How Sulaimon Brown got hired: New details from e-mails, testimony

Testimony and e-mails provide new details on how Sulaimon Brown, once a minor mayoral candidate and now the central figure in allegations against members of Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s campaign, was furnished with a $110,000 job in a city agency shortly after Gray’s inauguration.

At a D.C. Council hearing Thursday, Gerri Mason Hall, Gray’s former chief of staff, said Lorraine A. Green told her to speak to Gray about employing Brown. Green, who served as chairwoman of Gray’s campaign and transition efforts, has been accused of orchestrating a scheme to reward Brown’s campaign attacks on incumbent Adrian M. Fenty with a city job.

Hall said under questioning that she had kept notes of a late December meeting where Green, a close friend, had told her to “check with Vince regarding reaching out for [a] position” for Brown.

D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At Large) told Hall that her notes constitute a “bit of a smoking gun.”

“It does tie [Green] to you in terms of asking your assistance in locating a position,” he said. “The fact he was hired without an interview in the agency . . . leads some of us to wonder what was so special about Mr. Brown that caused the chief of staff of the mayor to insert herself in such a personal way.”

But Hall said she didn’t speak to Gray about Brown until after he was hired. She said Green did not mention Brown in the month between the December meeting and when Brown was hired at the Department of Health Care Finance.

Green, who has denied Brown’s charges, is set to testify before the D.C. Council in the coming weeks.

Hall testified that she took it upon herself to interview Brown and place him in a job because Brown had been “very aggressive in his pursuit of employment.”

“He was always around the mayor, and I made the decision to remove that distraction,” she said. Green’s request, she added, was a “backdrop” for her decision to give him an interview and, subsequently, a job.

On Jan. 23, Hall e-mailed Talib Karim, then the agency’s chief of staff: “The candidate’s name is Sulaimon Brown. . . . As mentioned, we are looking for an auditor-type position, with an anticipated starting salary of $110,000. . . . We are looking for a start date of January 31. Thank you for your assistance.”

He replied that he would “get this done.”

But before Brown started work Jan. 31, Green alerted Hall to quesionable details from Brown’s background — details that might have cast doubt on his fitness for a financial auditing job.

On the morning of Jan. 27, Green forwarded Hall two e-mails from Kenneth V. Cummins, an investigator hired by the Gray transition team. He reported that Brown did not have a valid driver’s license and forwarded a credit check that noted Brown had five accounts in collections and a “poor” payment history.

But Hall testified that she never read the e-mails. “That was another error on my part,” she said.

It was after Brown started his job that Gray learned of the hire, Hall testified. In February, the new Health Care Finance director, Wayne Turnage, began work and held an all-hands meeting that Gray attended. Brown was there.

Hall recalled that Gray asked about his presence afterward: “I said, ‘Is there a problem?’ [Gray] said, ‘No, I just was surprised to see him.’ ”

It quickly became clear that Brown’s hire was not working out. On Feb. 2, the city personnel director, Judy Banks, e-mailed Hall and Green, telling them that Brown was a “problem child” who was “acting out already in his new workplace.” Karim testified at a March hearing that Brown had harassed female employees, offering one a “love CD.”

“Do either of you know him personally and want to talk to him — before I do?” Banks wrote.

Hall e-mailed back: “Special case . . . I will have to address and will call you.” She explained Thursday that the “reference to ‘special’ was in the context of his behavior. . . . His behaviors were rather special.”

Brown has declined to discuss the reasons for his dismissal.

A week later, Karim e-mailed Banks about Brown. She, in turn, e-mailed Turnage asking, “[A]re there any personnel issues at HCF we need to discuss?”

Turnage e-mailed her back: “Yes. I will call you tonight. Need much advice. Can you send the best number to reach you?”

Turnage fired Brown on the morning of Feb. 24.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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