And then there were two. With the exception of a handful of squatters, Mary Keef and Brian Walingsford are the last two people living in the Velvet Cloak Inn in Raleigh. Since July, several of their fellow holdouts moved out after the inn's owners threatened them with foreclosure and cut the electricity and water to their condos.
As the INDY reported in July, David M. Smoot III and his wife, Jeanne, have owned the Velvet Cloak Inn, once one of the most famous hotels in Raleigh, for a decade. During that time, the couple and their son Daniel, who managed the property, have let the building deteriorate.
In 2005, the Smoots began selling hotel rooms as condominiums for $70,000 to $80,000 each. According to Keef, the Smoots promised prospective condo buyers that they would restore the hotel. In 2012, the Smoots had not only failed to make good on that promise, they tried to buy back all of the condos from their residents for a fraction of the price for which they bought them, as low as $10,000.
After many residents refused to sell their condos back to the Smoots, Daniel began to intimidate the condo owners by showing them false reports of declining real estate prices and by threatening police action if they didn't sell, according to several residents.
"That's what they do, those Smoots," Walingsford said. "They use intimidation to scare people into doing what they want. I don't see how people like that can live with themselves."
The Smoots did not respond to several calls from the INDY by press time.
- Photo by Justin Cook
In September, Reginald Savage, a retired N.C. State professor and the leader of the resistance against the Smoots, sold his two condos back to the Smoots for $70,000, according to the N.C. Register of Deeds. The Smoots had threatened Savage with foreclosure.
"In a way I settled, but they were foreclosing on my unit, and I didn't want that and I did not need a foreclosure on my record," Savage said.
Emilio John Felicione also settled with the Smoots. Last week, he sold his condo back to them for $160,000.
The Smoots are now foreclosing on Keef's two condos, one of which she lives in. Walingsford lives in the other. Keef and Walingsford said they will continue to live at the Velvet Cloak until they are evicted.
"This is still not over," Keef said. "I survived breast cancer. That's what I do. I'm a survivor."
In addition to their alleged scare tactics, the Smoots also used the summer heat to persuade the condo owners to relinquish their property. The Smoots cut the power and air conditioning to several of the condos during the summer.
Matthew Norman, 83, was among those who chose to sweat it out rather than sell to the Smoots.
"If they had come to me with a reasonable offer at the start of all of this, I would've worked with them," Norman said. "Instead, they used a bunch of illegal machinations to make us give up."
After the Smoots turned off electricity and water to Norman's condo, he moved to different hotel on the other end of Raleigh. Though he managed to stay in his condo for four days and nights without power or water, Norman eventually deemed his condo unlivable and moved out.
"I had it all planned out," Norman said. "I was going to get a generator and everything. I was trying to figure out a pulley system to get water up to my condo, but then my daughter called and told me to stop playing tough guy, so I did."
Norman is still refusing to sell his condo to the Smoots. He said the price it will take to get him to settle at this point is high, but that it reflects the pain that the Smoots have put him through.
"I was planning to settle down for my last few years and make a contribution to society in some way, but what have I accomplished?" Norman said. "The only contributions I've made have been to this stupid fight."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Running on empty"