Fort Worth

For now, Prime Prep doesn’t have to pay rent to church

Prime Prep Academy does not have to pay rent to the church whose building it used for classes until last week, state District Judge John Chupp said Wednesday during a hearing on the charter school’s request for a temporary restraining order.

The judge also told both parties to stop making “disparaging” comments about each other.

On Tuesday, Prime Prep sued Charity Church and asked for the order, saying the school shouldn’t have to continue to pay $18,000 monthly in rent to the church.

School officials also asked that church representatives be told to stay out of a building on Griggs Avenue where classes are now being held.

Chupp wasn’t specific about how long the school could forgo paying rent. John Fraser, an attorney representing the church, said it was his understanding that the school doesn’t have to make its April payment.

According to the suit, Charity Church originally promised to provide space for the charter school rent free for three years. Then, without the knowledge of the academy’s board, the church “used an unauthorized and apparently fraudulent second lease to strongarm the school into paying over $108,000.00 in rent that it did not owe,” the suit said

The troubled academy — co-founded in 2011 by pro football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders and his business partner at the time, D.L. Wallace — and the church reached an impasse over the rent payments, as reported last week by WFAA. Mays told WFAA that school administrators stopped paying rent, and he had the locks changed.

The suit also asserts that Wallace’s property management company has the same address as the church, that Mays is chief financial officer of Wallace’s company and that Wallace is a director of the church. School officials learned about the second lease after Wallace resigned as the school superintendent.

Chupp expressed concern about the lease agreement between Prime Prep and Charity Church.

“I think it would be interesting to see where this [money] has gone because if [Wallace] has left the school for the church, there may be some issues,” Chupp said.

The Texas Education Agency is also investigating Prime Prep, including real estate transactions, fingerprinting of staff, financial management and accessibility, spokeswoman DeEtta Collins said.

During the hearing, Fraser said the church became concerned after the school began using the building beyond agreed time limits, and that property was damaged or missing. Church and school officials then negotiated a commercial lease, he said.

Last week, the school moved its classes to the nearby Austin building, not owned by the church.

Rebecca Hicks, an attorney for the school, said when Prime Prep classes moved out of the church building, the only things missing were a copy machine and some “breakfast items” for the students.

Bishop Fredrick Mays of Charity Church was accused of handing out fliers to parents saying that the school was an unhealthy and unsafe place for children.

“It was scaring the parents and children,” Hicks said.

“My client has been portrayed as being anti-school and anti-kids. Nothing can be further from the truth,” said Fraser.

Chupp told the parties that he wants to make sure that children have a good learning environment during the rest of the school year. In his order, he told school and church employees not to make “disparaging” comments in the parking lot or in the vicinity of the school.

A hearing on a temporary injunction was set for 1:30 p.m. April 15, and there were also discussions of possible mediation.

Chupp set a trial date on the suit for July 28.

Elizabeth Campbell, 817-390-7696

Twitter: @fwstliz

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