Local Journalism Happens With YouSupport
News

Tenants Facing Eviction in South L.A. Room-for-Rent Scam Not the Only Victims

“Ms. Wilkerson’s scam is made possible by the failure of city and county governments to address the lack of truly affordable housing.”

Past landlords and tenants of transitional housing manager Giovanna Wilkerson were shocked to learn about the eviction of nearly a dozen tenants from a South Los Angeles house after she failed to pay the rent — but they were not surprised. They say she’s been doing this for years unchecked by the government and law enforcement. These are their stories (and receipts).

Steven Jeter, Former Landlord

“It was the perfect place for me,” laments Steven Jeter. “That was my perfect opportunity to own something in Los Angeles.”

A one time property owner, Jeter reminisces about purchasing his first property in Inglewood in 2005 on East 68th Street. Today he lives off of disability and in one of his mother’s properties.

“My aunt who is a realtor helped me find that property,” he says. “I was so in love with that place.”

But Jeter’s dream of home ownership soon turned into a nightmare after he rented the lot which contained 2 bedroom home in the front and a separate 1 bedroom to a woman claiming to run a program for adults with developmental disabilities.

“I can remember it like it was yesterday,” Jeter continues. “I had an open house and she walked in all distressed. She said, “I really need this place. They don’t have a place to stay’ and I fell for it like a dummy.”

The woman is Giovanna Wilkerson and she’s currently the subject of an investigation after tenants say she promised them transitional housing that included a clean living environment, meals and even job assistance. The tenants, who were paying to rent for shared rooms, are currently in the process of being evicted from a nearly 4,600-square-foot dilapidated house on the border of Inglewood in the city of Los Angeles after Wilkerson stopped paying rent to the property’s owner.

Jeter says that Wilkerson and her husband Rennis, approached him to rent his property in 2005. He remembers telling them that he was going to need certain information from them both to consider renting to them. He says that Ms. Wilkerson went to her car and returned with a printer and a copier.

“She knew the game,” Jeter says. “She told me her credit wasn’t that great. I remember thinking that no one has perfect credit. She was a real con artist and she got me.”

Jeter confirms that Wilkerson signed a three-year contract with him for $4,000 per month in 2005. During that time he says that Wilkerson showed him proof that she was getting paid to care for adults with disabilities.

“I believe she was getting paid by the Westside Regional Center,” he says.

The Westside Regional Center provides adults with developmental disabilities and their families access to community services that facilitate a quality of life comparable to persons without disabilities. Among the services provided are access to adult day care services and residential care programs for when a family is unable to continue care for a family member at home. Westside, Children’s Services, Social Security (SSI), and Medi-Cal can often help fund these placements.

Jeter says that during the first three years of working with the Giovanna Wilkerson that she would regularly bounce checks and pay the rent late, but he continued to try and work with them because he believed she was trying to provide a much needed community service.

As time went on, Jeter ended up moving to Arizona and was unable to check on the property regularly.

The Wilkerson’s eventually entered into a five-year contract with Jeter.

“I believe that was one way she — again — tried to ease my stress,” Jeter added. “She said, ‘you know I’ll pay the $5,000 a month contract for five years. You don’t have to worry. I am not going anywhere. The money is coming.’ He continues, “You know some of her checks would bounce. But then she’d make good on it but it would be late.”

Jeter says shortly after the five-year contract was signed that Wilkerson started to stop paying him.

“California was in the middle of a state budget crisis and I guess since she [Giovanna Wilkerson] was getting money from the government to take care of the people she couldn’t pay the rent. I tried to work with her and in fact I did work with her. When the crisis was over and she got paid, she didn’t pay me any of the rent she owed.”

As a result of the 2009 California budget crisis, state workers endured furloughs, severe cutbacks were made and the state issued almost $2 billion in IOUs. When Ms. Wilkerson was finally paid by the state, she didn’t make good on the owed money to Jeter.

Shortly thereafter, a neighbor informed Jeter that Ms. Wilkerson had moved out of the property and left it abandoned for nearly four months.

When Mr. Jeter came back to California and to his property, he found there were people living there who claimed they had subleased it from Ms. Wilkerson and were paying her rent.

In the end Steven Jeter says he lost the property that now sits just minutes away from where the Chargers will join the Rams at a a new stadium in Inglewood and where homeowners have seen a dramatic increase in their property values.

“I loved that property,” Jeter says thoughtfully. “That was a property that I wish I could have been giving my son, you know. That should have been his inheritance. Because that was a nice piece of property.”

Jeter sued the Wilkerson’s in court and won two judgements against them. In 2008, he was awarded $7,500 for late fees on rent, bounced checks, subletting, breach of contract, property damage and legal fees for their eviction. In 2012, after a default judgement against Wilkerson and her business Hands Helping Hands, he was awarded $232,650.00 for damages breach of the five-year contract. He is still hoping to collect the money owed to him from the Wilkersons.

“Maybe I’ll get my money. Who knows?”

Raymond Todd, Former Landlord

Raymond Todd says that he never agreed to have a transitional housing program in his property in Compton.

Todd says that he rented the home he owned on Wilmington Ave. near Rosecrans Blvd. to Giovanna Wilkerson in 2014 for her and her immediate family to live in.

“That was the agreement,” he says absolutely. “Two adults and two children, $2,100.”

What he ended up with was over a dozen people living in his 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom home.

Todd filed an unlawful detainer against Wilkerson in January 2015 and by March of that year a judgement was entered for restitution and possession of the property.

Todd says that Wilkerson abandoned the property with over a dozen tenants still living there — tenants he says claimed they paid Wilkerson rent. He says that some tenants who were living in another property she was running a transitional housing program out of in Compton near his soon came over to his property after Wilkerson was evicted from that property as well.

According to court documents, in 2014 Yanyan Liu filed an unlawful detainer against Wilkerson for property located near Todd’s on West Compton Blvd. and was awarded restitution and possession of the property on Dec. 23 of the same year.

“I tried to work with the tenants who were left behind,” Todd says. “Many of them didn’t have anywhere to go. I tried to encourage them to get a job. I tried to help them get Section 8. I was helping them. I did the best that I could. Giovanna left them there so I had no choice but to help them in order to help me. They didn’t want to pay me because they had already paid her.”

Todd says that he understands that when the tenants destroyed his property, they weren’t mad at him but made at Wilkerson and the situation. Still, it caused him to have spend a lot of money to fix all of the damages.

On the subject of Ms. Wilkerson, he says, “This lady is all about her money. She’s registered with these hospitals and these convalescent homes and she knows what she’s doing. And she’s putting herself under these different identities. And these hospitals are actually trying to get rid of people — hospitals can’t keep you anyway. There’s no way they can keep you and they are getting rid of people. So again, she’s volunteering and saying hey I’ll take them. I just find it pretty bad how she’s treating people. Like she’s enslaving these people and they’re living in filth. You know Giovanna just really played a cruel game.”

Dagmar Black, Former Tenant

Like Wendy Wilson, Dagmar Black, says that Silver Lake Medical Center, an acute psychiatric hospital and mental health center in Rosemead, referred her to Giovanna Wilkerson and the house on Crenshaw. She says she was given two choices by the hospital. A place in Inglewood or the house on Crenshaw. Black chose the least expensive option.

“At least four other people from there [Silver Lake Medical Center] came there but they just didn’t stay,” Black explains. “I had a choice between $375 and $350 and I took the least expensive one.

Black says she stayed at the house on Crenshaw for about six months beginning in January of 2017.

“I have severe depression and anxiety disorder and I was out on the street and had a major breakdown and they referred me to her and they told me that they [Giovanna Wilkerson] provided meals, some type of support — that it was a sober house,” Black says. “So I thought it was good. I don’t have drug problems but I thought I knew how it could be. I felt that if it was a sober house I wouldn’t have to worry about crackheads and that kind of shit. I was wrong.”

Black says that she was physically attacked by the house manager Brent Rice after an incident regarding her laundry.

Black says that after she confronted Rice about removing her laundry from the washer he told her, “Who are you? You’re nobody. You ain’t nobody,” to which she replied, “I’m more of a person than you because I don’t touch children. Who was it you touched? Your daughter? Who was it?”

“He took out the clothes again and put them on the floor,” Black continued. “When I motioned to reach down and pick them up he pushed the shit out of me and I few into the sink and hurt my neck and my back and I actually ended up in the hospital because of that and had to get pain pills.”

Before she abandoned the house on Crenshaw, Wilkerson entrusted the management of the house and its tenants to Brent Rice. Rice is a registered sex offender who was convicted in 2010 of going to an arranged meeting with a minor with the intent to commit a specified sex offense. Rice refused to comment for this story when contacted. He is currently managing another one of Wilkerson’s room-for-rent homes located on 91st in South Los Angeles.

Black called the police and according to arrest records with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Rice was placed under citizen’s arrest by officers from the 77th Division on June 13, 2017.

Nov. 19, 2017, Wilkerson (red shorts) supervises as house manager Brent Rice (red tennis shoes) and other tenants pack U-haul moving van to move from Crenshaw house.

The tenants say that Wilkerson never told them that Rice was a registered sex offender. They found that information out on their own.

When asked about why she’d entrust a registered sex offender with running the house Wilkerson replied, “Everyone knows because its [sic] in the agreement, as well as reminded when people attempt to have visitors under the age of 18. He is not in a place where kids are. Wouldn’t dare do that. He became a manager because he saw organization was needed. He kept the place clean, and people felt comfortable talking to him about whatever issues they had around the house. He was like the rest of the other participants. Took a chance with no managerial experience and stepped up to managing strangers from all backgrounds. And has done a marvelous job!”

A copy a current tenant’s agreement executed and signed by Wilkerson in 2017 for the house on Crenshaw shows that there is no mention that registered sex offenders live on the property or that a registered sex offender is the house manager.

“Brent was known to knock a person out a couple of times — choked a guy in there and then he was out in the street fighting a guy — a little skinny guy with mental disorders. He’s on SSI and he [Rice] is out in the street fighting him. Giovanna knew about it and she never cared. She does need to be stopped because she’ll keep going on forever and ever.”

Antoine Brown and Cortillia Holmes, Former Tenants

Army veteran and Brooklyn native Antoine Brown met Giovanna Wilkerson outside of the Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) on Grand Ave. near downtown Los Angeles.

“She was out there handing out her little papers asking if people needed affordable housing saying that she could help me out and get me back on my feet. So she asked me for my EBT card, the number, the pin number and everything. So she took out like $200 and told me to sleep on the couch and that if I didn’t have the money she’d take the food stamps.”

The house Ms. Wilkerson moved him into was the house she was renting from Raymond Todd in Compton.

“We came home one day and there was an eviction notice on the door and we was like what’s going on,” Brown explained. “So we tried to call her and she never picked up the phone. And then the landlord gave us a few months to get out of the house. All she does is just take people’s money and then go about her way.”

Brown says that Wilkerson regularly mixed women who didn’t have minor children together in the same room with men. Rooms that include mattresses lined up on the floor — without a bed frame. Brown said that the front door wouldn’t lock so he doubled as security for the house by sleeping on the couch. He only stayed there a few months before he moved into a place of his own.

His cousin was Cortillia Holmes lived in the house for about 8 months and was there when the sheriff’s came to lock the tenants out.

“I’m so glad y’all caught her because that’s ridiculous — that’s ridiculous how she was doing people,” Holmes said via phone from North Carolina.

“I met her when I was at the Women’s Center downtown L.A. She came there and she tried to let people know that she got a house for rent and she’ll rent it by the room or whatever. So one of the girls I was in the shelter with she moved in with her she moved in one of her places so you know she told me about it and I went and called her and she was like I’ll give you a room for like $200 a month. I was like, I get GR. All I get is $221, but anything to get out of where I was in downtown L.A. I did it and she put me in a room with — it was a one, two, three bedroom house in Compton on Wilmington Ave. And in the master bedroom me and three or four other women in that one room. Then it was — she rented out the other two rooms to one couple with kids and another woman with a daughter and her sister. And um, I rented from her — 8 months we stayed there I paid my rent every month.”

Holmes says one day a man showed up at the house.

“And then one day this guy came to the house and he was like is Giovanna here and we was [sic] like no she’s not here. She don’t [sic] live here. He was like ‘I’m the owner of this house and I’ve been trying to get in touch with her and I went and took out papers out on her and we trying to find her.’ So I went and got all of my roommates and got them and let him come in and talk to us. It was right before rent was due. He advised us not to pay our rent to Giovanna because she hasn’t paid him since she’s been in this house.”

She continues, “So we all looking like ‘is you serious?’ Like, we homeless people you know. She’s supposed to be helping us, but she was taking our money and wasn’t even paying the landlord.”

Holmes confirms landlord Raymond Todd’s account of him trying to work with the tenants Wilkerson left behind.

“So he told us that we had like 90 days before it was all settled and we had to find somewhere to go. That he was sorry that she hustled us for the money and then the police came and served us our papers to get out and we all got out when we was supposed to get out in our 90 days. I never seen her again. I never got the chance to run into her. I probably would have cussed her out. I probably would have put my hands on her. It was best that I didn’t run back into her. I hope they put her under the fucking jail for real. You don’t go about doing stuff like that You [sic] a woman yourself, you’re supposed to uplift other women You’re not supposed to tear them down. If you can’t help them, why try to hustle them out of their money? They [sic] only getting GR.”

Holmes said that the Downtown Women’s Center — which is the only organization in Los Angeles focused exclusively on serving women experiencing homelessness and formerly homeless women — banned Wilkerson from soliciting for tenants there.

At least seven evictions since 2009

An undated photo of Giovanna Wilkerson.

A search of court documents shows that beginning in 2009, Wilkerson has had seven unlawful detainers filed against her — almost one every year.

Lauren Sutton rented her three-bedroom home on 2nd Ave. in Inglewood to Wilkerson in 2008. Sutton says that Wilkerson stopped paying the rent forcing her to evict her–but not after she stayed in the home for several months without paying rent.

Via Facebook Sutton commented, “So sad to hear this woman is still causing damage….this person Giovanna Wilkerson owes me $8,000 which was won in a court judgement for past rent and damages to my property she rented. Needless to say, I never saw a penny of what she owed me. Jasmyne Cannick thank you for your work revealing revealing the truth about this parasite and helping those people in need of assistance.”

Another one of Wilkerson’s landlords says that Wilkerson was receiving thousands of dollars a month from the government as a caregiver for people with autism and other disabilities through the South Central Los Angeles Regional Center when she stopped paying the rent. Both landlords said she left their property in horrible condition.

A Los Angeles Times profile on Wilkerson and her then husband show that she had early ambitions of owning property in South Los Angeles.

Still in business

Photo of house in Watts where tenants say Giovanna Wilkerson currently rents out rooms. (Mar. 3, 2018)

Calls to R.C. Thornton, a developer landlord, who property records with the Los Angeles County Assessor’s office show owned at least two homes Wilkerson rent out rooms in were not returned. Wilkerson is believed to have a deal with Thornton currently for a property in Watts on east 109th where she is renting out rooms and keeps an office in the garage. Tenants say Thornton recently sold the building to a Chinese real estate investment group. Previously, Thornton was listed as the owner of building on 84th Street in South Los Angeles where Wilkerson also rented out rooms.

A photo of Ms. Wilkerson’s office located in a garage in Watts. The building’s tenants say they rent rooms from her. (Mar. 3, 2018)

In addition to Giovanna Wilkerson, she’s known to use the alias’ Giovanna Clark, Giovanna Leigh Cromartie Wilkerson and Giovan’na LC Clark. Her business names have included “Hands Helping Hands,” “Hands Helping Hands II” and “WeeCome2U! Transportation.” Her preferred clientele appears to be the physically disabled, persons with developmental disabilities, elderly, low-income, indigent adults and others on public assistance unable to afford the high cost of rent.

As for the tenants in the house on Crenshaw Blvd., the angst and uncertainty will continue at least for another week before they learn their fate after a Fri. Mar. 2 court date regarding their eviction was continued. The tenants — some with autism and mental, developmental and physical disabilities — all claim that Giovanna Wilkerson left them stuck facing an eviction after she didn’t pay the rent.

At issue is not whether or not they can stay in the house that’s without a working furnace, hot water, infested with bed bugs, roaches and mold and has tree roots bursting through the windows–but rather how long they have before they have to vacate the premises and where exactly they will go when they’re forced to leave.

Wilkerson contends that residents are not tenants and therefore landlord-tenant law does not apply to them.

“I’m the Housing Director, they are participants,” she said via text message.

When asked about the services clients say she promised she responded, “What services? We provide month to month housing. Guaranteed refrigerator and stove.”

Wilkerson adds, “The house on Crenshaw is in horrible condition, but it helped a lot of people. Some people loved the idea of being in a mansion, some grateful to being off the street, various situations.”

The house on Crenshaw Blvd. where tenants are facing eviction after transitional housing manager abandons them

Asked why she stopped paying rent Wilkerson says, “I had agreed to be gone for November 2017, as per what we agreed to do in the house meeting. He [the landlord] was okay with that and then I get a notice of him filing the [unlawful detainer]. I took the money and got them 91st…Everyone else relocated. December’s rent came, did they not realize that by still being there [the landlord] would need his rent to be due?”

Wilkerson continued to collect rent from her tenants on Crenshaw after she vacated the property. The tenants say that she collected rent in January and some of their rent in February.

“Ms. Wilkerson’s scam is made possible by the failure of city and county governments to address the lack of truly affordable housing,” commented civil and human rights attorney Nana Gyamfi. “Because they have made no effort to control rents and regulate landlords and allowed the displacement of thousands of people by developers and gentrifiers, vultures like Ms. Wilkerson are continuously swooping in and taking advantage of desperate people who trying to keep from sleeping outside. All of the cities where Ms. Wilkerson has properties should be considered the proud sponsors of her exploitive enterprise.”

“All I really know is she took February’s rent and then two days later I come back home to a money order on my bed returned in full,” shared Shalana Little. “She told one woman not to pay for February but she took another guy’s rent this month but only gave him half back or prorated he said.”

Wilkerson says her tenants are required to disclose their EBT information (pin code, card number) because people become dishonest.

“We don’t ask to [hold] onto cards as most program do,” Wilkerson said. “They will say their funds didn’t hit the card, and attempt to live for free, smoke or drink their money up. Poor choices rather than housing being a priority.”

“I think it’s a poor choice for her to take our money and then not pay the rent,” added Little.

The tenants of the Crenshaw house have established a Go Fund Me campaign to assist in paying their legal fees and to split what’s left over among themselves to aid in their relocation.

Do you know Giovanna Wilkerson? If you rented to Ms. Wilkerson or rented from Ms. Wilkerson and you’d like to share your experience please click here to contact me. If Ms. Wilkerson solicited you to rent from her or to rent to her, please click here to contact me.

Jasmyne Cannick is a nationally known writer and commentator on political, race and social issues. She was selected as one of ESSENCE Magazine’s 25 Women Shaping the World, one of the Most Influential African-Americans in Los Angeles Under 40, one of Los Angeles’ Most Fascinating Angelenos by the L.A. Weekly and one of 40 People Under 40 by the Advocate. She’s worked in the U.S. House of Representatives and at all levels of government helping to shape public opinion and encourage civic engagement while advocating for underrepresented and marginalized communities in the political arena. Learn more here.