Old friends were at center of a network of public contracts

Arl Williams and Clarence Brown became fast friends more than 25 years ago when they lived and worked in Durham, N.C.

They attended intimate neighborhood cookouts with their spouses, took weekend trips together and tolerated the occasional stuffy formal dinners that came with being professionals in a college town, according to people who know them.

Williams and Brown eventually moved north to the Washington area and got government jobs. Williams became vice president of human resources for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, the agency that oversees Reagan National and Dulles International airports and the Dulles Toll Road. Brown headed the D.C. Office on Aging during the administration of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D).

While they held their high-level administrative positions, more than $1.5 million in public money flowed between the men, their families and their friends, according to interviews and records obtained by The Washington Post through agency officials and the Freedom of Information Act.

As director of the Office on Aging, Brown awarded nearly $20,000 in business to a company owned and operated by Williams and his wife and hired the couple’s daughter for a $68,000-a-year job at his agency. A close friend of Brown’s from Howard University received a $45,000 grant for evaluation services and an additional $9,600 for consulting services. H.R. Crawford, then an MWAA board member, received grants of more than $529,000 for a company run by his son, District records show.

Brown also became an MWAA subcontractor while he held his city post. When the city did not retain him to run the Office on Aging, Williams hired him at the authority for a job with a six-figure salary.

Brown declined to comment about the grants and contracts but said in a phone interview that Williams’s daughter was hired because “she was qualified and she applied for the job.” Williams said he did nothing wrong.

News of the Williams-Brown relationship comes as authority officials are trying to repair their image over lapses in ethics, including taking Super Bowl tickets and other gifts from contractors, patronage and contracting deficiencies. The lapses, outlined in an audit by the U.S. Transportation Department’s inspector general, have prompted congressional inquiries and reprimands from federal officials and the states that fund the agency. The authority ultimately changed several policies, including its ethics rules.

In some instances with Williams and Brown, money was paid to family and friends through contracts with third parties. Williams, for example, awarded more than $755,000 in contracts to PJ’s Pen, a McLean-based consulting company owned by Paulette J. Robinson, another friend from North Carolina. Robinson then hired subcontractors that included Brown; Williams’s wife, Teresa Thompson; and Williams’s daughter Anne, according to authority records.

Brown also acknowledged that he hired the Williams’s daughter as a research assistant when he worked at Howard University before leading the Office on Aging.

While subcontracting at the authority, Williams’s wife was paid about $90,000 over 18 months in 2005 and 2006, according to invoices. Their daughter was paid nearly $85,000 over 16 months in 2005 and 2006, an additional $13,450 for seven months in 2008 and $6,500 more in 2010.

“There was a lot of work done,” Anne Williams said in a brief interview, declining to discuss the specific tasks she performed.

Robinson provided the authority with about 20 Spanish-language newspaper recruitment ads and a 2005 human resources policy manual, according to work records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

But the manual never went anywhere.

“This manual was not adopted because it was never brought to senior management for approval,” said authority spokesman David Mould. “You’ve got to have the sign-off before you can implement something.”

Robinson said in an interview this year that Thompson translated copy from English to Spanish and “did demographics.” Williams worked on a customer service project and employment media buys, created sample retirement brochures and produced ad templates for various media outlets, according to the dozens of invoices submitted by Robinson for payment.

A 2005 internal authority compliance audit, obtained by The Post, found “no evidence that efforts were made to provide for competition, that market research was conducted or that efforts were made to produce a future competitive package for recurring items” as required in the contracting manual. Instead, the agency continued to increase the value of PJ’s Pen contract, according to authority records.

Lynn Hampton, who was the authority’s chief financial officer at the time, said she never asked about the work that was performed.

“Arl Williams would say the PJ’s Pen contract was important,” Hampton recalled. “When you’re the CFO, you don’t go back and judge the work of others. You assume when someone signs off, it was done properly.”

Margaret McKeough, the authority’s chief operating officer since 2004 and Williams’s boss, said Williams was responsible for ensuring that the authority got its money’s worth.

“He did report to me, but Arl Williams had total control over the contracts and any work that was performed,” McKeough said. “I asked the vice president what the firm did for us, and I was told editorial services. I trusted the response I got.”

Williams, 68, defended his wife and daughter, saying that they earned the money they received.

“Paulette picked Anne because of the work Anne has done for her and continues to do for her,” he said. “And when we shifted to bilingual ads, it was perfect for my wife.”

Williams left the agency in November after the federal inspector general’s review found that he had violated the ethics code by indirectly supervising family members and denying that he had relatives working for the authority.

Williams said he recommended Brown as a subcontractor after “he did some training for me.” Brown became a subcontractor in April 2008, collecting nearly $40,000 over a 16-month period for research and guidance and to conduct workshops, records show. The authority could not provide documents showing any workshops that Brown conducted or any research he did as a subcontractor.

“I don’t have any comment,” Brown said about the contract. “But I have contracts with hundreds of people.”

While working as an authority subcontractor, Brown also oversaw the District’s Office on Aging, records show. Fenty tapped him for the job in 2007, at $141,000 a year.

Darrin Sobin, director of government ethics for the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, said agency heads are allowed to work as subcontractors for other agencies.

“It’s fine,” Sobin said. “Our rules require that your outside work not interfere or overlap with your ability to do your District job.”

Before coming to the District, Brown was an assistant professor and principal investigator and director of the public administration program at North Carolina Central University in Durham. He also served on the Durham City Council and was president of a consulting company. In June 1992, a state audit questioned $828,709 in grant money that he managed at the university, including $23,000 in cash withdrawals with no documentation showing how the money was spent, students who were paid for months they did not work, and university reimbursements to Brown for trips unrelated to university business.

A subsequent criminal investigation by state authorities found that Brown paid a student thousands of dollars in federal money to create a policy and procedures manual, but there was no evidence that the work had been done, court records showed. In another instance, a student with whom the married Brown was romantically linkedtold state investigators that she picked up a grant check “at Brown’s direction, cashed it and gave that cash to Brown,” according to court records. In a third instance, a student told authorities that her name was forged on three checks involving grant money totaling $2,500, according to the court records.

Brown, 64, left the university in September 1992, six months before he was indicted on charges of obtaining property by false pretense. He pleaded no contest in 1995 to 11 counts of larceny and three counts of misappropriation by a public officer and received a suspended 10-year sentence and five years’ supervised probation, according to court records. He was required to pay about $7,000 in restitution.

Brown declined to comment on his criminal record.

He moved to the District and worked as a “multicultural specialist” for the Washington Area Geriatric Education Center Consortium, according to his résumé. He also taught as an adjunct professor at the University of the District of Columbia and was director of the Family and Community Resource and Research Center at Howard University before being appointed by Fenty as executive director of the Office on Aging.

In March 2008, nine months after taking over as executive director, Brown hired Williams’s daughter Anne as a $68,000-a-year customer service program specialist, city personnel records show. A year later, Brown’s agency approved the first of two invoices totaling nearly $20,000 to Thompson and Associates LLC, a consulting business owned and run by Arl Williams and his wife, records show. Brown declined to discuss the Thompson and Associates contracts.

Other friends also received contracts.

Rodney Green, a Howard University professor and longtime friend of Brown’s, was paid $4,800 for consulting services in April 2008 and again three months later, according to city records. In July 2009, Brown’s agency awarded him a $45,000 grant for evaluation services.

Green said he wrote a “big report,” but he declined to release it.

“That’s up to him [Brown] to release it,” said Green, who added that he met Brown in 1995 when they worked together on a Department of Housing and Urban Development grant proposal.

In 2010 and 2011, Brown’s agency awarded four grants totaling more than $529,000 to Access Housing Inc., founded by Crawford, who was on the MWAA board at the time.

“I guess we were there and it was convenient for us,” Crawford said about the grants. “We didn’t make any money.

“It was basically a service for seniors. We assumed the responsibility for making sure they were fed.”

Brown acknowledged that his agency gave Crawford’s company grants but said there was no favoritism.

“I didn’t even know him before that,” Brown said.

But Crawford, a former D.C. Council member, said he’s known Brown for years and “requested an involvement in the process.”

“Mr. Brown has been a part of the D.C. government for a long time,” said Crawford, who left the MWAA board this year when his term expired. “And I was chair of the Committee on Human Services, of which the Office on Aging is a part.”

D.C. officials said they terminated Brown in February 2011. Anne Williams continues to work for the Office on Aging.

“The decision was made not to retain Mr. Brown in the administration,” said Paul A. Quander Jr., deputy mayor for public safety and justice, who declined to discuss why Brown was not reappointed, citing personnel matters.

In May 2011, three months after he was not retained at his District job, Brown landed a $129,200-a-year job at MWAA, reporting directly to Williams. Brown said on his résumé that he was a “senior human resources advisor.” Authority personnel records listed his job as “unclassified duties.” Brown left the agency 13 months later, allegedly for failing to disclose his criminal past, according to two MWAA officials.

“He did a lot,” Arl Williams said about Brown’s time at MWAA, without offering specifics.

Hampton, the MWAA’s chief executive at the time Brown was hired, said she objected to his hiring because the job wasn’t posted and she was unsure of his duties.

“I don’t know what he did,” Hampton said. “You’ll have to go back to Arl.”

Alice Crites contributed to this report.

 
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