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Press Release

Cincinnati woman pleads guilty to making false racial discrimination claims against landlord to federal agents

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Ohio

CINCINNATI – A Cincinnati tenant pleaded guilty in federal court today to making false statements accusing her landlord of violating the Fair Housing Act.

Dermisha Pickett, 33, fabricated messages from her landlord stating the landlord did not want Black tenants.

According to court documents, in February 2023, the U.S. Attorney’s Office was forwarded several text messages purportedly sent by the Cincinnati-area landlord as part of a civil rights report. The U.S. Attorney’s Office referred the matter to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General (HUD OIG) to investigate the claims.

The investigation revealed that the landlord owns more than 100 properties, including 56 properties rented through HUD’s housing choice voucher program. Many of his tenants appear to be Black/African American.

In March 2023, Pickett met with HUD agents and provided the agents with numerous discriminatory messages purportedly made by Pickett’s landlord. Pickett also claimed to receive a call from the landlord as she arrived at the meeting and placed the call on speaker phone.

Pickett told agents that she had attempted to pay her portion of the rent but that her landlord returned it, stating he did not want to rent to Black individuals.

In a later interview with the landlord, the landlord told agents he did not want to continue to rent to Pickett because she was causing extensive damage to the property.

Phone records and forensic analysis indicate that no text messages were exchanged during the time periods Pickett claimed. It is alleged that Pickett used mobile applications to fabricate the text messages.

“False reports to law enforcement undermine legitimate reports of racial discrimination and could discourage victims from coming forward for fear that they will not be believed,” said U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker. “This office will continue to do its due diligence when presented with any potential civil rights violations.”

“Making false reports of racial discrimination is unacceptable and can have tangible effects on other tenants who rely on HUD-assisted housing,” said Special Agent in Charge Shawn Rice with the HUD Office of Inspector General. “In this case, if the landlord had violated the Fair Housing Act, his participation in HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher program may have been revoked, causing the displacement of approximately 50 families who rely on the Housing Choice Voucher program. These families would have been forced to uproot their families to find new homes, incurring non-reimbursable expenses.”

Pickett was charged by criminal complaint in August 2023.

Making a false statement to federal officers is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Kenneth L. Parker, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, and Shawn Rice, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, Mid-Atlantic Region announced the guilty plea entered into today before Senior U.S. District Judge Michael R. Barrett. Assistant United States Attorney Ebunoluwa A. Taiwo is representing the United States in this case.

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Updated February 21, 2024

Civil Rights