As many Americans celebrated Independence Day with firecrackers and barbecues, over a thousand people in Detroit fell victim to a cruel scam. Apparently, fliers and social media posts promised that those who showed up at City Hall in Highland Park on July 4th would receive free housing and $100,000.
Hundreds line up downtown on 4th of July, lured in by ‘free homes’ event https://t.co/bhLTua0hGp
— FOX 2 Detroit (@FOX2News) July 4, 2018
Behind the incident was purportedly a group calling itself the Detroit Free Housing Program, which maintains a credible-looking website, and engaged in an active social media campaign to lure people to line up.
Attendees were told that if they voted to get rid of the current city council and its policies, thousands of abandoned homes in Detroit would be given to them, free of charge.
According to a post made directly by the City of Detroit, the organization organizing the event was denied permitting; residents were also notified that the event was not sanctioned and were advised not to attend via social media.
ATTENTION DETROITERS: The “Detroit Free Housing Program” Fair that is allegedly scheduled for Wednesday, July 4 at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, is NOT a legitimate city event/program.
Please refrain from giving your personal information to unverified sources. pic.twitter.com/hfI9xKc0m0
— City of Detroit (@CityofDetroit) July 4, 2018
Still, the scam drew such a crowd that it required the dispatching of additional police officers. According to Detroit News, this isn’t the first time such a con has been perpetrated on Detroiters; police said that Ramzu Yunus, a leader in the “African-American Sovereign Movement,” was the event’s organizer, and was given a citation for lacking a permit at today’s event. Yunus is well-known by Detroit police; On July 4, 2016, Yunus organized a nearly identical event, during which crowd control became problematic.
About 30 minutes after Ramzu Yunus arrives at Highland Park City Hall To declare a free state, the rally is over. pic.twitter.com/9V3k5qMlRc
— Shelley Childers (@ShelleyChilders) October 12, 2016
At that time, police began to arrest people and take them into custody, but Yunus resisted. Police Chief Chester Logan explained then,”We tried to put the ringleader into custody, he indicated he was ready to go. But when time came after numerous warnings, he took off and ran from us.”
Police have not reported any arrests resulting from today’s event, but Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield lamented the impact the scam had on those in need. “You’re talking about housing, which is a critical issue, especially decent, quality and affordable housing, in the city,” Sheffield said, “It’s unfortunate whoever organized the event led people on with the belief they will receive a home. Housing is a sensitive topic for many people.”
Police have said that the group organizing the event will likely be ticketed, and that there will be an investigation to determine if any criminal activity took place.