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Top mayoral aide hires her neighbor for city post

Paid to advise struggling minority businesses in Baltimore, a consultant and his boss are refugees from a failed hotel project in New York

Above: The homes of Sharon Pinder and David Mosley sit side-by-side at a high-end Howard County subdivision.

The mayor’s director of minority development, Sharon R. Pinder, tapped her next-door neighbor David Mosley to become a $60,500 consultant for a newly-opened minority business center that her office oversees.

At the same time that Mosley was hired as a “contract services specialist” for the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Business Center, his business partner, Vernon J. Marrow, was appointed the center’s director.

Marrow is being paid $93,500-a-year to run the center. The funds are coming from a federal grant that Pinder’s office secured with the help of Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D, 7th).

A press release issued last September by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake stated that “Pinder will oversee the grant” and added that “a search is underway for an executive director and staff for the center.”

We emailed a series of questions about the Mosley and Marrow hires to Sharon Pinder and the mayor’s spokesman, Kevin Harris, this morning. So far, no reply. We will publish their comments when we receive them.
Officially launched on March 21, the business center advises minority and women-owned businesses on how to increase their global presence and secure large contracts and financial transactions.

Sharon Pinder was hired to run the mayor's minority business development office in 2012. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Sharon Pinder. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Rawlings-Blake lauded the program at the opening ceremony. “This center fits perfectly into my vision for growing Baltimore through economic empowerment that can stimulate job creation,” she said.

No Reported Experience

Neither Mosley nor Marrow,  based on their on-line biographies (here), has any expertise or experience in administering a governmental program.

Until the men were named at the center’s opening, people involved in Baltimore’s minority business community say they had never heard of them.

The Brew talked to three recognized advocates in the minority and Hispanic community. “I have never heard from or been contacted by this office at all,” said one advocate, who requested anonymity.

Another person with knowledge of the hiring process said that several members of the Mayor’s Advisory Council on Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises were involved in the director’s search, but Pinder told them that “she was going to make the [hiring] decision.”

“The need is too great in Baltimore to have this kind of behavior existing,” said the source. “They made no effort [to open up the application process] at all.”

Mayor Rawlings-Blake announces the opening of the business center last month. To her right on the podium are Congressman Elijah Cummings, City Comptroller Joan Pratt (and partly obscured by Cummings) business center director Vernon Marrow. (Tweeted from Mayor's Office)

Mayor Rawlings-Blake announces opening of the business center on March 21. To her right is Sharon Pinder. Also on the podium: Comptroller Joan Pratt, Congressman Elijah Cummings and director Vernon Marrow. (Mayor’s Office)

Failed Hotel Project

At the same time Pinder was convening meetings to fill the center’s staff, a company that Mosley and Marrow co-founded – ESmith Legacy – faced a lawsuit stemming from a failed luxury hotel in Harlem, New York.

David Mosley's portrait as partner and co-founder with Vernon Marrow of ESmith Legacy.

David Mosley. (ESmith Legacy)

Last October, Washington, D.C., architects McKissack & McKissack filed a lawsuit against ESmith for breach of contract after the planned $81 million Hyatt Place Hotel deal fell through.

The court papers were served at a North Charles Street rowhouse listed as the office of ESmith Legacy. The office is now closed.

The lawsuit is set to go to trial in D.C. District Courts. McKissack’s lawyer, Sarah Izfar, declined to comment.

Neighbors Since 1999

The personal connection between Mosley, the consultant, and Pinder, the mayor’s minority business director, can be seen at a high-end community in Howard County.

The two live side-by-side in sprawling houses on large lots at the Fox Valley Estates in West Friendship.

According to state land records, Pinder and her husband built their nearly 4,000-square-foot house in 1997, while Mosley and his wife completed their 2,800-square-foot residence two years later.

The couples are not strangers. According to the Afro-American, the Mosleys were guests at a “lavish birthday party” for Sharon Pinder hosted by her husband last August.

Other guests at the soiree included business people well connected to City Hall. Among them: Shelonda Stokes, whose greiBO Entertainment Group has the exclusive city contract to run the African American (AFRAM) Festival, and Kevin Johnson, a contractor seeking to build the permanent Greyhound Station in South Baltimore and a real estate developer with holdings near Harbor East.

The Board of Estimates approved the Mosley and marrow contracts last December. Here is the paperwork from the December 18, 2013 board agenda. The appointments were not widely known until the office was unveiled last month.

The Board of Estimates approved the Mosley and Marrow employment contracts last December. Here is the paperwork from the board agenda. The appointments were little known until the office was opened in March.

Became Partners in 2007

The business relationship between Mosley and Marrow goes back to at least 2007.

Mosley, who had operated some franchise restaurants and a pharmacy supply company, according to his biography, teamed up with Marrow and Brian D. Morris, who had been partners in a failed financial services company called Legacy Unlimited.

The company was retooled as ESmith Legacy through a partnership with Emmitt Smith, the retired star running back for the Dallas Cowboys.

Vernon Marrow's official picture as director of the MBDA Business Center in Baltimore.

Vernon Marrow’s official picture as director of the MBDA Business Center in Baltimore.

Morris, a former Baltimore school board chairman with political ties to Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, was listed as president of ESmith Legacy.

Marrow was the chief operating officer, Mosley was a partner and co-founder, and Emmitt Smith was initially chairman of the board.

The group was involved in the building of The Zenith apartment tower near Camden Yards and another residential high-rise near The Block.

ESmith was also involved in trying to attract a grocery store to the East Baltimore Development project near Johns Hopkins Hospital. The grocery store never materialized.

The group’s biggest ambition was to build a luxury Hyatt Place Hotel at 125th Street and Lenox Avenue. Despite $20 million in tax-exempt bonds offered by then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the project failed in 2012.

Pinder’s Post

That same year, in March 2012, Sharon Pinder was named director of the Mayor’s Office of Minority and Women-Owned Business Development, a position that pays $99,000 a year.

Her office is charged with improving the success rate of minority businesses by expanding contracting opportunities and winning more procurement dollars from public and private institutions.

Previously, Pinder had served as Special Secretary for Minority Affairs for Gov. Bob Ehrlich from January 2003 to May 2007.

In December 2006, she formed The Pinder Group, with offices located in her Howard County home. The company is now listed as “forfeited” in state assessment and taxation records.

She also organized the Center for Business Inclusion and Diversity with Shelonda Stokes and others. The center gives out awards to minority and women-owned businesses.

The MBDA business center, located at the Johns Hopkins at Eastern Building on East 33rd Street, is one of 50 such facilities in the U.S. and Puerto Rico funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency.

The center was created through a three-year, $900,000 MBDA grant. The agency’s national director, Alejandra Castillo, attended the center’s opening ceremony in March with Mayor Rawlings-Blake and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings.

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