Part 2 of a two-part series. Click here to read Part 1.
The imposing three-story structure stands as a freakish eyesore amid the historic homes on Humboldt Avenue in Roxbury, its entire front covered in graffiti, its windows boarded up or shattered, its wooden frame rotting.
“It looks like a ghost house,” a young boy said one recent afternoon as he walked by after school.
The building was supposed to be so much more after it was acquired in 1999 by Veterans Benefits Clearinghouse Development, a once-venerable nonprofit launched decades ago to provide affordable housing, especially for former soldiers. The plan was to renovate the Humboldt Avenue property and turn it into low-income apartments.
But the work never got underway, and five years ago, the head of the nonprofit, Harold Raymond, sold the house and the land — assessed at about $200,000 — for a mere $100. The buyer was Tyler Pam, a member of a family business linked to numerous real estate scams in Roxbury and Dorchester, who has since let the 10,000-square-foot building crumble further.
This is one of more than a dozen valuable properties owned by a pair of charitable nonprofits that were peddled — for reasons unknown — to the Pam family business at a fraction of their assessed value or under highly favorable terms. In the sales that were finalized, the Pams flipped them for vast profits or let them deteriorate into the kind of blight that is the bane of these struggling neighborhoods.
In these deals, which included triple-deckers in Roxbury and a former sanctuary in Lynn, top executives of Veterans Benefits and the other nonprofit, Roxbury Action Program, appear to have ignored Massachusetts laws governing tax-exempt charities, which require them to fetch top dollar for their properties for the sole benefit of their missions. Most of these properties were dedicated to low-income families.
By offering financial breaks to the patriarch of the family, Rolando Pam, or his son, Tyler, the leaders of these nonprofits squandered at least $800,000 in profits and other funds that could have boosted their antipoverty work, according to a Globe analysis.
The leadership might also have violated transparency rules for nonprofits, which require them to detail the terms of sales to prove that, among other things, there are no secret beneficiaries.
The heads of the two charities who dealt with the Pam family — Raymond of Veterans Benefits and Lloyd King of Roxbury Action — did not respond to the Globe’s attempts to interview them about why they entered into contracts that appear, on paper, to represent significant losses to their institutions.
King’s attorney, Aderonke Lipede, in a telephone interview, called Pam a “notorious person in the city” and depicted him, in his very limited dealings with King, as having manipulated an ailing and elderly man. She said King, now in his 80s and in poor health, should be judged based on his lifelong commitment to the community.
“He’s given his life to Roxbury in terms of providing affordable housing,” she said.
In interviews with the Globe, Rolando Pam, 56, said he and two of his sons, Tyler and Kyle, have acted as savvy dealmakers and can’t be blamed for finding good buys, even if they’re from nonprofits.
“It’s not my responsibility to be on the side of Veterans Benefits,” Rolando Pam said in an hour-long phone interview last week. “My responsibility is to be on the side of my family.”
Pam was also critical of Roxbury Action, saying its leaders have long engaged in questionable transactions and recently cheated him of money. He portrayed himself as someone who accepts these setbacks, as well as the numerous lawsuits that he has faced over the years, as part of the tough business world, and then moves on, hunting for real estate bargains, often using old-fashioned currency.
“I’m a cash person,” he said.
His 31-year-old son, Tyler, told the Globe that all of his family’s real estate work has been aboveboard and legal, including his 2011 purchase of the Humboldt Avenue property through his company, Green Ink Development. He said his family’s reputation is being unfairly tarnished.
“Some people take a paint brush and paint what they want about you and create an image of you as a monster, and that’s wrong,” he said.
Still, virtually every transaction involving the Pam family business and these charities has ended badly in some way. Some properties have been caught up in extended litigation. Others fell into disrepair. One building in Roxbury’s Dudley Square burned to the ground in a still-unexplained blaze.
Meanwhile, many residents who live near properties once owned by the nonprofits said the community needs answers. Brenda Reddick, 72, said she dreads the sight of the abandoned graffiti-covered structure on Humboldt Avenue, which looms outside her front door.
“I have no idea who owns it,” the homeowner said while standing near her front porch. “But it’s embarrassing to see.”
A mission to help the needy
Both charitable groups started with missions to help impoverished residents find homes.
Roxbury Action Program — known in the neighborhood by its acronym RAP — was formed in 1968, soon after Boston erupted in riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. It was founded by Lloyd King and another local political activist, George Morrison, to “support the economic self-development of all community residents, especially those distressed and underprivileged,” among other goals, according to state filings.
The group’s focus was housing, particularly helping struggling residents of Roxbury’s Fort Hill section ultimately achieve homeownership.
Veterans Benefits Clearinghouse Development was formed in the 1980s around the need to help integrate veterans into mainstream civilian life following the end of the Vietnam War.
This charitable nonprofit sought to “reduce poverty, community deterioration and to improve living conditions,” primarily in Roxbury and Dorchester, according to its filings. One of its earliest projects was an 18-unit lodging house in Dorchester for disabled and homeless veterans, and its ribbon-cutting in 1991 was attended by then-Mayor Raymond Flynn, who hailed the nonprofit as filling a void in the city.
Both groups, early on, kept a high profile in City Hall and the State House, lobbying officials to remember the housing needs of the underprivileged. They were initially able to make significant strides in this mission, especially Veterans Benefits, which used government grants, loans, and public donations to promote housing. The nonprofit continues to have an ownership stake in about 400 rental units.
But in the past decade, as the founders aged, both groups became less active, and revenue became tighter.
A review of their state filings and other documents shows a decline in new projects and, in a potentially ominous sign, a haphazard pattern of filing required tax and financial statements with the state attorney general’s charities division. In some cases, the forms were never sent, or were filed years late with missing information.
In 2010, the leading founders of Veterans Benefits — Ralph Cooper and Ernest Branch — retired and moved to warmer climates. They were replaced by Raymond, a man in his mid-40s who had been involved with Veterans Benefits through a smaller subsidiary that focused on mortgages.
He brought with him a number of credentials: He had a master’s degree in city planning and architecture studies from MIT, had worked as a planner in the city’s public facilities department, and ran his own design consulting business that worked with many local nonprofits.
An unbelievable profit
Soon after taking over his new $75,000-a-year post, Raymond struck his first major deal with the Pam family involving a sprawling former synagogue building along South Common Street in Lynn.
City officials have no records about what Veterans Benefits had originally planned to do with the building, which it purchased in 2000; all they know is that the group abandoned the structure for a decade, prompting neighbors to repeatedly complain about trash and rodents.
“They bought it and just let it go for a long time,” Kathy Collins of Lynn’s Inspectional Services Department said. “It was odd.”
Then in 2010, the nonprofit entered into a deal that seemingly made no financial sense. Raymond sold the building — then assessed at $764,400 — to Tyler Pam for just $75,000.
Then, almost immediately and before making any improvement to the property, Tyler Pam re-sold it for $600,000 to a 165-member Lynn church, Iglesia Evangelica Luz Y Vida. Congregation officials said they agreed to this price after meeting with Rolando Pam and his sons, Tyler and Kyle.
The pastor of the church, Blass Mercedes, said he only realized later, after reading an article about the property in the local newspaper, just what a profit the Pam family had made on the building.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Mercedes, whose congregation is still struggling to renovate the church. “I felt they cheated us,” he added, referring to both Veterans Benefits and the Pam family.
Tyler Pam, however, said he and his family can’t be blamed for finding a good deal and capitalizing on it. “It was just a blessing,” he said.
And it was a family effort. Even though only Tyler’s name is on the deed, his father, Rolando, told the Globe that it was he who “put the deal together.”
This would be the first of a handful of deals that would transpire between Raymond and the Pams. Rolando Pam would sometimes discuss transactions with the Veterans Benefits leader in Pam’s home on Highland Street, said Claretta Taylor Pam, his third wife, in a deposition in one of the lawsuits against her husband.
She said she overheard conversations between the two men about how they needed to get money from a man named Lawrence Basile to spruce up houses for resale. Basile, a wealthy South End real estate investor, had loaned Pam and his sons large sums of money over a period of several years — about $5 million, Basile said — to renovate and help buy some promising properties in Roxbury and Dorchester, including ones owned by these nonprofits.
She said she was also concerned that her husband still owed Veterans Benefits money on their Highland Street home, formerly owned by this nonprofit, even though deed records indicate that Pam had fully paid the $250,000 purchase price.
“I thought that he had acquired it, but that person, Harold, would come by every so often and it just seemed like he was asking for payment,” she said.
Claretta Pam, who has filed for divorce from Rolando Pam, declined to speak to the Globe about any of her dealings related to him.
Raymond has also had separate dealings with the Pam family in his role as a partner in a for-profit company, Melbourne Street Partners. His two partners in that enterprise — Carl Hyman and Warren Fields — are suing Raymond for allegedly secretly selling some of the company’s valuable properties to Rolando or Tyler Pam at profoundly deflated prices, including a three-family dwelling — assessed at about $424,000 that was sold to Tyler Pam’s company Green Ink for just $1.
Records show Raymond, as leader of Veterans Benefits, has been less than open with the state, as well as with at least one agency that loaned his organization money. When Raymond sold the building on Humboldt Avenue to Tyler Pam in 2011, he failed to notify a public-private agency that had loaned Veterans Benefits $200,000 to draw up affordable housing plans for the site.
“I was extremely surprised they would go about selling it without consulting us,” said Roger Herzog, executive director of the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation.
A court has since ordered Veterans Benefits to repay the agency about $500,000, a figure that includes accumulated interest and other costs.
And records show Raymond might also not be forthcoming in his charity’s required filings with the state’s attorney general’s office.
In a financial statement, reflecting its finances through October 2014 and signed by Raymond, Veterans Benefits writes about plans to sell some properties, even though they had already had been sold to one of the Pams.
Among them was the former headquarters of Veterans Benefits, on Warren Street in Roxbury’s Dudley Square, which collapsed in a fire of undetermined origin in March 2014. The nonprofit states that this property was “damaged by a fire, but it is fully insured and no loss from the fire is expected by management.”
But deeds show that the Warren Street building had already been sold several years earlier to Rolando Pam for $250,000, then a year later resold to Tyler Pam. And it was Tyler Pam who received a $524,000 payment from an insurance company because of the fire.
Tyler Pam declined to comment about the fire, other than to say that he has no idea how it started.
At about the same time Veterans Benefits was making these deals, Rolando Pam also began to discuss real estate with Lloyd King, the founder and longtime president of Roxbury Action Program.
During King’s early years at Roxbury Action, he was often overshadowed by his brother, Mel King, a highly respected community organizer who went on to win election as a state representative, compete as Boston’s first black candidate in a final mayoral election, and have a lengthy career in academia.
At Roxbury Action, records show that Lloyd King pulled in a modest annual salary, with the highest listed at about $36,000.
Though initially admired by many residents in Roxbury’s Fort Hill neighborhood, King later clashed with tenants’ groups. In 2002, King filed documents to sell 51 of the nonprofit’s rental units in Fort Hill to a for-profit developer who had plans to convert the units into condos. If allowed, the move could have jeopardized the federal subsidies that enabled those units to remain affordable.
The tenant groups fought back, and the state attorney general’s office later got involved, filing a lawsuit against King and Roxbury Action, accusing King of failing to comply with the state’s nonprofit full-disclosure laws and hiding multiple conflicts of interest — including his personal stake in the partnership that owned the 51 units.
Later, King and other officers of Roxbury Action reached a compromise agreement with the state related to that sale, but that would not be the end of their troubles. By 2010, they turned their attention to other pressing financial problems involving unpaid payroll taxes and other debts.
It was around this time that King began to have a business relationship with Rolando Pam.
Exactly what transpired between them is the subject of a hard-fought lawsuit that has played out over the past few years in Suffolk Superior Court, one that has not ended favorably for Pam but has offered insights into his business dealings with King.
One of the most controversial details to emerge from the case focuses on an alleged $16,000 cash payment that Pam said he made to King in relation to Pam’s purchase of two vacant plots owned by Roxbury Action — money never recorded as part of the official transaction.
Pam said King initially sold him these adjacent plots of land on New Heath Street to Pam in Roxbury for $100 in May 2010, and both men’s names appear on the signature lines on documents filed with the registry of deeds.
The combined assessed value of both plots — which total about 5,300 square feet — was about $38,000. But a real estate broker who lived next to the lot, Nicholas Russo, saw the value as far higher. He bought them from Pam for $100,000 just a couple weeks later.
For Pam, it appeared to be a quick and incredible return on a $100 investment.
Pam testified, however, that he didn’t keep the entire amount.
Records show some money was used to pay off more than $20,000 in tax liens accumulated on those plots. Pam also testified that he made a personal $16,000 payment to King.
In court, when asked by an attorney for Roxbury Action exactly how the money was given, Pam replied, “In my neighborhood, we deal in cash.”
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Fahey later asked Pam to repeat his testimony.
“Did you give Mr. King $16,000 in cash?”
“I gave him cash. Yes, ma’am,” Pam replied.
King later testified that he never authorized that sale, and lawyers for Roxbury Action brought in a handwriting expert who testified that King’s signatures on the deeds were forgeries.
Meanwhile, Russo’s lawyer, Jason Manekas, insisted that the nonprofit had to have approved the sale. How could they not have noticed, he asked, that their sizeable tax liens were paid off, and they no longer received tax bills for the plots? After 2010, those expenses were taken on by Russo, Manekas said.
The judge, however, ruled this spring in favor of Roxbury Action, saying the deeds were forged by Pam and the nonprofit deserves to get the plots back. Russo, however, is appealing and the land remains under his ownership pending that outcome.
Fahey, the judge, also said she believes little that Pam says, including his accusation about delivering $16,000 in cash to King.
“He is not credible,” she declared during one hearing.
The New Heath Street parcels represented a small part of the case before the judge. In the original complaint, Pam accused King of reneging on a written agreement involving a partnership that they had formed in 2010, called Roxbury Realestate Development. The contract called for King, as head of Roxbury Action, to transfer the last holdings of the nonprofit — 11 triple-deckers in the Fort Hill neighborhood — into this partnership for sale in the private market.
According to documents filed in court, Pam would receive a 51 percent stake in the new partnership, while the nonprofit would receive 49 percent.
One document referred to how Pam would secure this majority share: He would pay $1 million to Roxbury Action in installments over a few years. It remains unclear whether any or all of that money was ever paid.
King’s signature on these documents has not been questioned by King or other officers of the nonprofit; they have incurred more than $30,000 in legal fees to defend themselves in this lawsuit.
These structures had become highly valuable over the decades, a trend likely to continue. They are located near Bartlett Yard, a former MBTA bus maintenance facility that is now being prepared for a new mixed-use development.
Stephen T. David, a Dedham lawyer who represented Roxbury Realestate and Pam’s interest in the case, called on the judge to force King to fulfill his promise and allow the units to be sold through the partnership.
Records show Pam had a buyer in waiting: Fred Starikov, managing partner of City Realty in Brighton, who had signed an agreement to pay $3.8 million.
But Michael Manfreda, an attorney for Roxbury Action, urged the judge to void this contract, saying King had no legal authority to enter that deal alone with Pam, and asserted that other nonprofit officers were never told about this. Manfreda defended the nonprofit as a victim, more than once, of Pam’s defrauding ways.
Manfreda also said the contract involving Pam and King should be voided because state law requires such deals involving affordable housing to go through detailed state scrutiny.
Such scrutiny would probably have revealed another conflict of interest: Court documents show that King had a 15 percent ownership stake in the 11 triple-deckers and stood to benefit from any sale.
Meanwhile, King’s lawyer, Lipede, argued in records that King was not well when he dealt with Pam.
She said the partnership with Pam should be “void based on Lloyd King’s incapacity due to age and infirmity at the time said contracts were negotiated and signed.”
The judge ultimately blocked the deal, stressing the fact that the deal lacked the proper state approvals.
In an e-mail to a Globe reporter Sunday, a City Realty official said the company will no longer do business with the Pams and doesn’t condone their business practices in any way.
Meanwhile, tenants who live in these units say they have little trust that Roxbury Action will keep them informed about future sales that may cause them to be evicted.
Many said they did not know, until told by the Globe earlier this year, that their units were on the market.
Trudy Barrows, 51, said the news gave her painful déjà vu, a reminder of past controversies involving King and Roxbury Action, and the reality that tenants like her live with chronic uncertainty.
“They’re getting rid of the low-income housing,” she said, standing in the hallway of her unit.
“They want to get us out of here and turn this into condos.”