Feds: Woman who said her landlord was racist made it all up

According to court documents, Dermisha Pickett faked the text messages using a separate phone and made false statements to investigators.
Published: Aug. 17, 2023 at 3:22 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (ENQUIRER) - A woman who publicly accused her landlord of racism to fight an eviction is now facing federal charges. Investigators say she made it all up.

Dermisha Pickett was going through the eviction process in February when she went public with a voicemail and text messages, supposedly from her landlord, stating she was being evicted due to her race, according to our media partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Pickett claimed her landlord, Sergey Briskman, told her he would “not rent to African Americans” and that he would “rather put a white family in the unit.”

Pickett and her attorney, Fanon Rucker, filed a counterclaim of discrimination, then investigators from Housing and Urban Development launched an investigation.

According to court documents, Pickett faked the text messages using a separate phone and made false statements to investigators.

Briskman met with investigators and willingly allowed them to search his phone, court documents state. The investigators determined he had not texted Pickett at all during the times Pickett claims. He also told HUD officials he was evicting her because she was causing extensive damage to the Daly Road residence in Springfield Township.

Briskman owns over 100 properties, 56 of which are rented through HUD’s housing choice voucher program, officials said, and approximately 48 of those 56 households were rented to individuals who appear to be Black.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said this false claim could have impacted dozens of families.

“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if the landlord had violated the Fair Housing Act, his participation in HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher program may have been revoked, causing the displacement of approximately 50 families who rely on the Housing Choice Voucher program,” the press release said. “These families would have been forced to uproot their families to find new homes, incurring non-reimbursable expenses.”

When Pickett made the claims about the eviction, Rucker said she was already in the process of moving, however, the eviction case is still pending in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. The next hearing is scheduled for Sept. 11.

In July, Rucker filed a motion to withdraw from the case, and this month a judge granted that request. Court records show Pickett is currently representing herself.

On Aug. 11, Briskman’s lawyer filed a motion for sanctions against Rucker, saying he did not thoroughly vet his client’s claims.

In a response to the sanctions motion filed Aug. 15, Rucker’s lawyer said Rucker convinced his client to dismiss her counterclaim when it was discovered her claims were “likely based on a lie.”

Rucker could not be reached for comment at the time of this report, the Enquirer said.

Making a false statement to federal officers is punishable by up to five years in prison. Destroying, altering, or falsifying records in a federal investigation carries a potential penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

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