Detective Sgt. Jeremiah Davis arrested Tate on Feb. 2 after a lengthy investigation.
"He was collecting rent and keeping it for himself, or using it for other things," Davis said. "It was the result of poor and shoddy bookkeeping, not keeping good records, trying to do too many things at once. It was a combination of a lot of things, including being dishonest."
Tate remains out on $10,000 bond until trial, Davis said. Each of the four counts carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The case is scheduled to go before a Durham County grand jury on Monday, March 21, he said.
The sheriff's department's investigation was prompted by information provided to the district attorney by the N.C. Real Estate Commission, the statewide regulatory agency that revoked Tate's professional license in August 2004. That move was the result of nearly three years of investigation that began after the Independent published an in-depth article about Dunbar Realty, which Tate took over from prominent Durham activist Lavonia Allison and renamed AT&G (www.indyweek.com/durham/2001-11-21/cover.html). After the article appeared in November 2001, Tate's clients began contacting state regulators to report problems with Allison's successor.
Acting on complaints from four clients, Real Estate Commission investigators determined that Tate and his partner Joseph Williams could not account for at least $35,000 and possibly as much as $100,000 in rent money that was paid by tenants but never reached the landlords. A March 2004 audit of the firm's books revealed its trust account--where security deposits and other business funds are supposed to be held--had dwindled to less than $4. The Real Estate Commission revoked Tate's and Williams' licenses last August (Independent Weekly, "State shuts down Durham real estate firm," Sept. 29, 2004, www.indyweek.com/durham/2004-09-29/news.html).
Client Ann Henderson Brockenborough told state investigators that Tate owed her more than $11,000 in back rent on her family's four-plex on South Roxboro Street, according to commission records.
Sisters Pearl McAllister and Dora Green told investigators they had not been paid at least five months' rent on their properties on Dunstan and Sedgefield streets, a total of about $8,100, and that Tate had failed to transfer about $1,400 in security deposits when they hired a new property manager. A fourth client, Richard Belser, is owed about $2,500, according to Davis.
As the proprietor of AT&G, Tate had managed about 30 apartments and duplexes that rented for as low as $250 a month, according to commission and court records. Tate took over Dunbar's business in April 2000 from Allison, the chairwoman of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People whose family started the company in 1935.
The phone at Tate's former Fayetteville Street office has been disconnected; he could not be reached for comment. Williams, a Durham Police Department employee who resigned from the firm in 2003, was not charged, Davis said.
Durham County court records show the four felony counts filed last month are not Tate's first brush with the law. He also has a history of traffic and misdemeanor criminal charges over the last two decades. Since 1983, he has been charged with 35 offenses, including three counts of writing worthless checks, one count of carrying a concealed weapon and several counts of driving with his license revoked.
Tate's legal problems also spill into civil court, where records show several similar complaints about his business practices where clients have sought court intervention to retrieve their money.