The Washington Post reported in June that the gifts — totaling $6,800 and provided by two District construction companies — appeared to violate city ethics laws prohibiting public officials from soliciting or accepting gifts from city contractors. Barry also appeared to have violated the council’s code of conduct by voting on matters involving the contractors without disclosing the gifts.
Darrin Sobin, the board-appointed director of government ethics, said the penalty could have included a fine equal to three times the amount of the gifts. But he said a lower fine was justified because there was no evidence of a “direct quid pro quo arrangement” and the gifts were disclosed voluntarily, as well as there being concerns about Barry’s ability to pay.
The board also voted to refer the matter to outside authorities, such as the District’s inspector general or the U.S. attorney’s office, to investigate whether the gift-givers had violated ethics laws.
Barry, 77, said in a statement released Thursday evening that “character and integrity remain intact,” highlighting his voluntary disclosure of the illegal gifts. “No one had to look under a rock for it,” he said. “I disclosed it.”
His attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., said in an interview that he and Barry were “happy to have the matter resolved.”
Sobin said Barry, in agreeing to the fine and censure, was “contrite.”
One gift, of $2,800, was from Forney Enterprises, a company that recently completed work worth $1.8 million on an elementary school in Barry’s ward. The owner, Keith Forney, previously told The Post that the money was intended to pay Barry’s personal bills.
Sobin said Forney, in an interview with investigators, had a “foggy” recollection of the gift. Forney said he “felt bad” for Barry, Sobin recalled. Barry “looked like he needed some money, so [Forney] gave him some money,” Sobin said.
Cooke declined to discuss the circumstances of the gifts, but Barry’s financial problems have long been a matter of public record. He pleaded guilty in 2005 to failing to file income tax returns and received a sentence of probation. Court filings in 2009 indicated that he owed the federal government $277,000, and the Internal Revenue Service was continuing to garnish his council wages. His council salary is $128,202.
Fewer details are known about a second gift, of $4,000, from F&L Construction. Principals of the company declined to be interviewed without a subpoena, Sobin said, and investigators decided there was little justification for holding up the investigation. An attorney for the firm, A. Scott Bolden, disputed the amount Barry reported, but he declined to discuss the matter further with a reporter.