college-square-apartments_web.jpgDAVIE – The owner of an apartment complex that the U.S. Department of Justice sued for discriminating against black people has reached a settlement agreement in which it must pay people who were harmed by the discriminatory practices, and must advertise in black-owned newspapers.

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit in August 2008 against C.F. Enterprises LLC and Don Murroni, alleging that the defendants violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against African Americans in the rental units at College Square Apartments in Davie.

Delray Beach attorney Brett Allen Elam, who represented Forman and Murroni, did not return calls to the South Florida Times.

The complaint, filed by the Justice Department in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami, alleged that Murroni, acting under the direction of Craig Forman, president of C.F.  Enterprises, falsely told African Americans that no apartments were available and discouraged them from applying.

The plaintiff (the United States) also alleged that Murroni told white people that a selling point of the apartment complex was that it did not have any black residents, and that he offered to waive the application fee or other costs for whites but did not make similar offers to African Americans.

The complaint also states that the defendants made disparaging remarks about African Americans to prospective renters, associating black people with “crime’’ and “gangs,’’ and stating that it was good that no black people were renters there.

According the consent decree between the plaintiff and the defendants, ordered by U. S. District Judge James I. Cohen on Aug. 26, the defendants must pay the U.S. a civil penalty of $74,000; and $115,000 in monetary damages to people whom the U.S. has identified as “aggrieved persons.”

Also, according to the consent decree, within 120 days of the decree’s entry, the defendants must deposit $25,000 in an interest-bearing escrow account for the purpose of compensating any people whom the court determines may have been harmed by the discriminatory rental practices.

The agreement identifies six people, with each receiving settlements ranging from $5,000 to $40,000.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Veronica Harrell-James, one of four named counsels for the plaintiff, said that despite the settlement, she is currently unable to comment on the case.

“Eradicating such discriminatory practices from the South Florida area is of the utmost importance,’’ acting U.S. Attorney Jeffery H. Sloman for the Southern District of Florida said in a Department of Justice news release. “They are a scourge on our community, and will not be tolerated.”

Alicia Valle, Special Counsel to the U.S. Attorney, Public Affairs Office, said in an email to the South Florida Times that the settlement payments are due immediately. She offered no comment as to how the settlement amounts were reached.

As part of the settlement, the court ordered the defendants to place several advertisements in black-owned newspapers including The Broward Times (which has changed its name to the South Florida Times) and The Westside Gazette,  seeking potential victims. One of the ads appears on page 4A of this week’s edition of the South Florida Times.

The settlement also requires the defendants to place ads in mainstream local newspapers.

Valle said the trial was scheduled during the two-week period beginning Dec. 14, but the case was settled during the discovery process.

The Justice Department in 2007 conducted a series of tests that included a series of housing transactions. The transactions compared responses from housing providers to different types of home seekers to determine if discrimination was occurring. The Justice Department was seeking to evaluate the defendants’ compliance with the Fair Housing Act.

The complex, comprising 64 one- and two- bedroom units, is at 6600 and 6650 SW 39th Street in Davie.

In addition to monetary penalties, the defendants must attend training on the federal Fair Housing Act, are prevented from continuing their discriminatory policies, and must implement a nondiscrimination policy.

They also must hire a manager who is familiar with the Fair Housing Act. That person alone is to be responsible for overseeing the rental process.

Anyone believing that he or she has been discriminated against because of race in connection with the College Square Apartments is encouraged to call the United States Department of Justice at 800-896-7743, ext. 992 or 305-961-9327.

Mail concerning this matter must be forwarded to United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Housing and Civil Enforcement Section, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW – G Street, Washington, DC 20530. Attn: DJ# 175-18-378.

Below is one of the damaging statements from U.S. Department of Justice testers who posed as renters at the College Square Apartments. It was released during the discovery process.

“The speaker identifies himself as “Don,” “the leasing agent,” or “the rental agent” for College Square Apartments.  His statements made clear to an ordinary listener that white residents were preferred and that the lack of black residents at College Square was an asset.

Mr. Murroni told all three testers that the lack of black residents was “good,” and he equated blacks with “crime,” “troublemakers,” and “gangs.”

When listing the attributes of the apartment to tester Ian Larson, Mr. Murroni noted that it would be freshly painted and was close to the parking lot. He continued, “It’s real quiet here. I don’t have any crime. I don’t have any troublemakers. I don’t have any blacks. You know, I, that’s really good.”

Similarly, he told tester Joni Gergel, “But what’s good about here, I don’t have any blacks. I don’t have any crime.”

He told the third tester, Emiliana Solano, “We have a quiet place. I don’t have any trouble makers in here. No, you know, I don’t have any gangs or blacks or drugs, nothing, its quiet here, most of the students are going to college. . . . So, that’s, you know – good to know.”

In none of the three conversations did any of the three testers inquire about the nature of the residents in the apartment complex or the surrounding community at any point.”