Former drug dealer sues D.C., claims defamation and racial discrimination
By Nikita Stewart,
Former drug kingpin Cornell Jones filed a $2 million defamation and racial discrimination lawsuit against the District on Thursday for cutting funds to his nonprofit group and for saying that taxpayer money had been steered to a strip club.
Jones’s lawsuit in U.S. District Court counters the city’s recent action in Superior Court to recover $329,653 that Jones’s group, Miracle Hands, allegedly diverted from a job-training center for people with HIV/AIDS to what became the Stadium Club.
Jimmy A. Bell, Jones’s attorney, said the city had vilified his client, who founded Miracle Hands after serving nine years in prison for drug distribution.
“I’m going to get biblical on you,” Bell said. “Moses was a murderer . . . and he was rehabilitated and changed his life. . . . My client paid his debt to society and is helping people better their lives.”
Bell added, “My client did not use HIV/AIDS funds to build a strip club.”
The lawsuit points to Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan’s assertion in a news release that the city would seek to recover funds from people who have “unjustly enriched themselves at the expense of the District of Columbia.”
On Thursday, Nathan said Jones’s suit “has absolutely no merit.”
“We are confident that the District’s position will be vindicated,” Nathan said in a statement. “Indeed, admissions in his complaint will help us prove our case.”The District alleges that Miracle Hands turned in false invoices to obtain city funds to renovate a 14,000-square-foot warehouse building at 2127 Queens Chapel Rd. NE, for which Jones had acquired a liquor license in 2006.
The city’s lawsuit says Miracle Hands told city officials in 2007 that it had stopped work on a job-training center at 2127 Queens Chapel Rd. and would open the center instead at 2145 Queens Chapel Rd. by April 2008. It never opened, and the city is seeking nearly $700,000 in penalties and fees, in addition to reimbursement of the $329,653.
Jones’s lawsuit says Miracle Hands received two grants: $232,500 for training services and $279,000 to renovate the building. Miracle Hands performed the job training but received quotes for rehabilitating the building that far exceeded the $279,000, according to Jones’s lawsuit.
The city later reneged on a plan that would have given Miracle Hands more money to complete the rehabilitation, increasing the total to $500,000, the suit says. The funds were awarded instead to a group run by non-African Americans, constituting “discrimination based on race,” the suit says. Jones is African American.
“It’s wild,” Bell said. “How do you tell a person that you agree to pay for renovations but then file a lawsuit and say my client didn’t finish? They will have their opportunity to explain to a D.C. jury.”
Jones’s lawsuit says that the city harmed his reputation and standing in the community and that he has suffered “mental anguish, humiliation and economic loss.”
On his Saturday radio show on WOL (1450-AM), “Keeping Up With the Joneses,” Jones used derogatory language when speaking of D.C. Council members David A. Catania (I-At Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who are white and gay. The remarks were first reported by the Washington Times. This year, Catania encouraged the city officials to look into the funding for Miracle Hands, and Jones asked whether city officials were looking into the funding of Whitman-Walker Health, an HIV/AIDS clinic once run by Graham.
Bell said Jones, whose criminal past was featured on BET’s “American Gangster,” is not “as articulate as a lettered person” and uses the language he knows.
Jones “did not attend Howard or Harvard, Yale or Morehouse,” Bell said. “He is from the school of hard knocks.”