Lawsuit Accuses Kenyatta Johnson of Pay to Play Scheme

City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson speaking at a recent community meeting. — PHOTOGRAPH BY TRIBUNE CHIEF PHOTOGRAPHER ABDUL R. SULAYMAN

A businessman filed a lawsuit against a city councilman this week alleging preferential treatment to political insiders, among them a former convicted drug dealer.

City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, the defendant in the lawsuit, declined to comment on the suit on Thursday.

“I have no comment at this time,” Johnson initially told a Tribune reporter on Thursday.

However, near the end of Thursday’s Council session, and for the public record, Johnson said he operates with integrity and works for the people of his district and called the recent portrayal of him biased.

“I want to thank my colleagues for their words of encouragement over the past few days as I have dealt with what I call a bias and a certain portrayal of me in certain media outlets — about how I go about my business in City Council and how I go about the distribution of land and doing business as 2nd district Council person,” he said. “I recognize that I’m a young man with a big voice and this is politics. I understand that. Nevertheless, I operate on a sense of integrity. I do this work for the people and I stand on that and pride myself on that.”

According to the lawsuit filed this week by Michael Pollack, who owns Bag of Holdings, LLC, Johnson was trying to sell city-owned vacant lots to his political insiders and allegedly demanded the buyers use a developer who gave contributions to his political campaign. Through his attorney A. Jordan Rushie, Pollack alleged in doing so, Johnson violated the city’s sale and development policies.

City policy requires qualified buyers of up-for-sale lots make an expression of interest on those properties, which the complaint alleged Bag of Holdings did. However, many of those properties in the 2nd district ended up being scheduled for sale to Johnson’s political insiders, according to the complaint. According to city policy, a qualified purchaser of its properties is someone who doesn’t own any property that is subject to violation of city codes or ordinances, and has not been in a completed tax foreclosure within five years.

“Certain political insiders made campaign contributions to Johnson or performed other favors,” Pollack alleged in the complaint. “Those deemed political insiders by Johnson are able to circumvent the competition bidding process mandated by city sale policy. And properties are scheduled for sale to the political insiders without following city sale policy or notice to Bag of Holdings. In just the last three months, at least 17 out of 22 properties scheduled for sale are to political insiders. Some of those insiders include Hayman Construction, Tremelle Hayman and Felton Hayman. Many of these insiders are not qualified purchasers under city policy.”

According to the complaint and court documents, in 1991 Hayman pleaded guilty to having committed third degree murder for his involvement in a hit against a member of the Junior Black Mafia. Hayman also had a property foreclosed in 2014, the same year Hayman Construction, LLC, was formed. Campaign finance documents on file with the city’s Department of Public Records show Hayman donated $500 on March 25, March 30 and again on Nov. 7 of last year to Johnson’s political campaign.

“In selling the properties to political insiders, the defendant ignored expressions of interest from other real estate developers and Bag of Holdings,” stated the complaint. “As part of the arrangement, Johnson demands purchasers of the properties use political insiders such as Hayman Construction for the development. The described actions essentially cut Bag of Holdings out of the competitive bidding process.”

Johnson violated city policy by facilitating the sale of city-owned lots to connected insiders often under market value, alleged Pollack in the complaint. As a result, Bag of Holdings suffered monetary damages and is unable to develop certain properties in Point Breeze. Pollack is asking for $50,000 in damages.

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