Tuesday, August 19, 2003
Carmel on the Case: From Sanctuary To Crack Den
Property owned by the city of Miami was once a church, but today, it serves as a crack house. So why did the city spend 250 thousand dollars to buy the place? And why do some former church members think the building was stolen from them?
(WSVN) -- Despair lives on the streets of Overtown.
The homeless and hopeless live out of grocery carts.
They sleep on the streets or in abandoned buildings like this one.
But not long ago this building housed The Divine Mission Church.
For twenty years - it was a place where there was food and shelter.
Church MemberLeo Casino:" This is a place where I and many people from the community found refuge."
Leo Casino is disturbed by what has become of the place which is now owned by the city of Miami.
The drink cans with the tell-tale holes are for smoking crack.
The filthy mattresses are for prostitutes.
And puddles of dried blood and drops of fresh blood are evidence of violence here.
Leo Casino: "Oh boy, this is really painful."
And all over the floors - reminders of the words of Reverand Clennon King who also was known as Rabbi.
The mission was his vision and was a very different place before his death in two thousand.
Leo Casino: "We had a library, we had a kitchen. We had a music room over there. We had a piano and an organ."
Leo Casino - was once on the board of directors of the church.
He says it wasn't fancy, but it wasn't a crack den.
Frank Rollason: "The Community Redevelopment Agency handled this deal."
Frank Rollason is the new Executive Director of the Community Redevelopment Agency.
It is in charge of efforts to revitalize blighted areas of the city of Miami.
The goal is to one day change the building into a house for artists.
Frank Rollason was not in charge when the agency bought the church about a year ago.
But he takes responsibility for conditions today.
Frank Rollason: "Is that the proper way to take care of this place? Of course not."
The City paid more than 250 thousand dollars for the property, which was appraised at 140 thousand dollars.
The board decided to pay the extra money because it would cost that much in legal fees to simply take the property through eminent domain.
That's a process used by governments to acquire private property.
The City also forgave better than 123 thousand dollars in code enforcement fines on the property.
Leo Casino says the reverend did not want his mission sold.
Leo Casino: "And he had me swear to him that the church would stay in the community's hands."
He says an out-of-state relative of Reverend King - who was not authorized - sold the church to the city.
Leo Casino: "Without any meeting of the members. Without any community involvement."
Dr. David Cohn was King's doctor and made house calls at the mission.
He says he also promised the reverend he would look out for the property.
Dr. David Cohn: "It was like a safe haven in a bad section of town, but it was a safe haven."
Dr. Cohn, who was at one time a corporate officer, says the building was sold without his input.
Carmel: "Did you ever go to a meeting where you were voted off the board by other members on the board?"
Dr. Cohn: "Never."
Carmel: "So this is a mystery to you?"
Dr. Cohn: "This is a mystery."
Carmel: "I couldn't reach anybody to explain the shuffle on the Mission's corporate officers. I also couldn't reach anybody to explain what happened to the money. But federal and state investigators have subpoenaed the records on this deal and others by the CRA. And their questions won't be so easy to avoid."
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