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Posted at 06:20 PM ET, 11/18/2010

'House blessing' canceled after fraud conviction comes to light

The leaders of the Washington Interfaith Network have abruptly canceled a ceremony celebrating the D.C. Weatherization Initiative after it was discovered that a benefactor of the program had defrauded the federal government.

WIN had invited Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray (D), D.C. Council members and various other community leaders to a "house blessing event" Thursday night in the 600 block of Princeton Place NW.

The house, which city records indicate is owned by Duke Amir, is one of the first in the city to benefit from a new city program in which taxpayers pay to weatherize a house.

But word began circulating this afternoon that Amir was sentenced to 20 months in prison in 2004 for preparing fraudulent income tax forms.

Amir, who formerly owned the D.C. Tax Preparation Center, "engaged in a scheme to defraud the United States and the Internal Revenue Service by preparing and filing false federal income tax returns for clients in the metropolitan D.C. area" from 1998 through 2000, according to a statement released at the time by the Department of Justice. In all, Amir defrauded the government of $204,000, according to the Justice Department.

Amir was not available for comment Thursday.

Martin Trimble, a lead organizer for WIN, said he notified Gray and other city leaders late Thursday afternoon that the house blessing had been canceled. Instead, officials planned to gather at a nearby recreation center.

"We are embarrassed and we don't condone this activity and clearly we have to apply tighter screens about who are in the program," Trimble said.

The weatherization program, a priority of WIN's, is overseen by the Deputy Mayor's Office for Planning and Economic Development and the Department of the Environment, Trimble said.

Designed to create jobs and reduce energy consumption, the city pays to install new insulation, windows, caulking and weather-proofing in the homes of qualified residents. In March, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and WIN officials announced plans to use the Sustainable Energy Trust Fund to pay to weatherize 2,000 to 4,000 homes.

A spokesman for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) was not immediately available to comment.

In an interview, Amir said he understands WIN's decision to move the event from his house.

"I understand it and I have no problem with it," Amir said.

Amir said his criminal record never came up when he applied for the weatherization program. He said contractors put in new insulation in his attic, caulked the windows and gave him a new water heater, free of charge.

"My house was selected out of 50 to be done, so they did it," Amir said. "The program took care of the costs."

This post has been updated since it was first published.

By  |  06:20 PM ET, 11/18/2010

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