My story in today’s Philadelphia City Paper, co-written with Samantha Melamed, didn’t end with wage theft issues. After looking over my initial draft, Samantha dug into the Philadelphia Municipal Court Dockets. There you find that Wakeeta Rowe has more than twenty cases filed against her for non-payment of wages, rent, and taxes. When I had looked through the dockets, I focused on the wage cases, but Samantha started poking around in the rent cases and uncovered something else entirely. Some of the most recent action was around a company of Rowe’s called Philacare which, as of this writing, is still online.
Philacare provides care services for elderly and disabled people in Philadelphia. The website features no addresses, just a phone number which belongs to Lisa Rowe, Wakeeta’s sister. She put me in touch with Wakeeta over email. But as I was talking to Rowe about K-12 Staffing, Samantha found a whole new angle:
Rowe and her sister say the homes and their workers have all necessary licenses, though they would not specify which licenses or the locations of the homes. Rowe says none of her Philadelphia houses have more than three residents; DPW licenses and oversees only homes with four or more residents.
Landlords, however, say it was evident there were more people living there — and sometimes in unwholesome conditions.
For one, Willie Seward sued to evict Philacare and Rowe from his rental property, a three-bedroom house at 1512 W. Venango St., last September, complaining that she had racked up $2,615 in unpaid rent, gas and water bills. According to Seward, she had four or five people living at the house, and put the gas and electric bills under the names of her tenants.
Just before the lock-out date, “She moved them on to another house. She found herself another sucker,” he says. “They stayed places about six months and then she gotta go because the landlord evicted her.”
He says he was angry about his money, but worried about the residents. “They were kind of disabled, disorientated — they wasn’t normal people, they had a sickness,” he says. He wondered: Where would they end up?
It turns out they ended up — at least for several months — at the rental property of another landlord (who asked not to be named), a four-bedroom house in West Oak Lane. This time, Rowe was calling her company Rowe & Associates.
Rowe’s payments were late every month, then they stopped. He claims Rowe owed close to $4,000 by the time she was evicted. Worse, he says, someone apparently tampered with the gas meter, prompting Philadelphia Gas Works to remove it. It wasn’t replaced until after she moved out. “Those poor people lived without hot water, a stove or heat in the house, just in squalor, from late March through late May, when the final person got moved out,” he says.
When he stopped by, he would see a few elderly people sitting on plastic lawn chairs in the living room, watching a TV on a milk crate. Later, he was concerned enough by what he saw while cleaning up — signs that a resident had been sleeping on sheets on the floor with scraps of carpet padding for a blanket — that he called the Social Security Administration to complain.