They became two of the most notorious landlords in the Greater Cleveland area through alleged intimidation, threats and coercion, often concealing their steps through a tangled web of limited liability companies. However, their empire of derelict rental properties continues to crumble as one of the notorious brothers, Graig Brown, received the maximum sentence allowed by law in Cleveland’s housing court Thursday morning.
Graig Brown and his brother Derek Brown have been eluding civil and criminal repercussions for years, racking up millions of dollars in local and federal court judgments, including a $4 million federal judgment in 2015, in addition to thousands of dollars in delinquent property taxes and liens. Warrants have also been repeatedly filed against the two men after they failed to appear for court hearings.
Wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, Brown sauntered into the housing courtroom for his sentencing hearing. Brown previously pleaded no contest to a minor misdemeanor charge of failing to disclose that he had transferred a piece of real estate from one company to another. After unsuccessfully trying to withdraw his plea, Brown stoically listened as Housing Court Judge Ron O’Leary sentenced him to six months in prison, a $1000 fine plus five years of probation. It is the maximum sentence permitted under a minor misdemeanor.
Court records show Brown has nine pending criminal cases, 15 civil cases and a $4 million federal judgment against him.
“The law does not allow you to threaten tenants. The law does not allow you to assault tenants,” Judge O’Leary said to Brown. “The law does not allow you to turn off their water, to take their electric meters, to superglue their locks, to nail their doors shut and particularly, based on the finding of the federal court, to find tenants that are the most vulnerable.”
Prosecutors and former tenants said the Browns would specifically target single women and single mothers because they were easier to control and intimidate. Many former tenants also accused Browns on dozens of occasions for mistreating tenants, including locking them out of their homes with nails or superglue; threatening them; breaking into their units to steal clothes, toys and family treasures; cutting their electric lines; turning their water off; evicting and removing tenants on the same day and verbally harassing tenants.
The Browns are also accusing of eluding authorities by repeatedly transferring their oftentimes blighted properties among multiple companies. The Brothers would then use laws protecting limited liability companies in an effort to skirt responsibility.
A half-dozen neighborhood advocates and activists were in the courtroom Thursday morning, many of whom were wearing homemade pins protesting Brown. They were ecstatic to hear Brown’s sentence.
“This is the sigh of relief. This is the breeze that the community needed,” said M. Anita Gardner. “The Brown brothers are a bad smell in our community. As landlords, they are the worst. Nobody believed it was going to happen because they have so many ways of sleazing in and our situations.”
Gardner has been tracking the Browns for the better part of a decade. Because the two men would often be no-shows for court, Gardner often worried if they would ever be held accountable. On Thursday, those worries were cast aside.
“If you’re going to be a thief, if you're going to be the person out there doing all these dangerous and evil things, you practice it until you perfect it,” Gardner said. “And they perfected it.”