Tuesday, December 23, 2003
Carmel on the Case: City To Be Sued For Neglecting Church
A Christmas present - of sorts - for the City of Miami. It is named in a multi-million dollar lawsuit filed by former board members of the Divine Mission Church in Overtown. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is - On The Case.
(WSVN) -- Leo Casino has taken his crusade to federal court.
He's hoping he can convince a federal judge the city stole his church.
Leo Casino: "And it's a shame how all of us, the citizens of Miami are being ripped off on all this."
This summer, Seven News first showed you how the Divine Mission Church in Overtown went from church to crack den.
The decline started after the death of Reverend Clennon King, the man who created the mission.
For twenty years it was a place for the needy to find food and shelter in Overtown.
Dr. David Cohn: "It was like a safe haven in a bad section of town, but it was a safe haven."
Dr. David Cohn treated Rev. King and, like Leo Casino, was a corporate officer, according to state records.
Both men say the property was sold to the city without their input by one of the reverend's out-of-town relatives.
As corporate officers - both say they had no say in the deal.
Carmel Cafiero: "Did you ever go to a meeting where you were voted-off the board by other members on the board?"
Dr. David Cohn: "Never, Carmel."
Carmel Cafiero: "So this is a mystery to you?"
Dr. David Cohn: "This is a mystery."
Leo Casino thinks it's more than a mystery.
He thinks what happened to his church is a crime.
Leo Casino: "In our suit we're asking for a hundred million dollars. We're asking for the church back, and we're asking-- uh-- demanding that it be put in the same position, condition that it was before the city took it over."
Today the building is sealed.
But, at the time of our first report, we found evidence of prostitution and drug use and violence in what amounts to a shell of an apartment building.
It's a building the city paid more than 250 thousand dollars for, despite the fact it was appraised at 140 thousand.
The deal was done through the Community Redevelopment Agency, which says the goal is to one day develop it into a home for artists.
Casino thinks it belongs to members of the community like Willie Kemmerlin and Takreen Collins who once lived at the mission.
Willie Kemmerlin: "Nobody don't care about the people that's on the street and it's a sad thing you know."
Leo Casino: "And to have this stolen from us is an abomination. There's many nights I haven't been able to sleep just thinking about this."
Carmel Cafiero: "It's not likely the lawsuit will keep anyone from the city up nights - Leo Casino is acting as his own lawyer. But state and federal authorities have subpoenaed records of the transaction - and that could cause some to lose sleep over the Overtown deal."
If you have a story for Carmel, give her a ring at 305-627-CLUE or 954-921-CLUE.
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