DeAfternoon DeBonis: June 9, 2011

TODAY IS JUNE 9, 2011 — DAY 159 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION

PREVIOUSLY — Thomas allegations ring familiar in annals of political corruptionThomas steps down from powerful committee post

In today’s Post, Del Quentin Wilber and Victor Zapana detail how FBI agents tried to lure Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) as part of their investigation into taxi industry corruption, only to have him reject a cash payment handed to him by chief of staff Ted Loza: “After a minute or so, Graham said, he shut the flap, secured it with tape, and initialed and dated the envelope. ... ‘I think I saw that in a movie someplace, where you have to initial it,’ Graham said in an interview Wednesday.” The Post editorial board weighs in: “We’d suggest holding off before awarding him a medal. Obviously Mr. Graham did the right thing in refusing this improper offer of money. But turning down a bribe really should be the minimum ethical standard of someone elected with the public’s trust. ... Considering the way things are going at the John A. Wilson Building — with an administration under the cloud of allegations from former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown and council member Harry Thomas accused of taking hundreds of thousands of public dollars for personal use — maybe we should be happy that Mr. Graham was honest enough not to keep that envelope. But that strikes us as a pretty low standard.”

AFTER THE JUMP — Harry Thomas steps down from Economic Development post; feebly defends self on Fox 5 — Thomas allegations raise questions about CYITC — Gray still facing scandal questions — all about Sulaimon — Yvette Alexander foils thief — Michael Brown quits WMATA board

*** MAIN COURSE ***

GRAHAM’S GIFTS — More from Wilber and Zapana: “Graham said the money wasn’t the FBI’s only attempt to see whether he was corrupt. Agents tapped his phones, he said. And, he says, an undercover agent posing as an investor offered him a lavish trip to Miami to discuss potential projects in the District. ‘I had no idea why they wanted me to go to Miami to discuss that,’ Graham said. ‘That’s why I said no.’ At his 63rd birthday party in 2008, Graham said, he accepted a colorful portrait of himself as a gift from the Ethiopian community. He said he later learned that the FBI had paid for it. Tempted to report the painting on disclosure statements as an ‘unsolicited gift’ from the FBI, Graham said he thought better of it. ‘I was advised not to antagonize them further,’ said Graham, who keeps the portrait in a closet.”

HTJ STEPS DOWN — As expected, Harry Thomas Jr. agreed under pressure to relinquish control of the Economic Development Committee while the graft allegations against him are resolved. Thomas sat down with WTTG-TV last night, where anchor Shawn Yancy asked Thomas whether he spent taxpayer money on golf trips and travel: “The short answer to you is, I can’t talk about the legal aspects of this case.” He did say he “absolutely ... did not” use public money to buy his Audi SUV. But further details on his response to the allegations were not to be had: “This is not the right opportunity,” he said. “The best thing I can tell [my constituents] is my attorney is going to answer. They will see the full report. ... You have to have due process.” He said he would “absolutely not” resign his council seat. Alan Suderman notes at Loose Lips: “[Kwame Brown] knew full well there were serious questions about Thomas’ non-profit, Team Thomas, before giving Thomas the keys to the economic development committee at the beginning of this year. Granted, the issues raised last year about Team Thomas’ undisclosed relationship with developers never panned out, but Brown still bet that the attorney general’s investigation wouldn’t amount to much. Brown lost that bet, and now his judgment takes another hit.” Also WaTimes, DCist, WBJ, WTTG-TV. Freeman Klopott notes that Vandy Jamison, lawyer for the principals of the Langston 21 group that is alleged to have kicked funds back to Thomas, also represented Thomas until “very recently.” (He also represents former Gray HR director Judy Banks.)

DEEPER INTO TEAM THOMAS — In my follow-up report, I focus on questions about the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp., the city-connected nonprofit group that was supposed to keep an eye on the money that is alleged to have made its way into Thomas’s pocket. “Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who chairs the Human Services Committee that oversees CYITC, said he wanted to know why the youth baseball spending wasn’t more closely scrutinized. ‘There have been enough questions raised by the attorney general’s complaint for us to look at this,’ Graham said.” But the bigger issue is why it was permissible for a Council member to call up the trust and direct funds that should have been competitively bid. Thomas and Graham have both sought to intervene with the trust to direct city money to favored groups. Meanwhile, Jim McElhatton of the Washington Times consults with various donors to the Team Thomas charity. MedStar, for instance, was sent a “detailed statement about the group’s work ‘offering youth the opportunity to participate, enjoy and excel.’ ... But more than three years after making the $5,000 donation, officials at the health care organization are concerned they might have been hoodwinked.” A MedStar rep says the group’s apparent federal tax-exempt status was an “important factor” in deciding to give. While the group never had such status, Thomas attorney Fred Cooke tells the Times that “the fundraising solicitation that noted a 501(c)3, or tax exempt, number may have been at a time when Team Thomas had an application pending seeking that status from the IRS.”

GRAY HUNKERS DOWN — At his news conference yesterday, Mayor Vincent C. Gray was again pressed about the scandals. “Asked by TV reporter Tom Sherwood if he had advice for the young people considering recent allegations against him, Gray said, ‘I would invite them to lead the life that I have. That is an ethical life,’” Nikita Stewart reports at D.C. Wire. “Gray again on Wednesday denied Brown’s allegations that he stepped outside Eatonville restaurant in August and said that a campaign consultant had ‘something for’ Brown. ... The mayor said that public life hasn’t been ‘easy.’ ‘You’re very vulnerable to the accusations and the allegations and the motivations of other people,’ he said. ‘Everything I’ve done I’ve tried to do with integrity.’” WRC-TV’s Sherwood and WAMU-FM’s Patrick Madden report on the ethical cloud over the Wilson Building. From Patrick: “For [Gray], the cloud of scandals hanging over city hall these days has been both distracting, and in his mind, unfair, because some of them originated before he took office. At his weekly press conference Wednesday, reporters got a taste of Gray’s frustration. ‘You ask me about how I feel about it, of course I don’t feel good about it, Patrick. Why would I feel good about it?’ he says. ‘And I feel less good about that there doesn’t seem to be any balance. Are you reporting about some of the good things we are doing?’ The mayor went around the room, asking that question to other reporters. He then shut down the press conference as his staff erupted in applause.”

BELIEVING SULAIMON — In his Post column, Bob McCartney weighs in on Monday’s testimony from Sulaimon Brown: “[L]et’s set aside the theatrics and focus on what’s ultimately important: Do we believe Brown’s claims that the campaign of now-Mayor Vincent C. Gray promised him a job and paid him money in a secret, corrupt deal in last year’s race so Brown would hammer their common opponent, incumbent Adrian M. Fenty? I have concluded the answer is yes. Between conniptions at the council hearing, Brown offered specific, detailed answers. He brought no lawyer and often referred to notes to refresh his memory. More important, we’re not relying on his word alone. We now have physical evidence of payments, in the form of money orders that Brown said he received from Gray campaign aide Howard Brooks. ... Earlier testimony established that top Gray deputies were determined to find Brown a good-paying job in the new administration, despite their concerns over his erratic behavior. The only plausible explanation is Brown’s own description that the Gray campaign had promised him a position. My confidence in Brown’s account comes with a major caveat, however. It hasn’t been established that Gray himself endorsed any sordid dealings between his campaign aides and Brown.” The Informer also sorts through the Brown allegations.

APPRECIATING SULAIMON — In this week’s Loose Lips column, Suderman reviews our torrid affair with Sulaimon Brown: “[A]ntics aside, Brown’s testimony failed to produce any new proof of his allegations. That leaves plenty of circumstantial evidence of potential wrongdoing by Gray’s campaign aides, but nothing that presents a real threat to the mayor. And that means Brown’s time in the spotlight is likely coming to a rapid end. Unless the feds or Congress unexpectedly take his allegations against the mayor seriously, Brown’s moment of glory seems to have passed, and he’ll likely soon fade back into obscurity. And that’s a good thing. Of all the characters in District politics, Brown ranks up there as one of the most bizarre. At times mild-mannered, good humored, and reasonable, Brown is also an attention hound who has delusions of grandeur, seems mildly paranoid, has trouble with the truth, and most importantly, has consistently proven himself to be his own worst enemy. It’s clear from watching Brown this last year or so that the last thing the man needs is more attention. Give him a platform with lots of TV cameras nearby, and the bad Sulaimon comes out. Talk to him one-on-one, and he approaches something close to normal. So let’s be happy for Brown that the days of his mug appearing in newspapers are likely coming to an end.”

YVETTE ALEXANDER: CRIME FIGHTER — The Ward 7 Council member helped foil an evening robbery yesterday, when a man snatched a Kindle from the hands of a lawyer sitting on Freedom Plaza and ran down 13 1/2 Street by the Wilson Building. Alexander says she chased him down with her Range Rover and alerted guards at the Reagan Building, who captured the thief. WTTG-TV’s Matt Ackland was on the scene and captures cellphone video of Alexander berating the perp while he sat cuffed on the ground next to the Reagan Building. “You should be ashamed of yourself!” she screams at him. “People earn their stuff and you steal! You should be ashamed. I’m ashamed to be associated with you!”

DON’T TREAD ON US — Gray, Eleanor Holmes Norton and various activists gathered on the Hill yesterday afternoon to beg Congress not to attach any spending riders to the city budget. Ben Pershing reports for the Post: “A House appropriations subcommittee will meet June 16 to consider a bill that includes the District’s budget for fiscal 2012. In past years, particularly when Republicans have controlled the House, that measure has been a magnet for language that changes city laws or restricts the use of locally raised funds. ... [Abortion and needle exchange] could surface again during next week’s session, and local officials and activists are also concerned that Republicans may target the city’s laws on same-sex marriage, medical marijuana and guns. ‘The District of Columbia is not a congressional toy, and we certainly aren’t a laboratory,’ Gray said.” Roll Call also covers. Also, the AP’s Ben Nuckols reports that Gray has “struggled so far to build relationships with the House’s new Republican majority. ... ‘The city’s got to understand: At this point they have been taken for granted by the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party tends to be hostile. How do you change it? I don’t think you change it by sitting up there and getting arrested,’ said former U.S. Rep. Tom Davis, a moderate northern Virginia Republican who fought for voting rights for the city. ‘To Republicans, this is so ’60s. It’s a miscalculation, and they need a much more sophisticated way to communicate.’ Davis said he has tried to advise Gray, to little avail, describing the mayor’s top aides as ‘a pretty insular group.’ ”

SERIOUS AS A HEART ATTACK — The D.C. Inspector General has issued a report on the treatment Edward Givens received from FEMS, who told him he likely had acid reflux when he was actually dying of a heart attack. Andrea Noble reports in the Washington Times: “The report, released June 2, said that the paramedic involved in the 2008 case suggested Edward L. Givens take Pepto-Bismol and that Givens‘ chest pains had not subsided when the emergency crews left his home. .... Although they asked Givens multiple times whether he wanted to be taken to a hospital and he declined, the report suggests responders should have done more to persuade him to go. ... The inspector general’s report also faults emergency workers for not recording fundamental information, such as Givens’ first name, age and medical history and interactions with his family members on a patient care report. The reports are typically passed on to hospital personnel when a patient is taken to a hospital but are considered necessary even in cases in which a patient is not taken to a hospital to provide medical and legal documentation of responder’s actions. Many of the issues outlined in the inspector general’s report mirrored claims in a $17 million lawsuit that has been brought by Givens’ mother.”

BROWN QUITS METRO BOARD — Michael Brown is leaving his post as an alternate member of the Metro board, Dana Hedgpeth reports at Dr. Gridlock, “because he is too busy.” Adds Dana: “He said on Wednesday that it is ‘hard for me to make a lot of meetings’ the Metro board has, given his responsibilities and workload on the city council. [Kwame Brown] is looking for his replacement, according to Michael Brown. The person who will take the alternate seat will likely have a public transit background, he said. ‘It is going to be an expert in the field,’ Brown said.”

*** SMALL PLATES ***

Deborah Simmons: Holding “community roundtables” in lieu of public hearing on Kaya Henderson’s confirmation isn’t kosher (WaTimes)

Patrick Mara joins D.C. Vote board (DCist)

Know your embattled political figures! (Loose Lips)

Should it be the Petworth-Park View Metro station? (Housing Complex)

Cathy Lanier says SOD transfers weren’t disciplinary (Post)

Tommy Wells “feeling really good” about redistricting changes (Informer)

Will “Rocketship” schools land in D.C.? (D.C. Schools Insider)

DDOT will rethink East of the River Circulator routing (DCist)

ANC not so keen on Barracks Row Chipotle (Examiner)

More on Marion Barry’s bulldogging on the MPD vehicle services contract (Informer)

CFSA social workers age-discrimination claim fails (Courthouse News)

Waterfront: the new NoMa (GlobeSt.com)

More guns seized on Metro property (Examiner)

Free bus-rail transfers on Metro? (GGW)

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration lauds Lanier (WUSA-TV)

Hey, look: A “Recall Vince Gray” web site (recallvincegray.com)

*** ON THE MENU ***

Gray visits with Ambassador of Liechtenstein, 11 a.m. in JAWB 509; attends Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy graduation, 5 p.m. in Howard University’s Cramton Auditorium, 1130 6th St. NW; attends Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s “Champions of Equality” reception, 5:30 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 11th St. NW — D.C. Council hearing on “Planning and Preparation for the International AIDS Society Conference,” 1 p.m. in JAWB 500

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.

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