PROVINCETOWN — A Sept. 7 health inspection of housing violations at 5 Center St. precipitated the arrest of property owner Paul Schofield after Health Director Lezli Rowell found Schofield assaulting four J-1 visa workers who were renting living quarters from him.
The four Bulgarian students, Emanuil Ninov, Renata Alenina, Alexandra Atanasova, and Christian Bratanov, said that Schofield’s arrest followed months of harassment, assault, theft, and substandard living conditions.
Schofield runs the Rose Acre Guest Apartments on Center Street and the Prince Albert Guest House on Commercial Street as well as a seven-bedroom rental at 7 Center St. with his husband, Dr. Andrew Jorgensen, chief medical officer at Outer Cape Health Services (OCHS).
Two of the students and their employers at Mad as a Hatter and the Dolphin Fleet allege that Schofield refused to pay the students for work they did at Schofield and Jorgensen’s properties. Then began a series of further abuses, they say: he broke into their apartment, stole money, destroyed their personal belongings, and assaulted them in his attempts to evict them. The charges are also in documents obtained by the Independent through public records requests.
Police reports from July and August show that the students, along with Kristyn Samok, owner of Mad as a Hatter, and Richard Kelly, manager at the Dolphin Fleet, went to the Provincetown police several times before the police ultimately arrested Schofield.
Schofield did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article.
According to Renata Alenina, she and the other students arrived in Provincetown in early June without housing but with job offers. They were four of over 300 international students who worked in Provincetown this summer through the J-1 visa program — a program designed to give foreign college students an American experience.
Alenina said that the students found Schofield by knocking on doors near Samok’s store on Commercial Street. Schofield offered them a one-bedroom unit for $125 per week each, with an agreement that they would also work at his guest houses.
The detached one-bedroom unit at the back of 5 Center Street was small, the students said. According to the assessor’s database, the apartment’s footprint is 311 square feet — well below the state sanitary code’s requirement for minimum square footage for four occupants.
But the students made do. Atanasova and Bratanov stayed in the bedroom, and Ninov and Alenina slept on a mattress in the kitchen.
They were grateful to find housing. They had been warned by veteran J-1 workers about Provincetown’s housing shortage.
The students moved in on June 16 and immediately began work for Schofield at $20 an hour. Ninov and Bratanov’s tasks included painting rooms, gardening, and maintenance work. Alenina and Atanasova worked at the Prince Albert as housekeepers.
The students kept track of the hours they worked on timesheets, which they provided to the Independent. After the first week, Schofield paid them in cash, Ninov said.
But Schofield delayed signing any documents, the students said, including payroll, tax forms, and a formal lease. They began to worry about getting in trouble with their sponsor agency, the Council on International Educational Exchange, for taking on informal work.
“When we inquired about submitting payroll paperwork and a lease, he was evasive,” Ninov later wrote in a letter to the Mass. chapter of the ACLU. “Anytime we asked to be paid he stated he would come by later with the money, and, one time, he actually ran away from us and down the street to avoid the discussion.”
A few weeks in, according to the students, Schofield “started overloading us with an excessive workload, expecting us to work long and unreasonable hours,” Ninov wrote in his letter. The students were working up to 50 hours a week according to their timesheets, on top of the 20 hours they worked at their official workplaces.
Schofield’s behavior became unpredictable, they said. When the students approached him about their unpaid wages, Schofield “unjustly accused us of not fulfilling our responsibilities,” Ninov said in his letter. “When we asked for the money, he said we were lying about our hours,” Ninov told the Independent.
According to a police report filed on July 19, the students said Schofield owed them an estimated $7,500.
The students said they still have not received payment. They are now back in school in Bulgaria, and do not know if they wish to pursue legal action, or if they will even be able to from afar.
“We have lost hope in getting the money,” Alenina said.
The Role of the Police
Schofield began threatening to evict the students in mid-July after they completed work on the guest houses, Ninov said.
“After the job was over, he said he didn’t want us there anymore,” Ninov said. “I think that was his plan, to have us do the work and then make us leave.”
Ninov said that Schofield would appear at all hours of the day and night, demanding that they move out of the apartment within 24 hours. The students bought a camera to put outside their door, but later found the camera vandalized, they said.
Ninov wrote to Dr. Jorgensen, pleading with him to intervene. “Despite our hard work and dedication, Paul abruptly demanded that we vacate the property immediately, which, as we understand, contravenes the laws of Massachusetts,” Ninov wrote. “Given your esteemed position and influence, we kindly request your intervention to mediate this matter and help reach a fair and equitable resolution.”
Jorgensen never answered Ninov. Schofield texted Ninov on July 19, “you will not be meeting with my husband.”
Jorgensen did not respond to requests for comment for this article. The OCHS website no longer lists Jorgensen as chief medical officer, a position he had held since 2017. Jorgensen was listed as C.M.O. as recently as Sept. 25, according to internet archives. Inquiries to OCHS regarding Jorgensen’s status were not answered by the Independent’s deadline.
In the same July 19 text to Ninov, Schofield also said that, because the students no longer worked for him, he would be raising the rent to the standard motel price of $300 per night. “Remember you are in a motel,” the message read. “I can have the police remove you for non-payment any day.”
Later that day, Schofield arrived at the students’ unit and attempted to remove their belongings. According to Alenina, Atanasova attempted to block Schofield from entering the unit, at which point, they said, he shoved Atanasova.
Samok and Kelly brought the students to the Provincetown police station, where they detailed the alleged abuses to Officer Brendan Dabrolet. In a follow-up meeting with Dabrolet the next day, the students told him they discovered that $350 in cash they kept in the unit had disappeared.
Alenina “stated they feel very unsafe,” Dabrolet wrote in the police report, and that Alenina “did not sleep well last night due to fear that Schofield would enter the unit in the middle of the night.”
At the bottom of Dabrolet’s report, he wrote that he referred the students to Orleans District Court, “due to the situation being civil.”
According to the Mass Legal Help website, a landlord breaking into an apartment, physical assault, and burglary are all criminal offenses.
Local housing attorney Robert Lowe said that, while the dispute over evicting the students is a civil matter, if Schofield “went in their apartment and took money, that’s a criminal matter.”
The police were called again on Aug. 14 regarding Schofield’s aggressive conduct. According to the call log, Bratanov reported that Schofield had grabbed Ninov by the throat.
Officer Simon Saliba responded and wrote in his report, “All involved parties were advised to refrain from confronting each other until the eviction process is concluded. No crime involved.”
Schofield is no stranger to the Provincetown police. According to police reports from November and December 2022, a previous tenant said he had broken into the unit and stolen clothes and a voice recorder. In another report, the tenant alleged that Schofield “ransacked” his apartment and dumped his belongings outside.
Officer Dabrolet reported, after Schofield shut off that tenant’s water, that the tenant “did not want me to press any criminal charges.”
Theresa Cancelliere, assistant manager at Mad as a Hatter, said that Alenina and Atanasova would arrive at work distraught that nothing was being done. “They felt no one was standing up for them,” she said. “That’s what upset them the most.”
“For months the police knew what he was doing, but nothing changed,” Alenina told the Independent.
“I don’t know if it was because we were Bulgarian and not local people,” Ninov said.
Deputy Police Chief Gregory Hennick did not respond to emails and calls for comment for this article.
The Town Steps In
Schofield shut off the students’ water on Aug. 27, according to an email Richard Kelly sent to Lezli Rowell and Code Compliance Officer Aaron Hobart on Aug. 28.
Police records show that Kristyn Samok also called on Aug. 27 to report that Schofield had shut off the water, a criminal offense, according to Mass Legal Help.
Rowell and Hobart inspected the unit on Aug. 28. In her report, Rowell documented numerous violations of the state’s minimum standards of fitness for human habitation, including a lack of hot water in kitchen and bathroom sinks as well as a “trickle with inadequate water pressure” in the shower. Rowell also noted missing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors as well as an expired fire extinguisher.
Hobart noted that the mattress in the kitchen where Ninov and Alenina slept had a cardboard headrest that abutted the oven.
Rowell ordered Schofield and Jorgensen to fix the violations within 24 hours and to schedule a follow-up inspection. That inspection, on Sept. 7, led to Schofield’s arrest.
According to the police report, Officer Saliba responded to a call from Rowell of a disturbance at 5 Center St. When he arrived, Saliba witnessed Schofield attempting to remove a mattress from the apartment, and elbowing Bratanov in the face when Bratanov tried to stop him.
Rowell confirmed that Schofield had assaulted Bratanov. Schofield was arrested and arraigned the next day at Orleans District Court, according to court records. He is charged with assault and battery, disorderly conduct, and destruction of property.
Ninov said that if Rowell hadn’t been there to witness the incident, he wondered whether any action would have been taken. “If they didn’t see it, I don’t know if anyone would have believed us,” he said.
The students were relocated to the Harbor Hotel the next day. They stayed there and then at the Sandcastle Resort for a total of 16 nights before returning to Bulgaria, according to Rowell.
Town Manager Alex Morse told the select board on Oct. 10 that the students were relocated because corrections to the unit they had rented from Schofield had not been made and Rowell had deemed it uninhabitable.
According to Morse, Schofield and Jorgensen still owe the town $3,111 for the students’ hotel stays. The board of health canceled the Oct. 19 meeting at which it planned to demand reimbursement. Chair Susan Troyan said that the town still plans on pursuing repayment.
“When we are not able to ensure that people are safe, we find housing for them,” said Troyan. “The town should not have to pay for it — the property owner should.”
Samok commended Rowell and other town staff for their work to help bring the students to safety. “The folks at town hall were really on top of it — the kids were comforted by that,” Samok said.
Along with Rowell, DEI Director Donna Walker supported the students throughout the summer, said Kelly. Walker helped Ninov write to the ACLU for legal help.
“I don’t know if it was in her purview, or if she just took it on,” Kelly said. “But she was a surrogate for help because there was no one else.”
“What all of us came to realize is that we don’t have anything that addresses what can happen to J-1 and H-2B visa holders here,” Walker told the Independent.
While a J-1 student’s sponsoring agency is the “first line of defense,” Walker said, Ninov said the students did not report to their sponsoring agency for fear they would be deported for working without proper paperwork, despite Schofield having rejected their attempts to obtain it.
“We lived in a nightmare for two months,” Ninov said. “It’s still a nightmare. I didn’t know anyone when I arrived in Provincetown. It was our first time in America, and then in one month I’m in the police station.
“I want to be back next summer,” Ninov said. “But I am scared for what might happen.”