(CN) – A longtime West Virginia landlord agreed to pay $600,000 and transfer the ownership of 70 rental properties to settle claims he sexually harassed current and prospective tenants.
The settlement was announced Monday. In federal complaint filed in March, the U.S. Justice Department says Gary Walden demanded sexual favors from his female tenants in return for tangible housing benefits, a violation of the Fair Housing Act.
Under the settlement terms, Walden, who served nearly two years in prison after pleading guilty in April 2015 to sexual abuse, will be enjoined from engaging in any property management, rental management, or maintenance responsibilities at the rental properties, and from entering the premises or having any contact with current or former tenants of the rental properties, including any individuals determined to be aggrieved persons.
Walden and the estate of his late wife, Tina Walden, will pay a total of $500,000 to all persons harmed by his discriminatory conduct, and $100,000 to the United States in civil penalties.
“It is unacceptable that a woman should have to endure sexual harassment by her landlord in her own home,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This settlement sends a strong message that the Civil Rights Division will aggressively pursue those who engage in this egregious conduct.”
The case began when four female tenants filed complaints with the Department of Housing and Urban Development about Walden’s egregious conduct, and HUD staffers forwarded those complaints to the Justice Department.
The Justice Department filed a civil lawsuit against Walden in March, alleging he grabbed the women’s buttocks and breasts, offered housing benefits to those women who agreed to perform sexual acts on him or his maintenance workers, touched himself in their presence, exposed himself to them, made unwanted sexual advances towards them, entered their apartments without their permission to sexually harass them, and threatened to take adverse action against them when they refused his sexual advances .
Walden’s late wife allegedly received complaints about the unwanted sexual conduct, but failed to take steps to stop him. The couple was also accused of denying housing to women who refused sexual contact with Walden, making statements that indicated they had a preference in regards to housing selection based on sexual willingness, and coerced and intimidated the victims.
In April 2015, Walden pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual abuse, one count of burglary, and two counts of conspiracy in Monongalia County Circuit Court. He was sentenced to 2-10 years in a state prison, followed by 1-15 years of home confinement, and 10 years of probation.
He has since been released from the Huttonsville Correctional Center to serve the remainder of his sentence on home confinement.