Home | BaltimoreBrew.com

A mayor’s house, contractors and a web of self-dealing

Accountabilityby Mark Reutter11:14 amMar 26, 20190

Mayor Pugh’s mover got city-owned condo at bargain price

EXCLUSIVE: Politically connected mover gets condominium unit well below market rate. Pugh fails to abstain from BOE vote.

Above: The city-owned condominium building at 3306 North Hilton Street, facing Lake Ashburton, where Allen Burris purchased a unit at a bargain price. (Fern Shen)

Shortly after moving Mayor Catherine Pugh into her new Ashburton home last summer, Allen P. Burrus was awarded a city-owned condominium at significantly under its appraised value.

Burrus gained title to unit 203 of the Hanlon Park Condominium through an agreement of sale authorized by the mayor and the Board of Estimates on September 26, 2018 – approximately two months after Allen & Son Moving & Storage moved the mayor into her new Ellamont Road house.

The mayor’s office has not responded to a request by The Brew for comment on the house move, including documentation showing that she paid the politically well-connected Burrus for the move. Burrus also has not responded to Brew inquiries.

The condo sale was approved by Pugh and three of four board members despite a sales price of $11,500 – or 28% below the unit’s $16,000 appraised value.

City rules require that board members abstain from voting on matters, especially financial matters, that involve friends, family, associates or other potential conflicts of interest.

The only board member who abstained was Comptroller Joan Pratt, who is in charge of disbursing surplus municipal real estate and also runs her own CPA firm.

VIDEO: The September 26, 2018 Board of Estimates meeting in which the condominium sale was approved. Comptroller Joan Pratt abstained. Mayor Catherine Pugh did not. (CharmTV)

Pratt said she abstained because she did accounting work for Burrus more than a decade ago. “It has been my practice to abstain from votes on anything that I may have been involved in personally or professionally,” she said.

City rules further require the BOE to obtain the best price for any city property undergoing sale.

Estate Gave Condo to City

A review of recent sales at the Hanlon Park Condominium, a sprawling brick building at Hilton Street and Liberty Heights Avenue, show prices of equivalent square-foot units from $40,000 to $52,319.

The unit purchased by Burrus is currently assessed at $41,800 by the Maryland Depart of Assessments and Taxation.

The condo unit had been donated to the city in June 2014 as part of a final estate disbursement. In September 2015, the City Council passed an ordinance approving the condo’s sale to the public.

The sale to Burris was arranged by Walter J. Horton, who runs Pratt’s real estate department.

The Brew disclosed yesterday that Horton received a $500 campaign contribution from Burrus while running for a state delegate seat in the 41st District. Horton lost in the June 2018 Democratic Party primary.

Water Damage Lowers Price

Horton’s department arranged the condo sale to Burrus in record time.

Usually such sales take months to wind their way to the Board of Estimates, especially if they require approval by the city’s property sales review committee.

This sale went from appraisal on August 30, 2018 to approval by the BOE on September 26, 2018.

However, during this time frame an unusual event took place, especially during the mild summer weather of last September:

“Subsequent to the appraisal, the property suffered structural deterioration due to extensive water damage,” the BOE was told by Horton’s office.

As a result, the sale of the unit was lowered from the appraised value of $16,000 to $11,500.

Pugh and the board approved the below-market sale, according to BOE records, not only because it “will promote economic development” by returning a property to the tax rolls, but will be “a specific benefit to the immediate community, as the purchaser intends to create an affordable rental unit upon completion of repairs.”

The condo, located four blocks from the mayor’s new residence, is in a building that is a block from Lake Ashburton.

Most Popular