Williams allegedly collected $500 in rent and security deposits for the same house from each of at least nine women.
The Northeast Washington house actually is owned by John Murchison. Murchison said yesterday that Williams had rented the house for $225 a month or about six months, and had not yet paid his January rent. "We don't know much about him," Murchison added.
Williams were arraigned yesterday before D.C. Superior Court Judge Gladys Kessler who released him on personal recognizance. A preliminary hearing was set for Feb. 6.
In a brief interview outside the courtroom, Williams' court-appointed attorney David Parker said several people had wanted the house and made deposits to Williams. Parker said Williams had told King, the woman who signed the arrest warrent, that he would refund her deposit in a few days. Parker declined to answer questions about any of the other women from whom Williams allegedly accepted money. Williams wiping tears from his eyes, said that he thought King had agreed to rent another house.
It was Pearl Adams, the housing specialist for the Community Improvement Corp., an organization funded by the United Planning Organization who helped the women figure out what had happened and took them to the police. Adams said that the women who claim to have been cheated out of their money are all heads of households and many of them have large families and receive public assistance payments.
Det. Gould noted that the alleged incident is "not an uncommon scheme."
"The housing market is short, and any time there's a shortage of a human need, you find it happening," Gould said. "We get one or two a year."
According to court records and an interview. King also saw the advertisement offering the Northeast house for rent last October. She paid $200 to the man who identified himself as "Dr. Clay Williams." He allegedly told her she could move in at the end of October. Later accordingly to an affidavit. Williams told King he "had problems getting the house ready," and moved the date up to November 15. Then, he changed the date again, and told King she had to pay another $50 for the deposit.
At the end of November, according to the affidavit, King borrowed $250 from friends and paid Williams for one month's rent. He told her she could move in Jan. 16.
King, who receives public assistance payments, said that when she arrived Monday to move in and found Stockwell living there," I felt sick. Now I'm out $500."