A series of unfortunate events conspired to shutter the doors of Love, a Northeast D.C. nightclub, in 2013. The bad timing of the event allegedly without proper authorization, just ahead of Howard University's homecoming, made it worse, plunging the business into bankruptcy and the property into foreclosure. Then there was a sale.
Dean Smothers – District firefighter, Marine Corps veteran and Love's owner – is now fighting to make sense of all that has happened, and trying to find a way to make it right again.
For three years after Smother purchased the club, it did well, breaking even. Somewhere along the line Smothers fell a few months behind in paying its taxes, beginning ongoing trouble with the D.C. Office of Tax Revenue (OTR).
According to David Umansky, the spokesman for the chief financial officer, "the taxpayer (Smothers) created a tax liability by filing returns without payments," he said in a statement to the AFRO. "The taxpayer was contacted by OTR's Collection Division and by law a "Demand for Payment" was made."
On the weekend of Howard Homecoming festivities, Smothers said he received a visit from Bobby Tucker, Chief of Collection Division for OTR. According to Smothers demanded a certified check of $115,000. But even with attempts to negotiate by promising a large payment in cash the following Monday, after the anticipated Howard coming weekend, OTR shut down the club and changed its locks without a court order.
Umansky said Smothers had a number of opportunities to resolve the liability, but failure to pay led to the seizure of Smothers' assets. He added Smothers' tax liens total $314,959.83, for sales and use tax and personal property tax obligations.
"Since we got shut down, we didn't have the Howard Homecoming weekend," Smothers said. "We didn't have the big three- to five-hundred thousand [dollar] weekend that we thought. We fell behind with the bank as well, and the bank started to foreclose."
Smothers filed for bankruptcy in December in an attempt to stop the foreclosure sale of the property. Desperate for assistance to save the club, Smothers contacted Marc Barnes, the former owner of the club. Barnes introduced Smothers to Kim Johnson, Barnes' previous bankruptcy attorney. Johnson was supposed stop the bank from foreclosing while Smothers sought financing.
Smothers said several orders he never approved were entered. One was the sale of the property to developer Douglas Jemal for $5 million, $2.8 million less than Smothers' purchase price. After the property was sold, several motions were filed against Kim Johnson, contending she wasn't Smothers' lawyer and didn't represent the business before a hearing in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. "But she continued to talk on our behalf, even after we made motions to the judge and said that she doesn't represent us," Smothers said.
The judge told them that they could withdraw the motion to sell the property, but Johnson refused to withdraw it. Smothers said the judge was listening to everybody but him. "Even after I told the judge several times that she doesn't represent me, he continued to let her speak, and didn't address my desire to seek legal counsel."
The hearing ended with a schedule to have another auction. "After we left there we filed three more motions saying this lady doesn't represent us, nothing that she's entered into has been agreed upon by me. We wanted everything stricken and started over because we did not agree to any of this stuff," Smothers said.
Smothers said when he went back to court on May 14, had hoped the judge would place sanctions on the lawyer. "We believe that she wasn't acting on our best behalf, and something just wasn't right in the actions that she took because it seems that she was actually working for the other side," Smothers added. "The only thing that she had in mind was to sell the property. She never entered an appearance in this case even after the judge told her to back in December or January. All of these things were brought up before the judge, and he basically ignored it."
Foreclosure specialist Paul Randall agreed that Johnson should not have continued to represent Smothers because he had never retained her services.
"He [Smothers] is entitled to legal representation and he never retained her services," Randall said.
Randall said a criminal suit is being filed against OTR for vandalism, theft, and trespassing on the property. Because Smothers had filed for bankruptcy, Randall said, his property should not have been tampered with, especially without a court order. Randall said court documents prove Smothers objected to the sale of the property and his rights are being violated.
National Action Network Washington D.C. Chapter President the Rev. Lennox Abrigo said there is a civil rights issue that needs to be exposed to the public.
"His rights to representation were denied, because if he could afford it, the judge should have given him time to find a lawyer, when he told him that Kim Johnson was not representing him," Abrigo said. "That to me is a civil rights violation."
Abrigo also stated that after Smothers had filed for bankruptcy, OTR should have never trespassed on his property. "Bankruptcy gives you ownership of your property, and protects you against actions of creditors or anyone interest on the property. His rights were violated by OTR."
The case has been brought to the attention of the Civil Rights Coalition, including local NAACP leaders in D.C. and Prince George's County; D.C. Rainbow Push; Urban League; and National Action Network (NANDC).
"The group is pursuing to defend his civil rights in two ways," said Abrigo, "exposing the violation of his civil rights to the media and a civil protest. We want every citizen in D.C. to know what's happening to this man."