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.
Wikipedia
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.
Wikipedia
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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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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