D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray attended a modest fundraiser last month at a home in Northwest Washington owned by an incarcerated real estate mogul with $36,000 in unpaid property taxes.
Confronted by a neighbor as he entered the event, Gray said he was unaware of the homeowner’s debt — or even who he was.
Vincent L. Abell, the owner of the home in arrears, wasn’t there. He was in jail on charges related to a years-long court battle over preying on homeowners facing foreclosure.
Abell’s business associate, Aaron Hargove, who lives at the residence, was there, as was an H Street corridor businessman who was the evening’s official host.
Gray campaign manager Chuck Thies said the campaign had no role in arranging the meet-and-greet, which garnered less than $1,000, a small addition to the more than $600,000 in campaign contributions that Gray (D) reported in January.
“All we did was put it on the mayor’s schedule and, as with all events where contributions are possibly collected, we assigned finance staff to ensure proper protocol and compliance,” he said in an e-mail.
The brick rowhouse at 1360 Taylor St. NW is one of 229 citywide with Abell’s name on it. According to online property records, Abell purchased the home in 2003 and began falling behind on tax payments in 2008.
An attorney for Abell did not return a phone call or e-mail Friday, and there was no answer at his Northeast real estate business office. As Abell has continued to battle lawsuits in recent years, the property was sold three times under tax sales, but each time he later paid a portion required to regain control of the property. As of Friday, online records showed that more than $36,000 was owed.
Hargrove, of Washington Realty Brokers, has worked for years with Abell. He dismissed the issue: “There are thousands of houses in the District that owe back taxes,” Hargrove said. “People have a right to pay taxes when they pay. If they don’t pay them, the house goes to tax sale — so what?”
The home’s tax bill became an issue, Hargrove said, because neighbors oppose his work on a deal to bring a group home for troubled juveniles to Taylor Street.
The squall over creating a group home at 1345 Taylor St. has been simmering since fall between Ward 4 residents, Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and the city’s Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Services.
At issue is a plan to put a residential facility for as many as five juvenile detainees adjacent to Powell Elementary School.
The juveniles could have records for offenses from theft to sex crimes. They would have to show promise of being able to thrive in a group-home setting, city officials said, and would wear ankle-monitoring devices.
Bowser has been increasingly critical of the plan, holding a meeting with dozens of opponents and asking Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan to weigh in. He did, rebuffing the concerns and saying group homes are a protected class in the city and elected officials cannot discriminate in where they are located.
More than 200 residents have disagreed. They signed an online petition opposing the home. In sometimes lengthy online comments, they say that Taylor Street is plagued by drug crime and that they fear for the safety of their children and property — not to mention the value of their homes.
“We don’t think the city has given any consideration to the proximity to the school,” said Michael Waske. “I have a 3-year-old and more on the way. We would like to live in a safe place, and when parents go to work all day, they shouldn’t be worried that’s not the case.”
Waske, Hargrove’s neighbor, was the one who confronted Gray from an adjacent porch.
“You’re having a fundraiser at somebody’s house who hasn’t paid their taxes?” Waske asked. “Vincent Abell owns this house.”
“Who?” Gray responded. “I don’t know who that is.”
Waske’s wife shot a video of the encounter on her phone.
Businessman Anwar Saleem, who hosted the event and selected the venue, said he found the house through Hargrove, a friend, who he thought owned the home. He said he had never heard of Abell.