FINANCIAL REVIEW UNDERWAY
Mayor's Wife Worked With District Agency
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
The District's chief financial officer is reviewing about $60,000 in invoices charged to the National Capital Revitalization Corp., billed by a law firm where D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's wife, Michelle, is an attorney, a spokeswoman said yesterday.
According to invoices submitted to the quasi-government agency by the law firm, Perkins Coie, Michelle Fenty conducted legal business on behalf of the firm for at least three development projects beginning in March 2006.
"We are looking at payment as a matter of routine review," said Maryann Young, a spokeswoman for Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi. Young said Perkins Coie is one of a number of law firms that are subject to such evaluation. "There are amounts that have been invoiced for legal work for NCRC that are still under review," she said. The Perkins Coie hours under review were billed from March through November 2006.
Fenty (D), a Ward 4 D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate at the time, did not disclose his wife's legal work for the NCRC on his 2006 financial disclosure form, which was submitted this year. In 2004, he did report that his wife worked at the time for BearingPoint Inc., a high-tech consulting firm based in McLean.
The city's financial disclosure statement asks for information "with respect to each business entity transacting any business with the District Government . . . from which you (or your spouse, if property is jointly titled) have received income for services rendered in excess of $1,000."
Michelle Fenty declined to comment yesterday and referred questions to the mayor's spokeswoman, Mafara Hobson, who had worked for NCRC previously.
The mayor's general counsel, Peter Nickles, responded on behalf of the mayor, saying that Perkins Coie was on a "pre-qualified list" of law firms and that there was no disclosure requirement.
"Michelle is special counsel to Perkins Coie, and her salary is set and does not depend on the profits of the firm," Nickles said. "A contract between NCRC and a law firm in which Michelle is a working counsel poses no conflict at all."
The NCRC and its sister agency, the Anacostia Waterfront Commission, were created to spur development in disadvantaged neighborhoods by attracting stores, businesses, jobs and housing. The mayor pushed the D.C. Council this year to dissolve the entities and place them under his administration.
Investigators of the D.C. inspector general's office confiscated three computers that stored financial information at NCRC's M Street NW offices last week. Austin A. Andersen, a spokesman for the inspector general, confirmed last week that the office is conducting an investigation but gave no details.
Michelle Fenty has worked at Perkins Coie since her firm was hired by Therman A. Baker Jr., the NCRC chief executive and general counsel. She and Baker met when both were students at Howard University law school. Baker said he worked with Fenty's mayoral transition team.
Sources familiar with her legal work, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Michelle Fenty's services for the NCRC raised concern because she is not a real estate lawyer. Fenty is a global technology transactional attorney, a highly specialized practice.
The sources also said that she was hired to make sure a contract for a development project in Northeast Washington, called the Hayes Street Project, met the proper standards. She also listed hours for working on a project at 30 M St. NE and another listed as "3rd and Atlantic."
During the eight-month period, Fenty listed time for writing e-mails and memos, participating in telephone conferences with the firm's partners and real estate lawyers and talking to Baker.
NCRC's spending on legal services drew attention after the agency was criticized by city officials last summer, according to sources familiar with the inspector general investigation and the review by Gandhi's office, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The city's Department of Housing and Community Development, which monitors projects by NCRC that receive federal grant money, issued a critical report in August, saying it spent too much on legal costs.