Sex, drugs and rent

Clients describe rampant criminal activity in drug-treatment program

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United Youth Care Services in Greensboro has been providing housing for poor and homeless people with conditions that they have to use drugs and/or attend mandatory substance-abuse classes. The homes the participants are provided are often in disrepair and pose hazardous conditions to the occupants. (photo by Jordan Green)

There weren’t a lot of active drug users in the program, one former client of United Youth Care Services recalls; most were simply women who were desperate for housing for themselves or their children.

But if housing was the hook that pulled in the clients, substance abuse was the quotient that made them profit centers for the agency. So, faced with the threat of losing housing, many clients simply agreed to play the part.

The result was a drug-treatment program where clients were perversely incentivized to use drugs, even as staff degraded them for doing so. Clients ostensibly there to get clean were placed in rundown hotels and apartments plagued with rampant drug use, and they were often times subjected to the arbitrary authority of site managers and security guards who were themselves using and selling drugs, according to interviews Triad City Beat conducted with more than a dozen former clients.

“It’s really encouraged to do drugs,” said Zalonda Woods, another former client. “If you test clean, it’s frowned upon.”

“They told me to act like I was doing cocaine, but I wasn’t,” said Dion M. Garner, a mother of four and former client of UYCS. “I was just using weed and alcohol.”

“I told ’em I did weed,” Garner continued. “They said, ‘Weed is not really an addiction.’ I had stopped using coke for a while. In order to get in, you had to be doing hard drugs. So, I started using coke again.”

Five clients interviewed by TCB said staff either sold drugs or bought drugs from clients.

Demetris Lee, a client who currently lives at South Pointe Apartments, said security personnel at the complex smoke marijuana.

And Woods said workers at a daycare the agency set up across the street from its Fourth Street headquarters so that parents can attend classes as part of the drug therapy program “were known to smoke marijuana while on the job.”

Among staff members reported to have used drugs, three different clients, including Lenora Bratcher and two women who spoke on condition of anonymity, cited LaTonya Neal, the housing manager at South Pointe Apartments as using drugs and even buying them from clients. One of them also said Neal had sex with clients.

Neal could not be reached for comment for this story. TCB attempted to reach out to her through her Facebook account.

‘His ambition, determination and drive is remarkable’

The picture of rampant criminal conduct painted by former clients — in addition to drug use, they’ve accused staff of extortion, robbery, assault and threatened violence  — is at odds with an image of compassionate care and professionalism cultivated by company officials.

“Mental health and drug abuse — that’s really a problem in our community that’s causing a lot of destruction, crime and a lot of other things,” said Donald Booker, the agency founder and president, in an undated interview with Greensboro radio personality Renee Vaughn for WQMG FM’s “Community Focus” program. “I’ve encountered mental health in my family, and my immediate family deals with drug abuse, and so I’ve become very passionate about the subject that has really entered into our community, and really has devastating effects.”

An alum of NC A&T University, Booker started United Youth Care Services in Winston-Salem in 2003, and then expanded into Greensboro, Durham and Creedmoor, according to a 2009 profile in Huami Magazine.

“African Americans have always given back to the community; however, people decided to give that venture a name — psychology,” the article quotes Booker as saying. “So, I decided to turn psychology into a successful business.”

The profile said that in addition to United Youth Care Services, Booker owned a trucking company, a private security company and a Cuppy’s Coffee & Smoothies and More franchise. State records show the trucking company and the private security company have been administratively dissolved.

“In the future,” the story said, “he plans to expand all of his business ventures into multi-million-dollar companies so he can give more back to the community and create more jobs.”

United Youth Care Services would soon hire a new employee who would rapidly rise through the ranks.

Richard Brian Graves was released from federal prison in July 2010, after serving 11 years for conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Graves had been among 10 people arrested — part of what Greensboro police Capt. WR Stafford described as “a major narcotics ring” — at the conclusion of a months-long investigation that netted 35 pounds of cocaine with a street value of $1.6 million, according to a 1998 report in the News & Record.

By 2012, Graves was employed as the intake director at United Youth Care Services. Requesting early termination of his supervised release, US Probation Officer Daniel C. Racht wrote, “Mr. Graves has incurred no violations while on supervision and satisfied 500 hours of community service 3 years ahead of schedule. His ambition, determination and drive is remarkable, and this Officer has been nothing less than amazed by his positive life changes and commitment to helping others.”

Michael F. Joseph, the prosecuting attorney, indicated the government did not object to early termination of Graves’ probation. He inscribed a handwritten note on the document: “Good luck to you, Mr. Graves.”

Graves’ name came up in interviews with three former clients interviewed by TCB. Mia Zeigler told TCB that she told Graves and Booker: “All I do is smoke weed,” and both of them replied, “That’s not enough.”

Another client, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said after a recruiter named “Nicole” told her it would help her get into the program if she lied about her substance abuse, she told Graves that she drank every day, which was untrue, and he replied, “I have an apartment for you, really.”

Six former clients have told TCB that recruiters advised them to lie by exaggerating or inventing substance-abuse problems to get into the program so that they could secure housing, and that they did so during their intake interviews. At least one former client said the intake interviewer inflated the amount of alcohol she consumed on a daily basis on her report, and she went along with it.

Zeigler was one of the few former clients interviewed by TCB who said she didn’t give false information about her substance abuse. She was allowed to enroll anyway.

“Some of us who have clean pee, they’ll switch the samples,” Zeigler said. “I just got my pee result. I don’t do crack cocaine. They switched my pee with someone who does crack. They do that to keep you in the program…. All I do is smoke my weed and cigarettes. I was pissed, highly pissed.”

Zeigler said when she confronted the staff about the false results on her urine test last week, they kicked her out of the program.

United Care Youth Services said in a statement on Monday through Knicole C. Emanuel, a partner with the Washington, DC-based Potomac Law Group, that it “categorically denies the many allegations made against it regarding Medicaid fraud and substandard care for any of its clients.” The statement goes on to say the agency “has serious concerns that the media outlets are violating HIPAA rules and regulations due to the dissemination of protected health information, especially the identity of persons enrolled in substance abuse programs,” and that by publicizing the “physical, living addresses of Medicaid recipients suffering from domestic abuse,” it puts them “at risk of their abusers knowing their locations.”

Emanuel said UYCS would have no further comment, adding, “We have issues with HIPAA because of substance abuse and mental health. We want to make sure we do not violate the law.”

‘Don’t let me catch you anywhere in the street’

Court records and interviews with former clients paint a picture of an agency where violence is commonplace, from the president down to security personnel at housing sites.

Court records document an altercation between Donald Booker, the founder and president of United Youth Care Services, and the staff at a competing agency, United Quest Care Services, in January 2017. Fritz Vaneus, the founder of United Quest Care Services, wrote in a criminal complaint and affidavit that Booker and another individual walked into his agency’s offices on Summit Avenue in Greensboro, and started “making verbal threats to the secretary” and other staff. Vaneus said he entered the building and asked Booker to not use profanity and asked him to leave the premises.

Then, Vaneus wrote, Booker charged at him and another staff member, Spencer Books, and attempted to fight them, but was held back by the man accompanying him. Vaneus alleged that Booker said, “When I catch you I’m going to f*** you up and make sure y’all regret this. Don’t let me catch you. I’m going to f*** you up and make sure y’all regret this. Don’t let me catch you anywhere in the street. I’m f***ing you up and anyone with you; you won’t see this coming.”

Talencia Walker, a former employee of United Youth Care Services, told TCB that Booker had mentored Fritz Vaneus and his brother, Fred Vaneus, as they were building their substance-abuse treatment program.  She said the dispute arose when Brooks, a former employee of United Youth Care Services, picked up United Youth Care Services clients at a hotel off Wendover Avenue and transported them in a van to United Quest Care Services.

“The clients didn’t want to be part of the program anymore,” Walker said. “They didn’t want to be under [Clinical Director] Sandra [Grace]. They didn’t like the way they were being treated.”

Walker said she later learned from Graves that he was the one who accompanied Booker to confront the staff at United Quest Care Services.

“I remember Sandra Grace getting really angry and mad,” Walker said. “She said, ‘Booker, get over there and get our clients.’”

The case was later dismissed. A prosecutor inscribed a handwritten note explaining, “Can’t prosecute w/o DW.” Spencer Brooks, the defense witness, could not be reached for this story.

Clients also observed staff fighting with each other on at least one occasion.

Zalonda Woods, a former client who was enrolled in the program in November 2018and left in April 2019, recalled that two staff members got into a fight in the lobby area of the United Youth Care Services’ office headquarters and treatment center on Fourth Street in Greensboro.

“The staff member was [saying], ‘I could turn all of you in. You’ll go to jail for this,’” Woods recalled. “They’re like, ‘You’re suspended for two days.’ She raised so much sand the next day when she came back.”

On at least one occasion, staff was accused of assaulting a client. As previously reported by TCB, in September 2016, Walker recorded a statement by a 64-year-old client accusing a site manager of pushing him into the bathtub in his apartment as the staff member attempted to search the client for contraband.

“So, I was standing right there by the end of the bathtub, and he just pushed, tried to stick his hand in my pocket, and pushed me over the side,” the unidentified client says. “I fell back in the bathtub. He caught me and pulled me back up. ‘You all right? I said, ‘No, I’m not all right. Didn’t you just push me in the damn bathtub?’

Earlier in the video, the client says he had been in trouble with staff for missing an appointment, but he explained that he had to go to Burlington to pick up his two young sons because their grandmother couldn’t watch them.

“That’s when the site manager called Sandra, told Sandra: ‘This ain’t gonna work. He got to go,’” the client recounts. “So, she came over here raising hell about me missing an appointment. I told her it was an emergency with my kids.”

Clients said site managers assigned to apartment complexes or hotels where they were placed lorded their power over them, often using their ability to withhold housing as leverage to enforce attendance in the classes for which the agency billed Medicaid, and also to extract additional rent money and other favors. It was unclear to the clients whether the site managers worked directly for United Youth Care Services, or only worked in tandem with them.

United Youth Care Services clients said they were told that housing at South Pointe Apartments, where LaTonya Neal was the site manager, was switching over from United Youth Care Services to a different entity called “New Day Transitional Housing Program.” But clients found that their access to housing was directly linked to whether their cooperation in the drug-treatment program that generated payments to the agency through their Medicaid enrollment.

“My supposed file stated that my stated goals were to get off drugs and get a home,” said Woods in supplemental narrative provided to TCB. “I told the woman in the office that I had never said those were my goals, and that I wasn’t on drugs. I was told that I should be grateful to receive housing and that I should ‘shut up’ or else Tonya Neal, the housing manager, would kick me out of my apartment.”

Reflecting on the other end of the partnership, Woods wrote, “The housing director for New Day Transitional Housing, Tonya Neal, repeatedly turned off people’s lights and water if they did not come to the center to sign their name for treatment, or if they failed to pay for rent and housing.”

United Youth Care Services clients at Georgetown Manor were required to sign an agreement with the lease-holder, Daily Living Source LLC, indicating they understood they were not tenants and that as guests they could be ordered to leave the property with only an hour’s notice, with no more than 48 hours to retrieve their belongings. Printout sign posted in one of the vacant apartments at Georgetown Manor cites the authority of Delores Jordan, the owner of Daily Living Source: “Attention: If you are not attending class daily, rent is $350 no exceptions! PER Ms. Delores!!!” And, “All Clients MUST go to class or get off the premises during class hours PER Ms. Delores!!!”

But clients said they didn’t see Jordan on the premises, but instead dealt with Leo Alexander and Gwen Singleton. One former client, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described Alexander as the “enforcer,” and Singleton as the “office manager” at the site.

Former clients told TCB that once they were placed in housing, site managers demanded additional rent or assessed various fees that made them suspect the money was for personal enrichment.

“People living at South Pointe who are enrolled in the United Youth Care Foundation program, such as myself, are expected to attend treatment sessions, which covers the cost of our housing and earns profit for United Youth Care Foundation and New Day Transitional Housing Program, but we are also then asked to contribute even more to the rent for our horrible slum housing,” Woods said in her statement.

Two other clients, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said LaTonya Neal collected a monthly “program fee’ of $75. One of the clients said both Neal and Alexander waived rent for clients who agreed to have sex with them.

NC Department of Corrections records indicate Alexander was convicted of cocaine trafficking; maintaining a vehicle or dwelling for controlled substances; and possession of a firearm by a felon in Guilford County in 2006, resulting in a one-year prison sentence. He violated parole in 2014, and received a suspended sentence.

Reached by phone, Alexander laughed and said, “You’s a funny dude. Quit calling me, man.”

One United Youth Care Services client who stayed at South Pointe Apartments and then at Georgetown Manor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said her fiancé was allowed to stay with her at Georgetown Manor if he paid $350 per month, or $30 per day. She said her fiancé scraped the money together from painting and mowing lawns and faithfully made daily payments, keeping receipts as proof, but that Singleton accused him of not paying his rent and demanded $75 to be paid within 24 hours. That day, the client said she sat outside while her children played with some friends.

“I heard commotion at the office,” she recalled. “I had no idea what was going on. I got called to the office. Her son stood at the top of the hill, and yelled my name. He said, ‘[Name redacted], you need to get your ass to the office.’ I’m walking up there calm. I hear Gwen cussing and screaming. She was like, ‘This bitch-ass n****a, I don’t know who the f*** he is.’ I found out later he asked for the ledger book. She gave him an attitude. He wants to know where his money is going. She said, ‘You and your kids, get the f*** out.’ I said, ‘Why do me and my kids have to go?’ She said, ‘Your boyfriend’s a bitch, and I’ll get my son to blow his head off.’ I see her son rushing out of the office, saying, ‘I’m gonna go get my gun!’ My boyfriend had every reason to be mad because they were stealing his money. I’m crying because me and my kids had to sleep in a car.”

Singleton could not be reached for this story. After TCB attempted to message Singleton on Facebook, her profile was taken down.

The same client who said Gwen Singleton threatened to have her fiancé shot, also told TCB that her 6-year-old daughter was exposed to inappropriate contact with another child at United Youth Care Service’s main office in the summer of 2017.

She said Sandra Grace, the clinical director, insisted that she attend class despite the fact that she didn’t have anyone to watch her 6-year-old and 11-year-old daughters. The client said she refused to leave her daughters in the agency daycare because she didn’t trust the daycare workers. Instead, she left her daughters in the lobby; she and her fiancé, who was also in the program, took turns stepping outside to check on them. One time, her fiancé went out and the 6-year-old was gone. When the client went out to investigate, she said she saw her 6-year-old daughter come out of the boy’s bathroom with a little boy, also 6. She said her daughter told her the boy “pulled his pants down” and told her to pull her pants down and bend over. “She said he did not touch her,” she recounted. “He forcibly made her pull her panties down, but she didn’t feel comfortable. I did a physical exam, and she was still intact, thank God.

“A lot went through my mind,” she said. “‘I am a failure as a parent.’ ‘I was supposed to protect my child.’”

The client said the Sandhills Center — the agency responsible for authorizing Medicaid payments for services to people with substance-abuse and mental-health issues — investigated the incident, but the investigator only spoke to Donald Booker, Sandra Grace and Richard Brian Graves. She said she faults United Youth Care Services for not calling the police, and vowed that once she got out of the program she would make sure they were held accountable.

“My child still has psychological issues,” the client said, weeping. “She has a hard time concentrating at school. She has ADHD. I got her a counselor. She says, ‘Why did he do that? Why did he pull my pants down?’ Nobody deserves to be treated like that. Nobody deserves to be treated like pond scum. You’re taking our Medicaid and treating us like we’re dirt-poor trash while you’re driving around in your Jaguar.” Booker posted a photo of green Jaguar on his Facebook page.

Staff often held the upper hand over clients by refusing to provide them with keys, and thus denying them basic security. The result was rampant theft, clients say, and management would typically reimburse their losses instead of calling in the police.

“A lot of people would say — especially they had this thing about not giving people keys; they want to have access all the time,” Zalonda Woods said in an interview. “You can’t never lock your door…. People weren’t able to lock their door. You got staff that is on drugs. Stuff gets missing. Staff would say, ‘We don’t know.’ They would put it on other clients. People would literally go to Mr. Graves and say, ‘Such and such stole my stuff; you need to reimburse me.’”

‘We’re going to keep practicing, and nobody’s going to stop us’

While clients suffered, those responsible for their housing reneged on their obligations.

United Youth Care Services contracted with Extended Stay America, a hotel on Big Tree Way, to provide housing from September 2016 through April 2017, according to a lawsuit filed by the hotel’s owner, Generation SRE Greensboro. The hotel won a default judgment for $73,685.97 in unpaid rent in September 2017. The claim was voluntarily dismissed in March 2018.

More recently, United Youth Care Services has outsourced housing to Delores Jordan, the landlord at Georgetown Manor.

Residents contacted the Greensboro Housing Coalition on June 13 after discovering that the water and power had been turned off in most or all of the apartments in the 18-unit complex. The next day, after residents received emergency shelter at the Interactive Resource Center, city inspectors learned that multiple families were living in each apartment, Code Enforcement Manager Troy Powell said. They found apartments infested with bedbugs and roaches, he said, along with inoperable and missing smoke detectors. Many units had broken windows, he said, and inspectors found holes in the ceilings and water marks around light fixtures.

Inspectors condemned 12 out of 18 apartments, and Powell estimated that the city issued more than 100 violations on the property. Mia Zeigler, who was kicked out United Youth Care Service’s substance-abuse program last week, and her husband, TJ Little, are among the residents that are currently displaced.

The owner of the property, Sherry Cross of North Hollywood, Calif., had filed a civil complaint in Guilford County to evict Jordan three days before the utilities shut-off. The matter goes before a magistrate on Wednesday.

Powell said Jordan owes Cross $28,000 in unpaid rent from March through May and into June. She also owes the city of Greensboro more than $7,000 for her water bill and owes Duke Energy almost $6,000 for power.

Jordan could not be reached for this story. Powell from the city of Greensboro said he also tried to contact her.

Delores Jordan posting on Facebook Live earlier this month. (video screengrab)

“I believe I reached her, but she said she was not her,” he said.

In a recent Facebook Live post on June 17, as the utilities shutoffs and displacement at Georgetown Manor hit the news, Jordan published a video of herself driving her BMW.

“I’m just kind of chilling to some music, enjoying a new vehicle,” she said. “You know, they always say a BMW’s the ultimate driving machine. Just testing it out to see how that works out.”

The June 13 utilities shut-off and displacement of residents caught the attention of the city of Greensboro.

“We have reached out to some law enforcement partners,” said Assistant City Manager Trey Davis, who recently served as captain with command over the criminal investigation division in the police department. “It could be really serious, or it could turn out to not be a police matter.”

Davis said the city has reached out to multiple agencies, noting that the concerns raised include businesses that are located outside of Greensboro.

“Law enforcement are not ignoring it,” he said.

Sandhills, the agency with responsible for authorizing Medicaid payments and providing oversight, has been receiving complaints on United Youth Care Services going back at least to 2016.

Brett Byerly, the executive director of the Greensboro Housing Coalition, said since the utilities shutoff at Georgetown Manor, he’s continuously fielded phone calls from people who want to report Medicaid fraud. He gives them the phone number of the program integrity director at Sandhills.

“We know that there are at least a dozen places like [Georgetown Manor] that are being used for this purpose with various different agencies and organizations,” Byerly said. “I’m worried about if this whole thing comes crashing down and they decide to crawl under a rock, where are folks going to be housed?”

In the past, Sandhills has declined to comment on whether they are investigating United Youth Care Services or not. The agency did not return phone calls for this story.

Zalonda Woods, a former client, and Talencia Walker, a former employee, both said they question whether Sandhills is serious about uncovering misconduct at United Youth Care Services.

“I always suspected there was a mole at Sandhills,” Woods said. “They’re very aware of what’s going on.

“I feel like they’re just as complicit,” she added. “They say, ‘I don’t have the evidence.’ I feel like Sandhills is allowing the corruption to happen at these agencies. I think they have a moral responsibility to let the proper authorities know about the abuse of disabled clients.”

Walker added, “Somebody’s getting paid under the table. Isn’t it funny that they’re not doing anything? Somebody don’t want them to be closed down. It doesn’t matter about the clients’ complaints. The way staff at UYCS feels is, ‘We’re going to keep practicing, and nobody’s going to stop us.’ They know people in high places that back them, so they think they can just continue what they’re doing. Why are you letting these people sit up here and continue to do this to these people?”

This story was updated at 10:28 p.m. on Tuesday, June 25 to incorporate comments made by Greensboro Assistant City Manager Trey Davis.