D.C. Council Member Marion Barry personally benefited from the contract he obtained for his former girlfriend and directed earmarks that "provided substantial financial benefits to some of his close friends and supports," according to a report by attorney Robert S. Bennett (pdf file).
In the report, Bennett stated Barry violated "D.C. law, council rules and policies and procedures" and recommends his findings be referred to the U.S. Attorney for possible criminal charges.
Barry responded that he did nothing wrong because the council had no written procedures outlining whom a council member could give a contract to.
In July, after news surfaced that Barry had given Donna Watts-Brighthaupt a city contract, the council asked Bennett to investigate the matter and review the council process for distributing earmarks.
According to the report, which was released this morning, Bennett concludes that Barry sought approval of Watts-Brighthaupt contract after he loaned her money to help her pay her bills. After Barry secured the contract for Watts-Brighthaupt, he then forced her to use her paycheck to repay him, the report said.
"Ms. Watts-Brighthaupt testified on several occasions, Mr. Barry personally delivered a contract payment check to her, insisted that they go directly to the bank, waited in the car while she cashed the check and when she returned to the car, required her to pay a portion of the funds over to him," the report states.
Watts-Brighthaupt was paid a total of $15,000 in city funds to develop a program called "Emerging Leaders of Ward Eight." However, according to the Bennett report, "significant portions" of the program manual "were copied without attribution from publicly available materials located on the Internet."
The Bennett report also looks into the 41 earmarks that Barry sponsored in fiscal year 2007, which totaled about $8.5 million. The report, which is still be presented to the council, states "a handful of individuals close to Mr. Barry, and their friends and relatives, made tens of thousands of dollar" from the earmarks.
"We conclude Mr. Barry breached the highest ethical standards expected of him," Bennett told the council. "We find his conduct not only appeared to be improper, but was improper. We find Mr. Barry breached the public trust and violated the conflict of interest laws of the District of Columbia."
When council members got to question Bennett, Barry stated, "if there are no written procedures for personal service contracts, no written procedures for scope of work...no written procedures for how you evaluate a product, then one who engages in that cannot, cannot be held accountable for violating something that did not exist in the first place," Barry said.
Barry told Bennett he resented the implication that he alone was responsible for the earmarks that were directed to organizations in Ward 8.
"The council awarded these contracts," Barry said. "Marion Barry did not sign a contract."
But Barry said he makes no apologies for trying to divert resources into economically depressed Ward 8.
"I am a different kind of council member," Barry said. "I ran to get resources, to uplift people of Ward 8 to do everything I can to empower them."
-- Tim Craig