Seven women say maintenance men at the public housing complex where they live, forced them to trade sex for repairs. Now they're suing Baltimore City's housing authority for more than $1-billion.
Their attorneys say the women did not come forward until now because they were afraid of what might happen to them if they complained.
Their lawsuit targets the city housing authority, the man who runs it -- and two of his employees -- who the plaintiffs say only made repairs to their apartments, if they got something in return.
At her apartment in the Gilmor Homes in West Baltimore, Lenise Diggs has some problems. “I have a gap in my door about that wide with nothing but cold air comes in in the winter time,” she said.
She reported it when she first moved in -- 18 months ago: “You have to constantly wipe the walls down you know because there's mold that will sit in there,” she said.
But still, she says, it hasn't been fixed. Diggs says she's heard that for some of her neighbors, repairs happen more quickly if they perform sexual favors, for certain maintenance men.
“I have heard of the maintenance men harassing one of my neighbors around there,” Diggs said.
Now, seven female residents of Gilmor Homes, and another public housing complex, have come forward -- with a lawsuit filed in Federal District Court in Baltimore.
The plaintiffs detail several disturbing encounters with housing employees. One says she went to the maintenance supervisor's office, and asked "What do I have to do to get things fixed?”
The lawsuit claims that the supervisor: "unzipped his fly, exposed his penis to her and asked her, ‘What can you do with this?’"
“The maintenance men, whose job it is to make these repairs, are demanding sexual favors in exchange. It's appalling and we're going to put a stop to it,” said Cary Hansel, one of the lawyers representing the women.
Some of the repairs the women asked for are serious -- involving mold, exposed wires and heating problems.
They say if sexual favors were granted, repairs were made. If not, things still have not gotten fixed.
“We have seven different women who have never met each other, who tell the same story about the same people over and over and over again,” Hansel said.
The suit also alleges Housing Authority Chairman Paul Graziano should have known about the problems, because the women had made complaints.
Lenise Diggs hopes the lawsuit leads to more consistent maintenance for all the residents of Gilmor Homes.
“When the need something done thy can't get no service. Which is, you know, that's not right,” she said.
A spokeswoman for the city's housing authority would not comment directly on the lawsuit. But she did say Commissioner Graziano is aware of the allegations.
In a statement she said, “HABC takes the safety and well-being of its residents very seriously. The agency continues to actively conduct an internal investigation of the alleged sexual abuse; however, details of this pending personnel investigation cannot be disclosed."
The lawsuit was filed Monday; the city has 30 days to respond.