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Rat problem, rent hike delay Center’s move

Lease negotiations near completion; move-in to Reeves building expected in June

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Reeves building, D.C. Center, gay news, Washington Blade
Reeves building, D.C. Center, gay news, Washington Blade

Center leadership is eager to complete the move into the Reeves building, despite hiccups in the process. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Michael Sessa, president of the D.C. LGBT Community Center, said the center knew the city’s decision in December to allow it to rent space in a desirable city building at 14th and U Streets, N.W. came with an “as is” provision.

Under the provision, the center is responsible for paying the full cost of any renovation work needed to get the first floor, store front space ready for the center and its mostly volunteer staff to move into the Reeves Center, an eight-story office and retail building.

But Sessa told the Blade last week that the extent of the renovation work needed is far greater than initially expected and would cost as much as $75,000.

“We had an inspection and found that a rat problem has been so bad that the entire place needs to be gutted,” he said.

“We have to have a demolition team come in and rip the floor up and rip down everything in the ceiling and the walls because the rats were living there for how many years – leaving rotted floors, urine and feces – the whole deal,” according to Sessa.

The discovery of the need for more renovation work came shortly after officials with the city’s Department of General Services [DGS] handed the center a proposed lease calling for $1,500 in rent over and above the $4,000 per month rent initially proposed for the 2,468 square foot space.

When Mayor Vincent Gray announced on December 11 that the city had accepted the D.C. Center’s bid to rent the Reeves Center space, center officials noted that the $4,000 per month rent was significantly less than the market value for rent in that area.

Sessa and center executive director David Mariner noted that the below market rent was part of a city program that seeks to bring non-profit community groups to the bustling business and residential area as a means of enhancing the neighborhood and community.

However, Sessa said that the additional $1,500 would create a burden on the center’s budget and finances. It was not part of the city’s request for proposals, or RFP, inviting bids from businesses or organization seeking to rent the space, Sessa said.

Sessa said he has been negotiating with DGS officials for more than two months over details in the lease, including the $1,500, which DGS says covers a share of building maintenance costs such as janitorial services.

During that time, the space has remained untouched because no work can begin until the lease is signed, Sessa said.

“It’s just been a lot of back and forth,” he said. “And now we’re at the last point. I have someone doing a legal review of the lease, and then we’re ready to go.”

Darrell Pressley, a spokesperson for DGS Director Brian J. Hanlon, told the Blade he expected negotiations over the lease to be completed within a week or two.

“The process in terms of the negotiations is still at play,” he said.

Sessa, meanwhile, said the center also discovered that the “as is” clause requires it to remove abandoned restaurant equipment left behind years ago by Ben’s Chili Bowl that once used the space. Among the equipment left behind is an enormous walk-in refrigerator that can’t fit through the doors.

“We have to get someone to come in and disassemble it inside the room and carry it out piece by piece,” he said.

Despite these hassles, Sessa said the center is looking forward to moving into the new space, which is double the size of its current space one block away at 1318 U Street, N.W. The building in which the current storefront space is located is slated to be demolished to make way for a new office building.

Reeves building, D.C. Center, gay news, Washington Blade

The renovation work needed for the space is far greater than initially expected and would cost as much as $75,000. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“Maybe in a couple of weeks we’ll announce a ‘ground breaking,’ he said, to kick-off the renovation work at the Reeves Center.

“Just so we get the community excited, we’re going to release the plans, the drawings to show people what the new space is like,” he said. “We’re going to put them online. You can meet the architect, meet the designer,” he said in discussing the planned ‘ground breaking’ event.

He said that if all goes according to plans, the center will hold a grand opening event in June in which Mayor Gray will be invited to participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

As for the rats, Sessa said they are still living in the long abandoned space at the Reeves building into which the center plans to move. Holes in the floor leading to the building’s garage are believed to be their portal of entry.

“They keep saying the construction will solve it by sealing the holes,” Sessa said. “Well, yes, it will solve it. But unfortunately, we can’t save anything in that space, not a single thing – floor tiles, ceiling tiles, everything’s got to come up.”

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Comings & Goings

Peter Chandler named executive director of Internet Works

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Peter Chandler

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected].

Congratulations to Peter Chandler on being named executive director of Internet Works. Since 2020, Internet Works has worked to ensure the voice of small and medium-sized online platforms is included in policy discussions typically targeted at the largest companies.

Laura Bisesto, chair of the board, said “We’re thrilled that Peter Chandler has joined as Internet Works’ Executive Director. The tech policy space is constantly changing, especially around intermediary liability, and as we work to ensure small and medium-sized tech companies are included in the policy debates lawmakers are having around the country, Peter was a natural fit for us.”

Chandler has 30 years of campaign, political, legislative, and advocacy experience at the state and federal levels. He previously served as Senior Vice President of Federal Policy and Government Relations at TechNet. During his time at the association, Peter was named a “Top Lobbyist” by The Hill newspaper. Prior to that he served as chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine). Chandler has also consulted and trained numerous political and advocacy groups, including the ACLU, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute, and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee in 1998. In 2020, he was elected to the board of the National LGBTQ Task Force.

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District of Columbia

New D.C. walking tour highlights LGBTQ history

Zach Patalingjug launched company in June in time for Pride Month

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Zach Patalingjug leads his Beyond the Closet: The Persecution and Liberation of the LGBTQ Community in Washington, D.C., tour on July 13, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Sean Koperek)

Want to learn more about the city’s LGBTQ history while seeing some of the sights? Beyond the Landmarks’ Beyond the Closet: The Persecution and Liberation of the LGBTQ Community in Washington, D.C., tour could be just the choice.

Zach Patalingjug launched the company in June, and offers walks that highlights some of Washington’s LGBTQ history.

The LGBTQ-specific tour starts with him emailing each person on the route with a meet-up location and some advice for the tour itself. His business last month saw a lot of tourists participate in his tour — in part because of Pride Month, and Patalinjug is hoping to keep the momentum. 

Patalingjug, who is from California, has traveled to more than half of the country’s states and has traveled abroad numerous times to sightsee and absorb cultures. He told the Washington Blade he became inspired to create his company after reading James Kirchick’s “Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington.”

Patalingjug spent a year researching his tour. He utilized the D.C. Central Library, where its fourth floor is dedicated entirely to the city’s history.

“I wanted to create a company that really explores the hidden gems, the lesser known history of Washington, D.C., to get the experiences that are truly authentic, and to tell stories that you don’t hear on most sightseeing tours,” he told the Washington Blade. 

The tours are between two to three hours long, depending on the group’s speed.

They officially start at 9:30 a.m., but Patalingjug recommends participants arrive 10 minutes earlier.

Each group meets in Farragut Square, directly outside of the Farragut West Metro station. The tour begins there and proceeds to Lafayette Square, where Patalingjug discusses the White House, the Hay-Adams Hotel, the former Lambda Rising bookstore, the Human Rights Campaign, the now-closed Chicken Hut near the White House, and myriad other locations. 

The tour ends in Dupont Circle.

Human Rights Campaign headquarters (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Patalingjug’s tour is more than a walk — each one is themed with topics that include “service, persecution, and liberation.

“Countless folks within the LGBTQ community have served and continue to serve the federal government,” he told the Blade.

He noted many of the people the tour highlights worked for the federal government before they lost their careers because they were outed or caught with a same-sex partner during the so-called “Lavender Scare.”

Then-Secretary of State John Kerry shortly before he stepped down in 2017 formally apologized to State Department personnel who were fired under the directive that then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued in 1953. President Joe Biden last year issued a formal proclamation on the policy’s 70th anniversary.

“For so many members of the LGBTQI+ community, hate, discrimination, and isolation throughout our country’s history have denied them the full promise of America,” Biden said. “The ‘Lavender Scare’ epitomized — and institutionalized — this injustice.”

Patalingjug’s tour highlights Frank Kameny, founder of the Mattachine Society of Washington, the city’s first politically active LGBTQ rights group that organized one of the country’s first gay rights protest that took place in front of the White House in 1965.

The protest highlighted the federal government’s discrimination against gays and lesbians. Kameny in 1957 lost his job as an astronomer in the Army Map Service because he was gay.

Frank Kameny Way in Dupont Circle is part of Zach Patalingjug’s Beyond the Closet: The Persecution and Liberation of the LGBTQ Community in Washington, D.C., tour (Washington Blade photo by Sean Koperek)

The tour also highlights Margaret “Midge” Costanza, an advisor to former President Jimmy Carter who invited members of the National Gay Task Force, which is now known as the National LGBTQ Task Force, to the White House in 1977.

“I’m just incredibly excited to be able to tell the authentic stories of people who lived through this period of history,” said Patalingjug.

Log onto Beyond the Landmarks’ website for more information.

Michael K. Lavers and Lou Chibbaro, Jr., contributed to this story.

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District of Columbia

Ruby Corado pleads guilty to wire fraud in plea agreement

Reduced charge says she stole at least $150,000 in COVID-relief funds

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Ruby Corado in El Salvador (Photo via Facebook)

Ruby Corado, the founder and executive director of the now-defunct LGBTQ community services organization Casa Ruby, pleaded guilty Wednesday, July 17, to a single charge of wire fraud as part of a plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors with the Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia.

The charge to which she pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for D.C. says she diverted at least $150,000 “in taxpayer-backed emergency COVID relief funds to private off-shore bank accounts for her personal use,” according to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Court records show that U.S. District Court Judge Trevor N. McFadden, who is presiding over the case, has scheduled a sentencing hearing for Jan. 10, 2025.

Corado’s guilty plea came a little over six weeks after prosecutors on May 31 filed a one-count criminal information charge of wire fraud against her that replaced an earlier criminal complaint charging her with bank fraud, money laundering, monetary transactions in criminally derived proceeds, and failure to file a required report of a foreign bank account.

The earlier complaint was filed at the time the FBI arrested Corado on March 5 of this year at a hotel in Laurel, Md., shortly after she returned to the U.S. from El Salvador. The initial complaint, like the new criminal information that replaced it, accused Corado of diverting at least $150,000 of federal pandemic relief funds to her own bank accounts in El Salvador. The charges say the funds were intended for use by Casa Ruby to support indigent LGBTQ clients in need of housing and other support services.

At the request of Corado’s court-appointed attorney and against the wishes of federal prosecutors, who said Corado would be a flight risk, another judge agreed to release Corado into the custody of her niece in Rockville, Md., under a home detention order. The release order came seven days after Corado had been held in jail since the time of her arrest on March 5.

In addition to a prison sentence, the charge of wire fraud also includes a possible penalty of financial forfeiture for which Corado could be required to pay restitution to the government. The plea agreement filed in court includes this statement to Corado’s attorney: “Specifically, your client agrees to the entry of a forfeiture money judgment in an amount ordered by the Court, which is equal to the value of any property which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to the offense in Count One of the Information in which your client is pleading guilty.”

However, legal observers have said that under a plea agreement like the one offered to Corado, prosecutors most likely will ask the judge for a lesser sentence. Corado’s attorney is also expected to point out that this is a nonviolent, first-time offense for Corado, which merits a lesser sentence.

Corado has denied wrongdoing in her operation of Casa Ruby in response to a separate civil complaint filed against her and Casa Ruby by the Office of the D.C. Attorney General. That complaint is still pending in D.C. Superior Court.

In its July 17 statement the U.S. Attorney’s office refers to court documents showing that Corado, “on behalf of Casa Ruby, received more than $1.3 million from the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.” The statement adds, “Instead of using the funds as she promised, Corado stole at least $150,000 by transferring the money to bank accounts in El Salvador, which she hid from the IRS.”

The statement says that in 2022, “when financial irregularities at Casa Ruby became public, Corado sold her home in Prince George’s County and fled to El Salvador.” It says FBI agents arrested her at the hotel in Laurel, Md. on March 5 “after she unexpectedly returned to the United States.”

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