Save the Seed, an unlicensed drug treatment ministry, has been housing more than a dozen people in an Upper Marlboro residence after its director was ordered last August to cease similar practices in Fort Washington, authorities said.
Prince George's County fire officials, alerted by a neighbor's complaint, have ordered ministry director Robert Freeman to reduce the number of people living at a house in the 12400 block of Midstock Lane to no more than five. Freeman's program moved into the house without the permission of the owners, military personnel who are stationed in Saudi Arabia, a source familiar with the situation said.
Fire Capt. James Tauber said that at least 10 people were in the house when fire inspectors visited last week. Other visitors to the house have found as many as 20 people sleeping in the garage, a source said. Tauber said that Freeman was sent a certified letter giving him 72 hours to comply with the county order and that his request for a variance was denied. Officials said they will check early next week to see if he is out. "Our position is that he occupied the building in violation of the law and knew at the time he was doing it against the law," Tauber said. "It is not our intention to allow him to continue doing it."
Fire code violations are misdemeanors that can lead to prosecution and fines.
Freeman could not be reached for comment yesterday.
As many as 54 people were living in a split-level house on Taylor Avenue in Fort Washington before Freeman, a self-styled "reverend" who has no formal religious training, was ordered by the county to move his program. Freeman said in an interviews published in August that he "detoxed" drug addicts with 10- to 12-hour Bible study sessions and that he occasionally used exorcism to rid them of their "demons."
Former participants in the program also said in interviews that Freeman beat people in his care. Freeman acknowledged that he occasionally struck people who "bucked" him, but said such methods are necessary to maintain control of the people in his charge, many of whom are convicted felons and drug dealers.
Judges in the District and Prince George's County, as well as corrections officials, social workers and lawyers, had referred people to Freeman's program for drug treatment for at least 18 months before reports of alleged abuse and illegal crowding were publicized. Since then, the courts have issued memorandums recommending that no referrals be made to Save the Seed.
State law requires programs that advertise drug treatment to be licensed. Freeman, whose program is not licensed, has said he treats "sin," not drug addiction.
At the funeral of James "Jay" Bias III last month, Freeman distributed copies of a letter to mourners, soliciting support for the program. Bias was shot to death in December. His brother, University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias, died of a cocaine overdose in 1986.
In the letter, dated Dec. 8, Freeman indicated that he would continue to defy county zoning and fire ordinances. The funeral for Bias was held at Full Gospel A.M.E. Zion Church, which has funded the Save the Seed ministry.
"This ministry is under tremendous pressure from local governments," Freeman wrote. "We have been hiding out like rebels because our housing is illegal because of the overcrowding. We are determined that we rather break these laws than to die a useless death in the streets struggling with drug addiction, prostitution and other elicit acts."
Sources familiar with the program said the church has halted financial support for Freeman and Save the Seed. Church officials have consistently declined to be interviewed. Pastor John Cherry could not be reached for comment yesterday.
A source familiar with the current situation said that the owner of the house on Midstock Lane discovered at least 20 men living in the house when she visited during a brief furlough in December. The woman, who is a member of Full Gospel, had given Freeman a key to the house after the church agreed to rent it in November 1989 when she and her husband were sent to Germany.
The woman, who has since returned to Saudi Arabia, learned in December that rent payments, which were supposed to be deposited in an account, had not been made for at least four months, a source familiar with the situation said. When the woman ordered Freeman to vacate the house, the source said, he refused.
The house, which has a pool and is in the middle-class Marlton development, had been "trashed" and "looked like a ghetto inside," the source said. The garage doors had been boarded up and painted pink; a cross had been painted in the street in front of the house, the source said.
County officials said that they have been concerned for some time that Freeman would move to another house after he was ordered to leave Taylor Avenue.
"My suspicion is that when the people left Taylor Avenue, they went to Midstock," a law enforcement officer said. "We assumed that they went somewhere. Now, they've surfaced."