Trout Report identifies questionable dealings by Fenty friends

The Trout Report is out [PDF], and a quick review reveals one winner and two big losers in the 18-month probe of parks contracting.

The winner, though it may come as small consolation now, is former mayor Adrian M. Fenty, based on this sentence alone: “Our investigation uncovered no wrongdoing on the part of the Mayor, and we found that the [Department of Parks and Recreation] capital funds were not transferred for the purpose of avoiding Council oversight.”

In other words, Special Counsel Robert Trout found no basis for claims that the contracts were “fixed” or “steered” by Fenty. Instead, the ex-mayor was a victim of his need for speed — or, as the report puts it, a “sincere desire on the part of administration officials to expedite the completion of long-awaited public projects” — which created a cloud of suspicion that was not unjustified given the circumstances.

But Trout found no clear lines of influence that ended up directing how the management contract was awarded. A top mayoral development aide, David Jannarone, appeared to have some bias toward Banneker Ventures, the minority-owned outfit at the center of the investigation. But the investigation found no evidence that Jannarone personally benefited from his suggestion that another firm partner with Banneker. And it found that there was “no evidence of improper influence in the selection and scoring process” that the Banneker partnership ended up winning.

But Banneker, and its principal Omar Karim, ends up a big loser in the end. Same goes for Fenty ally Sinclair Skinner and his Liberty Engineering Design, a “year-old, two-man firm” that had “not previously been hired to provide the full range of civil engineering services on a large scale public recreation project” that nonetheless was hired by Banneker, without real competition, to do such work on the parks contracts.

One big issue: Trout’s investigation found that LEAD applied for the engineering and surveying work via a response that “was false in several material respects” — for instance, “it provided resumes falsely identifying individuals who worked elsewhere as LEAD employees” even while “there is reason to believe that Karim knew or should have known that ... [the response] significantly exaggerated LEAD’s qualifications.”

LEAD, the investigation finds, “did little of the work itself.” Instead, the firm “engaged other ... firms to perform the surveying and civil engineering and to draft the environmental site assessments while it provided ‘management, direction, and supervision.’” That, the report says, “amounted to little more than scheduling and transmitting their work product,” but LEAD marked up its invoices to Banneker -- by 400 percent, for some work.

The report refers to this as “an extremely expensive layer of management ... resulting in, at the very least, considerable waste to the taxpayers.”

But there’s more: The report cites “multiple ties between Skinner and Karim,” both personal and professional. Like this: “Bank records reflect that Karim’s Liberty Law Group paid Skinner’s Liberty Industries more than $1,000,000 between 2008 and 2010 for services that neither witness could or would explain.” Writes Trout, “The witnesses’ claimed failure of recollection was so extensive and so complete that it was unworthy of belief. Karim and Skinner essentially thwarted the investigation, and their performance left us with the clear impression that they believed they had something to hide.”

And here is a portion of the report that should be of special interest to criminal investigators: Banneker picked general contractors for the various parks projects, and “it recommended that contracts be awarded to several firms with financial ties to either Karim or Skinner: Blue Skye Construction, AF Development, Capital Construction, and District Development Corp.” Per bank records, “all of these successful bidders made substantial payments to either Liberty Law Group or Liberty Industries close in time to procurement of the general contractors, but the payments were not disclosed during the selection process, and neither Karim nor Skinner would explain to us the reasons behind those payments.”

All this, the report concludes, “indicate the existence of undisclosed conflicts of interest, or worse, an unlawful scheme.” Trout recommends that U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen investigate Banneker and LEAD for criminal violations.

So, after more than a year, the Council’s investigatory efforts did in fact bear fruit -- though exactly not the fruit Fenty’s political enemies might have wanted. But as Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) noted today, “The report makes plain that the contract was a bad deal for the city.”

Skinner has a news conference set for 2 p.m. outside the John A. Wilson Building.

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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