Property Battle Dogs Scanlon

Posted May 6, 2005 at 6:19pm

On its face, the ongoing legal battle over the sale of 3618 Prospect St. NW might seem like a garden-variety property dispute.

Upon closer examination, though, the case suggests a cross between “MTV Cribs” and “K Street,” providing a candid glimpse into the lavish lifestyle of embattled public relations consultant Michael Scanlon, the one-time spokesman for now-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

And what a glimpse it is.

“High ceilings, elaborate Blue Venetian Plaster, hardwood maple floors, a spectacular audio/video system make this home with its exceptionally large and elegant rooms an ideal home in which to entertain on a grand scale,” raved an online virtual tour of the swanky Georgetown house that Scanlon snagged in 2003 for $2.8 million — a steal, considering the original listing price was $3.6 million.

Apparently, Scanlon wasn’t the only one to take notice of the property. The architectural elite did too.

Completely renovated in 2001 by Bethesda-based McInturff Architects, the 6,700-square-foot manse garnered seven architectural awards and received special mention in publications ranging from Washingtonian magazine to Custom Home.

With its dramatic floor plan and breathtaking views of the Potomac River, the house seemed like the perfect playground for a successful young public relations executive who had graduated at dizzying speed from the warren-like trenches of Capitol Hill to the tassel-loafered confines of K Street.

In fact, Scanlon was just 29 years old — and still paying off student loans, according to The Washington Post — when he left DeLay’s press shop in 1999 to join the public relations firm Shandwick International as a senior vice president.

Within four years, Scanlon had founded his own PR firm and was earning millions of dollars for work he conducted in conjunction with lobbyist Jack Abramoff on behalf of various American Indian tribes.

While that work and those fees are now the focus of ongoing investigations by several federal entities, they were far from the front page in August 2003, when Scanlon plunked down a $200,000 deposit on the swanky Prospect Street pad with a storied past.

At one time, the home belonged to William Peter Blatty, the author who became famous for his book, and later movie, “The Exorcist.”

Thomas Holbrook, a local real estate agent who attended Georgetown University with Blatty, was a guest at the home several times in the 1970s when Blatty resided there.

“The interesting thing about the house when Bill Blatty lived there was that he had a sign on the front door that said ‘Beware of Snakes,’ and given that he had written ‘The Exorcist’ one wasn’t quite sure if it meant what it said or if it was a joke,” Holbrook told Roll Call. “It was a joke … but it terrified me the first time I went to the house.”

As it happened, Holbrook was hired as a listing agent in 2002 when then-owner Todd Cozzens decided to sell the tony rowhouse. A four-time member of the U.S. Olympic sailing team and CEO of a successful medical software company, Cozzens had invested a great deal of time and energy in the house, which he completely renovated in 2001.

But after Cozzens’ company, PICIS, acquired another Boston-based business, Cozzens decided to consolidate his company’s offices in Boston. So he put his Prospect Street home on the market.

“There was no expense spared in building this exceptional residence,” Holbrook raved in an online real estate ad when he listed the Cozzens residence.

Among the house’s dramatic post-renovation features were: a chef’s eat-in kitchen, a dining room that seats 12, a professional-quality gym, a library, a study, five balconies, a garage, and a state-of-the art audio-visual system. With the touch of a button, the owner could raise and lower the electric shades, access views of the property from security cameras, play one of hundreds of music and television channels, dim the lights in any room, or adjust the three-zone heating-cooling unit.

Scanlon, who also runs his own realty company in Rehoboth Beach, Del., apparently shared Cozzens’ taste in fine houses.

The PR mogul agreed to buy the house along with “all furnishings and contents,” with the exception of Cozzens’ “artwork and personal effects.” He moved in almost immediately.

Things quickly went sour, however, according to court documents that paint a vivid picture of an entrenched legal dispute.

According to Scanlon’s court filings, when he moved in, certain key “items,” including furniture and electronics that were “material to the transaction,” were missing.

The missing items “included but were not limited to custom-designed furniture made specifically for the property, a ‘one of a kind’ and spectacular audio/video system, rugs, electronic appliances, telephones, and other furnishings making up the ‘extraordinary’ and ‘unique home,’” according to Scanlon’s court filings.

In a sworn deposition, Cozzens has admitted that the moving company packing up his personal belongings had removed a number of items that should have stayed put. But he described them as “minor” things.

“There was some small number of items that probably did get moved that maybe should not have been moved,” Cozzens said. However, he insisted that the matter could have been resolved and that it was Scanlon who caused the deal to go sour when he failed to show up for the scheduled settlement in September 2003.

Cozzens also indicated he felt Scanlon was being unreasonable in his demands and was asking for some items that were clearly “personal” in nature, including medals he had received years earlier as a member of the Olympic sailing team.

Scanlon, meanwhile, filed a counterclaim in court, complaining that the property was not conveyed to him as had been agreed to — that is, with nearly all the furnishings and contents included — and demanded that his $200,000 deposit be returned.

But Cozzens, who is seeking $1 million in damages, seems to believe something else was going on.

Though he declined to discuss the matter with Roll Call, the Massachusetts businessman alleged during a deposition last month that “by the pattern of his actions, I believe that he did not intend to buy the property.”

“I speculate that he — in fact, in e-mails with my agent, we speculated that he got cold feet,” Cozzens continued in the deposition, when asked by Scanlon’s lawyers what he thought Scanlon’s “ulterior motive” might be. “Maybe he saw another property. I don’t know. I don’t really know. There could be many reasons.”

Scanlon did not respond to questions for this story.