Dermisha Pickett, 33, allegedly fabricated messages from her landlord stating the landlord did not want Black tenants. Pickett appeared in federal court in Cincinnati yesterday after self-surrendering. Her case was unsealed today.
“False reports to law enforcement, as alleged in this case, undermine legitimate reports of racial discrimination and could discourage victims from coming forward for fear that they will not be believed,” said U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker. “This office will continue to do its due diligence when presented with any potential civil rights violations.”
“Making false reports of racial discrimination is unacceptable and can have tangible effects on other tenants who rely on HUD-assisted housing,” said Special Agent in Charge Shawn Rice with the HUD Office of Inspector General. “In this case, if the landlord had violated the Fair Housing Act, his participation in HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher program may have been revoked, causing the displacement of approximately 50 families who rely on the Housing Choice Voucher program. These families would have been forced to uproot their families to find new homes, incurring non-reimbursable expenses.”
According to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, on Feb. 27, the U.S. Attorney’s Office was forwarded several text messages purportedly from the Cincinnati-area landlord as part of a civil rights report. The U.S. Attorney’s Office referred the matter to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General (HUD OIG) to investigate the claims.
The investigation revealed that the landlord owns over 100 properties, including 56 properties rented through HUD’s housing choice voucher program. Many of his tenants appear to be African American.
On March 14, Pickett met with HUD agents and provided the agents with numerous discriminatory messages purportedly made by Pickett’s landlord. Pickett allegedly claimed to receive a call from the landlord as she arrived at the meeting with HUD OIG and placed the call on speaker phone.
Pickett allegedly told agents that she had attempted to pay her portion of the rent but that her landlord returned it, stating he did not want to rent to Black individuals.
According to court documents, in a later interview with the landlord, the landlord told agents he did not want to continue to rent to Pickett because she was causing extensive damage to the property.
Phone records and forensic analysis indicate that no text messages were exchanged during the time periods Pickett claimed. It is alleged that Pickett used mobile applications to fabricate text messages and phone numbers.
Making a false statement to federal officers is punishable by up to five years in prison. Destroying, altering, or falsifying records in a federal investigation carries a potential penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
Kenneth L. Parker, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio; and Shawn Rice, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, Mid-Atlantic Region; announced the charges. Assistant United States Attorney Ebunoluwa A. Taiwo is representing the United States in this case.
A criminal complaint merely contains allegations, and defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.