Grants Go to Allies Of Grantors, Johnson

By Cheryl W. Thompson, Mary Pat Flaherty and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, April 15, 2007

Hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money designated for community projects in Prince George's County have gone to organizations directly connected to the people doling out the money or with ties to County Executive Jack B. Johnson, according to records and interviews.

Johnson (D) personally delivered at least $10,000 in grants to politically powerful county churches as he was locked in a difficult race for reelection last summer, say church leaders, who said they had not requested the money.

County Council member Marilynn Bland (D-Clinton), who also ran for reelection last year, delivered grant money to youth groups that also had not applied for it.

Leaders at other community organizations that were listed as grant recipients by the committee distributing the funds said they had received no money, leaving unanswered questions about where it went.

Among those organizations is the county chapter of Christmas in April, which refurbishes homes for low-income elderly residents. The committee list says that it received $20,000. But the group got nothing, executive director Mary Kucharski said.

"That would buy us a lot of lumber," she said. "We'd appreciate it, but no, we didn't get it."

The money flows from an agreement reached three years ago between the county and Milton V. Peterson, developer of the $2 billion National Harbor project under construction along the Potomac River. The county agreed to provide millions of dollars for roads and sewers, and Peterson pledged to spend $350,000 a year for a decade to support community projects.

Since then, members of the National Harbor Community Outreach Program Committee, which has distributed nearly $700,000 in grants, have given $1 of every $4 to organizations with which they have close ties, according to interviews and a review of records by The Washington Post.

For example, the private school attended by the children of committee member Michael Arrington, a longtime Johnson friend and campaign contributor, received $25,500.

In some cases, the committee awarded money to recipients multiple times under different program names. In other instances, a $10,000 check was sent to a "male mentoring" program that operates out of a Landover post office box, and another $10,000 check went to a group that couldn't deposit it because it had no bank account.

Arrington, who was appointed to the grant committee by Peterson, defended the panel, saying he is confident that the fund is benefiting the community. At the same time, he said, based on questions from The Post, "I am investigating whether some of the authorized charities may not have received their checks."

He did not answer questions about whether the panel gave Johnson checks to distribute before last fall's election.

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