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Mobtown Beat

A Home for the Holidays

Randallstown House Raffler Draws Heat

Frank Klein
THERE ARE NO WINNERS: Elton D. Smith sold 3,000 tickets for a raffle to win a house in Baltimore County, but the raffle was cancelled at the last minute.

By Van Smith | Posted 12/29/2004

On Friday, Dec. 17, windshields of cars parked in Mount Vernon were graced with raffle tickets bearing the image of an attractive stone house and the words “Own it for a $25.00 Chance.” The drawing, according to the tickets, was scheduled for Christmas Day and was to be held by A House in a Home Corp. The whole deal, though, appears to be illegal, according to state officials who regulate real-estate raffles. The resident-owner of the house and the principal of the raffle company—Elton D. Smith—tells City Paper that he is operating a charity, which are the only entities permitted to raffle off real estate in Maryland. But the state has no records that A House in a Home is, in fact, charity, or that it filed the necessary paperwork to conduct a lawful raffle, and has started investigations of the enterprise.

Meanwhile, Smith told City Paper on Dec. 21 that he canceled the raffle after selling 3,000 tickets, which were also available on eBay. The money generated by the ticket sales—approximately $75,000—“does not equal the value of the house,” he explained in a telephone conversation, so ticket buyers can ask for refunds. A House in a Home’s web site explains the refund policy: Ticket buyers who return their tickets will get refunds “less $10.00 per household for administrative cost.” With 3,000 tickets sold, that means A House in a Home might keep up to $30,000 of the ticket sales—or more, depending on how many purchasers actually seek partial refunds.

The Maryland Secretary of State regulates charities, and its spokeswoman Aja Foster says that A House in a Home “is not registered with our office. We will be sending a letter to them, notifying them of the appropriate steps they need to be taking” in order to hold a lawful raffle of real estate. Those steps, Foster explains, are “to register with our office as a charity, and also to register the raffle of the real property. Depending on how he responds, we will take necessary steps after that.” As for the money that Smith is keeping from the canceled raffle, Foster says “that would be something for our charities investigators to look into, because then you get into legalities.”

“At this point,” Foster continues, “the lottery is looking into this, the attorney general’s office is looking into it, and our office is looking into it, so one way or another we’re going to get this figured out.” Kevin Enright, spokesman for Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., confirms that his office and the Maryland State Lottery are investigating the situation.

Enright adds that the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, which mediates consumer grievances about business practices, has received no complaints about Smith, A House in a Home, or two other entities that Smith runs: N Winner Circle Corp. an Worldwide Friendship International. N Winner Circle’s web site was taken down Dec. 22, the day after City Paper visited Smith at his home, but it appeared to invite users to play games for money. Its slogan, also printed on one of the two BMWs parked in Smith’s driveway, is “Where You Take Home the Cash,” though its stated purpose in its incorporation papers is “educational promotions.” Worldwide Friendship International sells the names and addresses of pen pals to its subscribers.

Smith has drawn heat before. In August 2003, the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings held him liable, to the tune of $5,000, for a racial-harassment campaign he conducted, starting in November 2000, against his next-door neighbors on Briarstone Road. The neighbors, an interracial couple, were compensated for mental-health treatment necessitated by Smith’s ongoing harassment. Smith is African-American.

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