The Post’s View

More questions for Jim Graham

RECENTLY WE’VE told you about D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) allegedly using his influence on a multimillion-dollar city contract to try to tilt the result of a competition for a multimillion-dollar Metro development contract. Now a new question has surfaced in a 2008 D.C. government report we’ve obtained: whether, in the effort to thwart a bidder he didn’t like, Mr. Graham lodged an unjustified ethics complaint against a D.C. civil servant.

Mr. Graham has denied any wrongdoing. He says that he did not link the two contracts. He also says that he had no improper motive in requesting an ethics inquiry. He says that he had information suggesting possible wrongdoing and that it was his obligation to report it. “I was doing my job,” Mr. Graham wrote in an e-mail. “Not always an easy or simple job. And certainly a job that entails making decisions that others can seek to portray as being politicized when it suits their agendas.”

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In 2008, the District was in the process of awarding a multiyear, multimillion-dollar contract to run the city’s lottery. Mr. Graham made no secret of the fact that he believed a local businessman seeking part of the business, Warren Williams Jr., was unsuitable. In April 2008, Mr. Graham confidentially asked the chief financial officer to investigate whether Mr. Williams’s company was improperly offering a job to someone it hoped would influence Mr. Graham’s vote — and whether contracting officer Eric W. Payne, who was overseeing the city contracting process, had played a role in the scheme.

The assignment went to Robert G. Andary, then director of integrity and oversight for Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi. Mr. Andary concluded that there was no merit to the accusation against the contracting officer. After interviewing Mr. Graham and a number of witnesses (including the woman to whom the alleged job offer was made), Mr. Andary determined the allegations to be based on speculation and “not supported by the facts”; he exonerated Mr. Payne of any impropriety. The report did not draw any conclusion about whether an inappropriate job offer from Mr. Williams’s company had occurred.

In the course of his investigation, Mr. Andary found evidence of what he believed was questionable behavior by Mr. Graham, who at the time was D.C.’s representative to the Metro board. Mr. Graham, “notwithstanding his public opposition to the Lottery contract,” offered to support the lottery bid if another company that Mr. Williams was involved in would withdraw from a separate deal to develop Metro-owned property, Mr. Andary believed. In his July 29, 2008, report, a redacted version of which the city released to us last week, Mr. Andary said that he was not pursuing this information because it was not relevant to the accusation against Mr. Payne, “because there was no clear violation of any criminal statute, and because I have no jurisdiction to investigate impropriety on the part of a [redacted].”

The investigator concluded: “The information about [Mr. Graham] does suggest, however, that [Mr. Graham’s] actions regarding the Lottery contract are part of his separate political agenda.” The four pages released by the government contain numerous redactions; a source familiar with the report told us that it spells out the concern that Mr. Graham’s allegation against Mr. Payne may have been part of his efforts to undermine the contract award.

Two things are disturbing about this. One is the lack of follow-up in investigating possible impropriety by a sitting council member related to a major city contract. Mr. Andary wrote in the report that he advised A. Scott Bolden, attorney for the Williams lottery group and the separate development group pursuing the Metro contract, to go to the city’s inspector general. Mr. Bolden declined, explaining in an e-mail to us, “If the CFO was not interested, why would the others take us seriously?” Mr. Gandhi signed off on Mr. Andary’s decision not to pursue the inquiry, said a spokeswoman, because he trusted the judgement of Mr. Andary, a trained investigator with more than seven years as a federal prosecutor.

Even more disturbing is Mr. Andary’s suggestion that Mr. Graham’s complaint against Mr. Payne, an employee whom Mr. Andary’s investigation portrayed as diligently doing his job, may have been a politically motivated means of trying to undermine support for his contract recommendation.

Mr. Graham denies this and faults Mr. Andary for focusing his investigation too narrowly. Mr. Payne was fired in January 2009. He has filed suit against the city, claiming that he was dismissed for resisting political pressure to change his contract recommendations. The city is contesting his claim, arguing that he was fired because of problems with his performance. The lottery contract did not go to Mr. Williams’s group, and the development company with the interest in the Metro property was never able to close the deal.

 
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