The (Very) Earthly Pursuits of Rev. Calvin O. Butts III

Meet the reverend of real estate

Corporate largesse has also flowed toward Butts's nonprofit, from the likes of Citibank, Boston Properties, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, and other companies looking to stay relevant uptown. In 2011, ADC took in $3.8 million in private gifts. In 2012, the organization reported donations of more than $200,000 from Deutsche Bank, more than $150,000 from Bank of America, more than $100,00 from TD Bank, more than $60,000 from Wachovia, and more than $50,000 from Bloomberg LLC. Similarly, M&T Mortgage Bank has also been a generous contributor, donating more than $20,000 just in 2012. And on March 22, M&T approved a $1 million loan to Butts on his regal $1.2 million brownstone on St. Nicholas Avenue. Butts had already renovated the home at least once, via two prior loans for substantially less than $1 million.

ADC's tax returns also show that from 2007 to 2011, program revenue—money ADC takes in from services it provides—came close to tripling: from $6.9 million to $19.3 million, including rental income, which doubled.

Meanwhile, an ADC subsidiary called Harlem Village Homes II was also doing well. Harlem Village buys dilapidated or foreclosed properties for a pittance, renovates them, and resells them at a large profit. In 2007, just to take one example, Harlem Village bought eight brownstones from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for a grand total of $10, property records show—and then renovated the buildings and resold them in 2011 and 2012 for an average of $1 million apiece—or $8.5 million in all.

NYPD Chief of Department Phillip Banks was called by Butts after Shenna Wright was arrested for assaulting her husband. The arrest was voided that same night.
NYC.gov
NYPD Chief of Department Phillip Banks was called by Butts after Shenna Wright was arrested for assaulting her husband. The arrest was voided that same night.
Former ADC CEO Sheena Wright left for a similar role at the United Way of New York City, a post some say Butts helped obtain for her.
unitedwaynyc.org
Former ADC CEO Sheena Wright left for a similar role at the United Way of New York City, a post some say Butts helped obtain for her.

It was a similar Harlem Village sale in 2006—to Todd Hunter, the son of former NBA players' union head Billy Hunter, who is under investigation for fraud—that led federal investigators to order Wright to speak with them earlier this month. Those homes are intended for buyers making less than $130,000 per year; that year, Todd Hunter was vice president at investment firm Prim Capital.

"That's not community development, that's real estate development," says one longtime observer of ADC. "At some point you have to wonder if it violates their non-profit status, or at least the spirit of it."

All of which would suggest that business—even the not-for-profit kind—was booming uptown. "Based on my experience, if you had invested $100 million in Harlem development," says Ronald Gold, a real estate appraiser and member of the Greater Harlem Real Estate Board, over the course of a decade "it would be worth around $600 million in the open market."

And yet, if you click on the "Financial Highlights" link on ADC's website, the page is blank. The most recent press release posted to the site is more than a year old.

The Voice reviewed six years' of ADC's tax returns and found that, in 2008, ADC posted a surplus of nearly $11 million, but one year later, a deficit of $4.2 million. The trend continued in 2010, with a $5.3 million deficit, and in 2011—the most recent year available, the same year program money nearly tripled and ADC was flipping all those brownstones—with a $1.1 million deficit.

The tax returns also show that from 2006 to 2011, ADC's total debt more than doubled, to $117 million from $58 million. Total assets did not increase at nearly the same rate, so it wasn't as though ADC was taking on debt strategically, as a way of, say, increasing its real estate portfolio. And its cash reserves were simultaneously draining fast: At the beginning of 2007, the agency had $6.5 million in cash on hand; by the end of 2011, there was just $860,000. A stock fund worth $7 million in 2007 had plummeted to just $1.2 million by the end of 2011. ADC is said to owe its attorney, Charles Simpson, as much as $2 million in legal fees. ("No comment," Simpson replied when asked about the debt.)

Meanwhile, projects like the ballroom and others have stalled. A highly touted plan to build a new facility for the elementary school, announced in 2007, has yet to get off the drawing board, and one ADC employee says "millions" were wasted on an unusable architectural design. "There were meetings where the plans were shown," the employee says, "and none of it ever materialized."

It is a strange predicament: A prominent institution, dialed in to government and private largesse, buttressed by a revenue-generating real estate portfolio, is nevertheless in such financial trouble that on multiple occasions, according to three current and former employees, it actually had to borrow money, or divert money earmarked for other purposes such as Head Start, to meet payroll. Why were there layoffs at ADC in February? Why have a number of board members resigned in discontent?

The answers to these questions are apparently so sensitive that few current or former board members—a roster of distinguished New Yorkers—would return phone calls, let alone talk on the record. Calls and e-mails to Reverend Butts were not returned.

ADC president Ralph Dickerson, who was appointed only a couple of months ago, told staff in one of his first meetings, according to an employee who was present, that "he is not trying to do anything miraculous, he just wants to keep the doors open because they are in a fiscal crisis." In a telephone interview with the Voice, Dickerson said that he did not recall making that statement, but acknowledged financial strains and the recent layoffs, calling them part of an "austerity program." Asked what the state of ADC was when he arrived, Dickerson demurred. "This organization deserves to continue, and I can't afford to look back. I've got to go forward with it."

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60 comments
fafa090
fafa090

NOT A PEEP...

Mr. Rayman,

In its conception and execution, and in the response to it,
your excellent and credible investigative piece on
this Abyss of self-serving exploitation, insider politics and kleptocracy posing as a respectable, even righteous black institution
exposes, once again, how Harlem and most black communities in America are "third world" countries.

All the elements are here:

A history of socioeconomic exclusion and terror
producing a traumatized underclass that
the few who luckily escape it (in body and bounty, not mind)
exploit and step on
in pathetic mimicry and glorification of their oppressor.

And a captured (black) press (a shadow of its historical self).

Take, for instance, the Amsterdam News that,
in the first place, hasn't the commitment and integrity to conduct such an investigation and publish its findings
and, in the second place, hasn't commented a PEEP on your heavy lifting --
a reaction that will no doubt be repeated across
the"black" radio shows, talk shows, so-called leaders and community members
that don't outright shuffle to Butts' defense
like the captured minds here
who not only DO NOT question his support of Pataki/Bloomberg/Coca-Cola/Citibank, etc.
but who (like the dubious 'jamesacewinter') also don't/can't challenge you on the facts
and don't stop to wonder why
Butts and his cronies haven't yet sued you for defamation
if you're so wrong...

Please, keep up the good work.

Many thanks.

phvertex
phvertex

It’s unfortunate that so many people will read the Village Voice article and miss the real story: character assassination. It also seems to this writer that the article was constructed to make Sheen Wright look like she stole something along with Pastor Butts and then had one of the few Black leaders in NYPD Phil Banks fix a criminal act. It’s also unfortunate that many people who read the article will not ask themselves “why all of a sudden did Dr. Butts decide to start committing these alleged criminal acts”, why not 10, 20 years ago, whynow? Now, because real estate is booming and it’s all about the real estate and ultimately the money. Borrowing money on your home, even if only to put in your savings account is good business as is supporting the right candidate for office hoping their winning will be able to coincide with whatever you’re doing. I guess we will all have to wait to see who’s behind Dr. Butts’ character assassination and who Sheena Wright obviously pissed off, while clearly knowing Chief Phil Banks may be PC someday if given an honest opportunity to show his skills. In the meantime the Village Voice with its reduced advertising and smaller market of customers must do what they have to do to survive as a company.I will say this: everyone I know has bought the Village Voice within the last 2 weeks or so.

joysolo
joysolo

So what else is news.  This article is not too transparent.  What is apparent is this article is meant to harm Reverend Butts reputation in some way.  However, ANYONE who has done business particularly mortgage in real estate business with BOA , Citi Bank and Duetsch Banks , all of whom were instrumental in the  /Wall Street melt down of 2008,  has been harmed or at least garner irreparable collateral damage. ADC is no exception.   Wake up people.  An investment in Harlem real estate may be the ONLY way people of color will be able to retain housing  within the village of Harlem!

mobile50
mobile50

the posts of jamesacewinter are tiring.  The responses of the editor are above and beyond what is warranted.  Of course, ministers often have almost  cult like followings of people who are so blinded that they will never be convinced of any wrongdoings.   These same people defended and reelected Charles Rangel - another black "leader".  

renecalvo
renecalvo

I have been a resident and small business owner in Harlem for over a decade and during that time watched ADC pry real estate from the hands of residents while bilking the government for millions. They are hustlers, scam artist and cheats. If that is the so-called "black leadership" of Harlem then we will be well rid of them. Hurrah for The Village Voice. Speak truth to power!

spalmer105
spalmer105

I have been a long time admirer of the Voice and its thoughtful , intelligent reporting. I cannot say how disappointed I am by this thinly veiled attack on African American leadership in New York City.This article is a irresponsible assault on civil society.Shame on you,

spalmer105
spalmer105

I have been a long time admirer of the Voice and its thoughtful , intelligent reporting. I cannot say how disappointed I am by this thinly veiled attack on African American leadership in New York City.This article is a irresponsible assault on civil society.Shame on you,

spalmer105
spalmer105

I have been a long time admirer of the Voice and its thoughtful , intelligent reporting. I cannot say how disappointed I am by this thinly veiled attack on African American leadership in New York City.This article is a irresponsible assault on civil society.Shame on you,

spalmer105
spalmer105

I have been a long time admirer of the Voice and its thoughtful , intelligent reporting. I cannot say how disappointed I am by this thinly veiled attack on African American leadership in New York City.This article is a irresponsible assault on civil society.Shame on you,

jamesacewinter
jamesacewinter

Last year, when the previous Editor in Chief, Tony Ortega, stepped down to write a book about Scientology, and to work on his blog "The Underground Bunker," I thought things would improve at this paper.


Apparently not.

"I plan to reinforce the paper's position as a showcase for progressive — but balanced, disciplined — journalism.." - Will Bourne


There is no discipline, or balance, in this article. Lots of innuendo. Lots of implied actions. Very little proof. Worse, are the unprofessional side tangents about the attractiveness of the article's subjects, and unnecessary forays into their personal lives. I have a hard time believing this would have gotten through the editors at any serious paper.

Glad I get this for free!



jamesacewinter
jamesacewinter

As a long time Village Voice reader, I must say that I am disappointed in the quality of this article. I don't really care about the content.

There is an awful lot of innuendo, but no actual evidence of any of the things that are implied. This is just bad journalism.

Let's start with the captions under the pictures. Under Phillip Banks photograph, you say that he was called by someone, and that an arrest was voided on the same night. The implication is some form of nepotism, yet there is nothing in your article that provides any evidence for this. In fact, the article says there was a domestic violence incident with cross-claims filed by a man and a woman. The woman was let go, and the man (I can only assume as you did not list it) was held. Since I have no idea what transpired (because you don't tell us), and since I have lived long enough to know that men are at a disadvantage in every society except Saudi Arabia when it comes to domestic violence claims, it does not at all seem unique, or suspicious, that she was let go. In fact, I would be surprised if anything else happened. As a reader, I have no reason to believe that interference from a high ranking police officer was necessary for this to happen. Especially, since you don't provide any proof of him interfering.


The second questionable photo is the one with the "attractive 43 year old woman" (why you said this, I do not know - what that had to do with rest of the article, i do not know) Sheena Wright. The caption says she quietly left ADC for the United Way of NYC. After becoming upset with the rest of your article, I typed this woman's name into Google. According to Google, she was on Good Day New York, Fox 5 News, CUNY TV, and ABC News days after starting at United Way. I clicked on these video links and they are all of her talking about starting at United Way, and how she had to jump right into Hurricane Sandy relief work in her first week. I do not know in what world going on Good Day New York to announce your new position is quietly leaving, but somehow that's what's insinuated under her photo.

The third picture, of the vacant lot, is just as strange. You say that the seller sold a property for $2,500 and that now the seller is suing for fraud. I assume the article says the seller was a janitor as a way of telling us he was uneducated and easily taken advantage of. This only makes sense for two seconds until you reread the selling price...$2,500. There are zero people in this world, no matter how uneducated, that think any property in NYC is worth $2,500. There is obviously more to this story, yet there is no information in the body of the article. We are just left, once again, to make assumptions.


This is getting long as it is, so I'll continue this below.

hotinharlem
hotinharlem

i agree with mstillman. there are COUNTLESS stories of ADC negligence all over harlem but they seem to have a powerful pr machine in place despite the fact that they are clearly uninterested in anything other than profit. butts is an opportunist who uses his congregation to advance his development agenda. take some time to research how poorly they maintain their buildings, how many buildings they've developed that are either unfinished or being woefully mismanaged and how many lawsuits have been filed against them by longtime residents...

mstillman
mstillman

Thanks for this article. I live on 123rd st and the block association was arguing with CB10 for ages about ADC and their plans to build a huge out of scale extension to the Ennis Francis Houses that we said they couldn't pay for or manage. But ADC and its political clout ran around the standard ULURP process and started building this huge monstrosity in the middle of our block that is now not being worked on because ADC ran out of funds. 

We are stuck with an unfinished building and ADC keeps hurting Harlem like a bumbling giant.

mstillman
mstillman

Thanks for this article. I live on 123rd st and the block association was arguing with CB10 for ages about ADC and their plans to build a huge out of scale extension to the Ennis Francis Houses that we said they couldn't pay for or manage. But ADC and its political clout ran around the standard ULURP process and started building this huge monstrosity in the middle of our block that is now not being worked on because ADC ran out of funds. 

We are stuck with an unfinished building and ADC keeps hurting Harlem like a bumbling giant.

harlemhealthglobal
harlemhealthglobal

Graham Rayman your Pulitzer prize writing and investigative skills could have been used to show balance in you "Harlem Shake" story featuring Rev. Calvin Butts. You neglected to mention the millions of community members receiving food from the church pantry, scores of folks who moved into affordable apartments and thousands of students receiving a quality education as a direct result of services provided by both the Abyssinian Development Corporation and the Abyssinian Baptist Church. Shame on you for throwing SHADE on a respected member of the Harlem community. Dipping into the private life of Shena Wright served what purpose? That Mr Rayman was a very low blow. I thought they taught you to stick with the facts in journalism. You can do better work. If you really want that Pulitzer write about the DEVELOPMENT of Harlem. Karma is REAL. Peace and Blessings. Ms K Harlem Griot.

 
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