Prosecutors Say D.C. Clerk Took Cash for Phony Fees
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Ikela M. Dean, a District government clerk, sometimes demanded late fees when businesses and nonprofit groups came in to renew their elevator licenses -- and she wanted cash, prosecutors said.
She took the money, then issued receipts for the cash with a large red "PAID" stamp. But it was Dean who was getting paid, prosecutors said, in a scam that netted more than $4,000.
Dean, 32, who no longer works for the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, went on trial yesterday in U.S. District Court on bribery and extortion charges. She was arrested after an undercover FBI investigation that included the use of hidden cameras to record at least two payments, prosecutors said.
"This is a case about greed and about the abuse of the public's trust," federal prosecutor Lionel Andre told jurors in opening statements of the trial. "Dean embarked on a scheme to line her own pockets with cash."
Dean is accused of keeping money from such businesses and groups as the Omni Hotel, the Metropolitan Club of the City of Washington, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the National Association of Home Builders, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and the Ritz Carlton Hotel and Residences, Andre said.
Dean's attorney, Antoini Jones, told jurors that the evidence presented by prosecutors would show only that businesses owed the money and that "the monies were paid to the D.C. government."
Prosecutors said Dean ran a scam from July through September of last year, when she was supposed to be reviewing and processing applications for business licenses, certificates and permits. For the most part, she targeted those who needed to renew their elevator licenses, they said.
She asked for money in two ways. First, she told the businesses' representatives that they had to pay fees to renew the licenses to the D.C. government with a check or a money order. Those were legitimate, prosecutors said.
Second, she told them they owed late fees that had to be paid in cash -- that was a lie, according to the prosecutors.
Andre said the businesses got two receipts. The one for the check or money order was marked with an official "machine validation" from the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue, showing it had been processed by a cashier, he said. The receipt for the cash was marked with the phony "PAID" stamp, he said.
For example, the prosecutor said, Washington Hospital Center gave Dean a check for $6,840 to renew its elevator licenses. But the hospital also gave Dean about $400 in cash, which she kept, to settle late fees that Dean claimed were owed by the hospital, Andre said.
The scam began to unravel in August, prosecutors said, when Dean told employees with the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Northwest Washington that they owed $2,736 to renew licenses and another $1,050 for late fees that had to be paid in cash. According to the indictment, the hotel had passed a third-party elevator inspection. It has 836 guest rooms, on 10 floors, and the loss of elevator licenses would cause the business significant harm, the indictment said.
The hotel's comptroller grew suspicious about the demand for cash and contacted District officials, who reported that late fees did not have to be paid that way, Andre said. The FBI began investigating, and the undercover probe was launched, Andre said.
By September, the hotel's chief engineer was making recorded calls to Dean as the investigation continued, Andre said. The engineer also wore a hidden camera, which recorded him giving Dean cash for the fake late fee, the prosecutor said.
An undercover FBI agent, pretending to work for the hotel, then paid Dean an additional $1,275 in late or back fees so the Omni could get a temporary license to operate a billiard room, prosecutors said.
FBI agents arrested Dean as she left work that day and found copies of fake receipts in her office, leading to other victims, Andre said. But the agents apparently didn't find all of the money that the undercover agent allegedly gave her.
A few days later, a District worker reached for the toilet paper in a restroom -- and found most of the FBI's marked money, Andre said. Dean was allowed to use that restroom by FBI agents during a break in questioning, Andre said.