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NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – A federal grand jury returned an indictment yesterday against a Hampton-based landlord for using force and threats of force against African American victims, including a businessman, a city official in Newport News, and four tenants. The indictment further charged the landlord with defrauding tenants and the government to obtain rent relief benefits, housing assistance payments for public housing, and other funds to which he was not entitled.

According to the indictment, David L. Merryman, 58, owns more than 60 rental properties in Hampton and Newport News. As alleged, Merryman repeatedly harassed his tenants with racist slurs, threats to kill or injure, and retaliatory eviction actions. The alleged threats and racial harassment were often highly graphic and included references to slavery and mocking comments about the Black Lives Matter movement. In addition, Merryman allegedly engaged in physical assaults and other threatening behavior towards tenants, including on one occasion striking a tenant in the face with a shovel and on another occasion attacking a tenant with the blade of a chainsaw while it was off.

According to the indictment, Merryman also orchestrated a scheme to defraud the government and his tenants. For example, the indictment alleges that, to obtain housing-assistance payments from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Merryman repeatedly made false representations about the condition of his rental properties and whether he was receiving other payments that would be duplicative of federally funded rental assistance. Merryman also submitted fraudulent applications for rent-relief benefits made available during the COVID-19 pandemic by allegedly stealing the identities of his tenants and forging their signatures without their consent. In many cases, Merryman obtained significant sums of rent relief without telling the tenants, all the while evicting, or seeking to evict, the tenants for unpaid rent.

As alleged, Merryman also defrauded tenants by obtaining money and property from them under false pretenses—primarily false representations that he would repair his properties or repay tenants for repairs they made, which served to induce tenants to pay him significant upfront fees for neglected, even uninhabitable, properties that Merryman never intended to improve. The indictment further alleges that Merryman’s conduct was part of a pattern in which he would demand significant initial fees or deposits from prospective renters and then subject those same tenants to racist and discriminatory practices, in part so they would leave the property, which would allow Merryman to start the cycle again with new tenants.

Merryman is charged with ten counts of wire fraud, four counts of interfering with housing rights, two counts of interstate communications with threats to injure, six counts of theft of government money, four counts of making false statements to HUD, and four counts of aggravated identity theft. If convicted, Merryman faces a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison for each count of aggravated identity theft, and maximum terms ranging between one year and twenty years in prison on each of the remaining counts. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Jessica D. Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Brian Dugan, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office; and Rae Oliver Davis, Inspector General of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, made the announcement.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys D. Mack Coleman, Julie D. Podlesni, and Brian J. Samuels are prosecuting the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 4:24-cr-4.

An indictment is merely an accusation. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.