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

Meet the reverend of real estate

In fact, after the evidence emerged, United Way demanded that Dickerson repay $325,000 to do just that. Dickerson stalled for more than a year, and then finally agreed to a settlement in 2007, court records show. But in 2008, he balked at repaying the remaining sum of $84,000, and United Way sued him for defaulting on the agreement.

To defend himself, Dickerson hired a lawyer, Charles Simpson, who also works for Butts at ADC. Despite his written agreement to pay back all the money, Dickerson resisted through 2008 and into 2009. Finally, a judge had to order him to fork over the $84,000, the records show. Dickerson and the lawyer would work together again in 2012, when Dickerson's ex-wife, Gloria, filed a claim that "Abyssinian Development Corp. was the 'private lender' indicated in court papers agreeable to loan Dickerson up to $500,000" and that Butts "committed fraud with her former husband in an attempt to steal her residence, and [Butts] offered to purchase the home without her knowledge." She added that "This happened after I sought personal and spiritual counsel over a period of time from Rev. Butts. He used my personal and confidential information for his personal, unjust interest." Simpson, representing both Butts and Dickerson, rebutted the allegations in a court filing, and told the Voice the claim that ADC loaned money to Dickerson is simply not true. The case is still open.

Securing Wright's new job at United Way NYC wasn't Butts's last favor for his protégée. On the evening of Jan. 5 the reverend made calls to a top police official on her behalf after she was arrested for assaulting her husband, Gregg Walker.

The Abyssinian Baptist Church, spiritual home of Rev. Calvin O. Butts III. Butts is the founder of Abyssinian Development Corporation (ADC), the church’s nonprofit development arm.
The Abyssinian Baptist Church, spiritual home of Rev. Calvin O. Butts III. Butts is the founder of Abyssinian Development Corporation (ADC), the church’s nonprofit development arm.
Reverend Butts, leader of the church, also runs the ADC.
Reverend Butts, leader of the church, also runs the ADC.

It was actually Walker, a senior vice president with Sony, who had first called Harlem's 30th Precinct that night, to report his wife for the alleged assault. Wright filed a cross-complaint against Walker and, while she was detained, her mother made calls to a range of influential New Yorkers, including Butts, who called then-New York Police Department Chief of Community Affairs Phillip Banks. Banks, who was recently promoted to chief of department, the No. 3 official in the whole NYPD, is the brother of David Banks, the founder of the Eagle Academy Foundation, the creator of Mayor Bloomberg's Young Men's Initiative, and a close friend of Wright's.

After those calls, the charge against Wright was dropped the same night. The charge against Walker, however, was allowed to stand. Walker has pleaded not guilty and the case is still pending. Neither Walker nor his attorney would comment for this article, but people close to Walker believe pressure was brought to get the charge against Wright dropped.

Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, a police spokesman, denied that Banks intervened in the arrest. "He was, however, contacted by the Reverend Calvin Butts and other clergy asking—not that the woman's arrest be voided—but that her arrest processing be expedited," Browne said. "Chief Banks was subsequently informed that the woman's arrest had been voided."

But the next morning, Jan. 6, Wright was arrested again. She had allegedly drilled through the lock on Walker's 68-year-old mother's door and attacked her, according to a criminal complaint filed by the Manhattan District Attorney's office. Walker's mother alleges that Wright slapped her in the face, scratched her arm, and pushed her. Misdemeanor counts of harassment and attempted assault against Wright are still pending. She has pleaded not guilty.

A police source questioned why 30th Precinct cops took Wright's word in the dispute with Walker: "Normally, the one who makes the initial report has greater credibility." As for Banks's role, the source says that even if he had merely inquired about the arrest and done nothing else, the precinct would have taken that as a signal. "Everyone reads between the lines," the source says. "It's a form of influence-peddling."

Back in 1973, a Bronx man named Buster Green bought the small parcel of vacant land from the city at 119 West 138th Street. He paid about $750. The property lay nearly untouched as the decades passed—a narrow slice of real estate just down and across the street from Abyssinian Church, on a block named for Odell Clark, an early Abyssinian deacon. Then, says Green, in a lawsuit filed last year, ADC officials swindled him out of that land, which by that point was worth close to $1 million.

Now 80 and a janitor at the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque on 116th Street and volunteer handyman elsewhere, Green alleges that in December, 2007, ADC filed a deed with the New York City Department of Finance that claimed ownership of his property. In a second filing that December, ADC reported that it had secured a $17 million loan from Wachovia Bank. It was only then, Green says, that ADC contacted him to ask him to turn over his interest in the property.

And so it was that on Jan. 25, 2008, at a mosque named in honor of Malcolm X's contributions to African-American civil rights, Green sat across a table from two ADC representatives. They wanted his land as part of a plan to build an apartment building there. The land isn't worth all that much, they told him. Maybe $2,500. Green didn't have a lawyer in attendance. He mulled it over for a moment, and then signed away the parcel on the spot. The document that Green signed—known as a quitclaim deed—had been prepared that July, six months earlier, court records show.

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