County Requires Donations but Fails to Collect
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Businessmen connected to Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson have won development deals with a twist: They could buy and build on public land, but their contracts also required them to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to local charities selected or approved by county officials.
The arrangements, laid out in five contracts in recent years, were shrouded in mystery. The county did not name the charities in four of the five contracts. It identified some of the organizations only under pressure from the state. Officials at the nonprofit groups said they knew nothing about the funding they were to receive.
And developers who should have begun writing those checks say they haven't done so because the county didn't demand it.
"We never made a contribution," said William A. Youngblood, who has held fundraisers for the county executive. His purchase of a school site in Fort Washington for $1.25 million was finalized two years ago, but without the $75,000 charitable donation required by the contract. County officials accepted the $1.25 million "as final settlement," Youngblood said in an interview.
"We didn't question it. . . . No one ever came back and said, 'Hey, can you go make a $75,000 contribution to somebody?' "
Last month, after The Washington Post began inquiring about the missed donations, county officials met with Youngblood and his partner, Alan C. "Skip" Gault Jr., and said the money is still owed but declined to release details.
In an interview in May, Thomas M. Thompson, then director of the county Department of Housing and Community Development, could not explain why the county had not enforced the donation requirements nearly two years after some of the deals closed.
"As far as I know," he said, the money is still owed. "If it's due and payable, it's due and payable."
Taken together, the contracts called for $450,000 in donations to a variety of charities that provide job training and other social services, some with connections to Johnson (D). One nonprofit organization, for example, is run by the wife of Johnson's special assistant.
County spokesman James Keary said in a written response to questions that "neither the County Executive nor members of his staff had any involvement in the selection" of the charities.
Bradley Farrar, former deputy director of the county's Redevelopment Authority, which sold some of the properties, said he was "appalled" to learn that the contracts required donations and that the county had not enforced them. "No reasonable person," he said, would "draw up a contract expecting to collect money and then not collect it."
Although some donations are not due because the deals have not been finalized, a sizable figure, $75,000, should have been paid by now to four charities.