Two Bishop Sycamore Scammers, Two Corrupt Assholes and a Mysterious Landlord Have a Real Estate Scheme Cookin' in the Hilltop
The Rooster went to Wednesday night's Greater Hilltop Area Commission to understand why two grifters with ties to the Bishop Sycamore scandal want to buy a former funeral home.
The Rooster was raised in Marion, Ohio, which means my olfactory system is a tuned to the stench of scam. That sweet sewer smell is what led to my gallant return to my beloved Westside of Columbus for a rousing monthly meeting of the Greater Hilltop Area Commission after receiving a tip of a shady real estate deal afoot in the city’s poorest neighborhood.
I know what most of you are probably thinking—A shady real estate deal… in Columbus? I understand if you need a sense to gather yourself after I threw that concussion grenade through the bathroom window where, statistically speaking about my subscribers, you’re reading this on your landlord’s spare shitter before 7:00 a.m.
The deal centers around a former funeral home at 2456 W. Broad Street and features a mysterious property owner, a lawyer who represents the biggest assholes in town, a long-time realtor, and buyers with direct links to the infamous and (still ongoing) Bishop Sycamore scandal, a national Columbus-based scandal originally broken by Ben Koo, the proprietor of Awful Announcing, and personal friend of The Rooster
A quick search on the Franklin County Auditor’s website reveals the property is owned by Degas Realty Estate Solutions LLC, which bought 2456 W. Broad for $81,500 in October 2017. Zillow currently estimates the property to be worth $272,000 to give you an idea of what has happened to real estate prices during the last five years in Columbus.
Degas Realty Estate Solutions LLC is owned by Suleiman J. Farah. The LLC currently owns 10 other properties in Columbus. Farah is also the proprietor of Buckeye Home Health Care LLC, a company with a Wordpress blog that looks like this in 2022:
Does that look like a business you would trust with your in-home elder care? Probably not unless you couldn’t afford anyone else. Only thing this website looks like it would bring home to my grandma is certain death by an unvaccinated caretaker.
Farah lists an apartment complex near 71/270 with $950-a-month two-bedroom floor plans. But don’t let that ostensible humble abode fool you: The man has got some deep pockets. We know this because he hired attorney Jeffrey L. Brown, a partner at Columbus-based attorney firm Smith & Hale that specializes in zoning laws, a man who doesn’t work cheap.
Here’s his official bio:
Jeffrey L. Brown is a partner with the law firm Smith & Hale L specializing in zoning, land use and municipal law. He has been with the firm since 1979. Mr. Brown has been involved in the zoning of major Central Ohio development projects such as Easton Town Center, OSU/Campus Partner's Gateway, and Tuttle Mall. Mr. Brown appears on a regular basis before the Columbus Graphics Commission, Columbus Development Commission, and Columbus City Council as well as other city and township entities. He has extensive experience working with Central Ohio Civic Associations and Columbus Area Commissions.
This all sounds impressive until you remember that Columbus is a city that is built atop a heaping trash pile of corrupt real estate deals, which means a guy like Brown has become has made a lucrative career out of navigating his clients’ hands through the till for 43 years.
Here are just some random clients of Brown’s pulled from a hat: Marathon Petroleum Ohio, Northstar Realty, the Schottenstein Group, Columbus Country Club, and the Columbus Church of Scientology. The parade of horrors continues in 10-point font for two pages, listing company names only.
But, as his official biography notes:
Not all of Mr. Brown's work has involved large-scale projects.
Not all of them do! In fact, you can pay Brown, who lives in Upper Arlington, enough money to attend Greater Area Hilltop Commission appearances on your behalf. And that’s what happened in August 21, when Brown and Farah applied for a zoning variance to 2456 W. Broad.
From the official request:
The property is literally surrounded by used car lots, so there is already a lie in the first paragraph. Also, the phrase “secure a mortgage” is clumsy for somebody who has already secured a mortgage on that property and 10 others. But perhaps English isn’t his first language. Maybe Lawyer Brown missed it.
Nobody on the Commission knows for sure because only the lawyer comes to meetings. But The Rooster surmises that Farah wants to re-finance his the property and the bank wouldn’t give him a deal without the zoning change and tried to fudge his intentions with clumsy language to fast-track approval.
The Hilltop Area Commission denied the request. The building is not built to be a single-use home, and even if it were, Farah and Degas Real Estate Solutions LLC didn’t have a family that could fill a mixed-use building.
Earlier this year, Farah, Degas Real Estate Solutions LLC, and Brown returned to the table. The realtor of the deal, Timothy Brown, had found a potential buyer that wanted to purchase the former funeral home.
This is from Realtor Brown’s LinkedIn, which lists him as the Broker/Owner of Promise Realty:
I Love what I do and I take great pride in walking my clients through this purchase process from start to finish and being available years after as a friend. My clients don't send friends and family to be sold a dream, they ask me to help them realize the best opportunities out here and I do.
Realtor Browns’ newest clients were Brandy and Damond
Porter, as seen here in a Facebook photo with the image of a baby cropped by The Rooster:
Unfortunately for the Porters, a realtor representing both purchaser and seller is always a red flag to any Area Commissioner not asleep at the wheel. And when you do 30 seconds of research into the Porters, they seem to have been around several financial crimes in the last several years, most notably the ongoing Bishop Sycamore scandal.
The Porters alluded to character assassination when, earlier in the day, they were alerted about an email from Hilltop Area Commissioner Rachel Wenning, to Lawyer Brown and other commissioners, obtained by The Rooster in the parking lot from Realtor Brown after the meeting.
Brandy and Damond Porter are both Directors/Officers of BSF Bishop Sycamore Foundation, a non-profit corporation registered to agent Brandy Porter at 1333 Orchard Park Dr Columbus 43232.
Damond was, at least initially, the head coach of Bishop Sycamore.
Various lawsuits were filed against the Bishop Sycamore players and coaches, including Franklin County Municipal Court case 2019 CVG 040557, a suit brought by The Griff, a student housing complex, against Damond Porter and Maggness Fort Porter. It appears that Maggness is Brandy Porter's son. It is alleged that the Bishop Sycamore organizers leased housing for the student football players and then did not pay the rent. There are suits that have been filed by other housing complexes and hotels as well.
The Porters denied any involvement with the Bishop Sycamore scandal, saying they were “two different entities” and pointing to no criminal charges filed against them.
That is not true, former Ohio High School Sports Association investigator Ben Ferree told The Rooster. They both had implicit connection to the scandal.
“I don’t see any way it could be anything different. On their filing paperwork, the other head of the ‘foundation’ was Ronald Peterson (aka Andre Peterson) the head of Bishop Sycamore. Their filing with the Secretary of State says:
“We are a foundation that provides education/sports to student athletes”. That [was] the express purpose of Bishop Sycamore.”
The Porters, for their part, never actually specified how many people they expected to live in the house on a day-to-day basis—though at one point Mr. Porter claimed to have 13 children.
The Porters hemmed and hawed about various foster children under their care, though Mrs. Porter mentioned numerous times how she recently “returned” one that Mr. Porter noted was due to the child’s “autism being too rambunctious.”
Realtor Brown, fuming with indignation, added his bit in the end: He had known the Porters for over 10 years. They were upstanding people who haven’t been charged with anything relating to Bishop Sycamore. To suggest otherwise was slanderous.
“Did this happen to any of the other [various] applicants?” Realtor Brown asked The Rooster after the meeting.
The Rooster pointed out that none of the other applications have been connected to a history of financial fraud.
Despite knowing the Porters for over a decade, Realtor Brown was not sure on the exact number of their children or who would actually would be living in the converted funeral home.
The Hilltop Commission approved the variant request, and Realtor Brown explained why:
“If they would have denied my clients, after they had been pre-approved to buy this house, my advice to them would have been to [their lawyer, Byron Potts]. Because that would have been outright discrimination.”
Several Hilltop commissioners confirmed to The Rooster that, indeed, they likely would have been sued if they denied the request.
When Realtor Brown walked The Rooster to his car to show the email from Commissioner Wenning that had so enraged him, he mentioned he had been in the game for over 25 years and that he would “do whatever it took” for his clients. It’s then The Rooster remember he represented Farah and his LLC longer than the Porters. (Whatever it took, indeed!)
When we got to the car, the Porters were standing outside waiting for their realtor.
The Rooster smiled upon Fortuna and introduced himself to the couple as a reporter, and asked Mr. Porter if he had ever coached at Bishop Sycamore. If so, did that in fact change what he had just told the Commission with his having “no” connection to Bishop Sycamore?
He confirmed that he did coach at Sycamore, but was claimed that he was unpaid, and quit after a month when “he found out how bad it got.” He left the second part of the question unanswered.
The Rooster asked Mrs. Porter if she knew Roy Johnson, the fired coach of Bishop Sycamore, through her work at YouthBuild, a program that has to have a “WE ARE NOT AFFILIATED WITH BISHOP SYCAMORE” disclaimer in bold letters on the front page.
She denied knowing him and asked if The Rooster was recording.
“I’m a reporter; I’m always recording.”
Mishearing, Mrs. Porter asked again, “No, I asked… are you recording?”
“Yes, like I said, I’m a—”
At this point the Porters said The Rooster did not have permission to record them.
Rather than explain how Ohio is a one-party consent state when it comes to recording conversations, The Rooster cordially nodded his head, thanked them for their time, and walked in the other direction.
Mrs. Porter, it must be said, at best has a convenient case of amnesia if she’s not familiar with Roy Johnson through her work at YouthBuild:
As former OHSSA investigator Ferre explained to The Rooster:
“Youthbuild is a legitimate school and a great program. Bishop Sycamore came out of the ashes of [Christ Faith Academy], and that next year struck a partnership with Youthbuild, who doesn’t have athletics.
“[Bishop Sycamore] would provide the athletics, Youthbuild provides the education for the athletes. An actually great idea and a perfect unison! Except Bishop Sycamore immediately started purchasing things and charging it in Youthbuild name, which was not the agreement at all, and Youthbuild quickly terminated the entire relationship.”
How did the architects of Bishop Sycamore come to know YouthBuild, well, her husband used to coach there and they both worked for YouthBuild, though their current employment status with the program seems murky:
Again, from OHSAA investigator Ferre: “I say works/worked because in a 2018 court filing where Damond’s paycheck was getting garnished due to some debts, Youthbuild said he was terminated, so the garnishments ceased. But a Spectrum News story about Youthbuild in 2019 quoted Damond Porter as a teacher there, [shrug emoji].”
So, what’s really cooking at the top of the Hill?
Here is how The Rooster sees what went down, and this section is entirely speculation:
Farah wants to re-finance his property at 2456 W. Broad. Maybe he’s pooling money from all his properties for another big purchase planned. Maybe he just wants a second boat. Who know with LLC gremlins, right? But to make his latest material obsession a reality, he has to get the zoning changed.
Lawyer Brown and Farah fudge their intentions with sloppy language in the original application and gets caught.
Game over, right? No.
Lawyer Brown, one of the most powerful zoning lawyers in the city, advises him that Realtor Brown can find a family that can get funding for the house—because here’s the kicker—even if the deal between the Porters and Degas Realty Estate Solutions LLC falls through before closing, that variance still goes through.
To make that scheme work, Lawyer Brown and the Degas Reality Solutions LLC need a family that is willing to put their names on all the applications and at least get out in public and lie to government officials about their intentions—preferably for cheap as possible. That takes a special kind of person.
Lawyer Brown then turns to Realtor Brown and tasks him to go find a family willing to do that, and he returns with the Porters—who he’s willing to vouch for despite their association with crooks.
Lawyer Brown, being an expert, knows that the Commission will not be able to deny the Porters, despite the connections to swindlers, because neither have been convicted of any crime and they already have been pre-approved by the bank.
Degas Real Estate Solutions LLC gets its variance; Farah’s re-finance becomes a reality; Lawyer Brown and Realtor Brown get their slice of the pie, and the Porters inevitably get a stupid sum like $5,000 to alleviate their obvious financial struggles as their adult son, Maggness, who currently lives with them on house-arrest, goes on trial for a series of felonies, likely committed for the furtherance of the Bishop Sycamore scandal that imploded, that starts today.
The Rooster thinks the Porters, for their part, saw how easy it was to scam under a fake school, and decided to get into bed with the scheme by trying to further legitimatize the fraud with the “Bishop Sycamore Foundation.”
Until those plans blew up in their face. Either Mr. Porter quit at Sycamore after a month when he “saw how bad it got,” or Mrs. Porter for some reason was willing put her name on documents that directly link her to the losers behind a scam her husband quickly figured out and quit.
The Porters can’t have it both ways, and unfortunately their history doesn’t lend them much credibility in this situation.
Everyone involved will walk away with their slice. of the American pie, too, because that’s how our system works in Columbus.
Here, for record, is the entire meeting testimony about 2456 W. Broad begins at the 36:36 mark:
THOSE WMDs. Television is in a showrunning crisis… The growing discontent behind Nintendo’s fun facade… Ex-State School Board Vice President of led search for state superintendent appoints himself to the position… Think of a number. How do magicians know what it is? What did medieval peasants know?