Multi-Agency Investigation Into Canceled Inaugural Ball

By Keith L. Alexander and Meg Smith
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 8, 2009

Angela Luckey was excited about working her first inaugural ball. The Obamas were supposed to be there. Maybe the Clintons, too. And two dozen beauty queens. The $250 and $500 tickets would go to a good cause: injured Iraq war veterans. She signed up as a volunteer on the Web site and enlisted two friends to join her.

Then she met the promoter, Darryl Dante Hayes.

No sooner had Hayes picked up Luckey and her friends at the airport than he told them that the Veterans Presidential Inaugural Ball wouldn't be held at the downtown St. Regis Hotel after all. Instead, it would be at a Hilton in the Virginia suburbs.

Then he asked the three volunteers from Grand Prairie, Tex., to put $64,000 in ball expenses on their personal credit cards.

"That's when I knew something was wrong," Luckey said last week.

The day before it was to take place, the ball was canceled with no explanation, although some tickets had been sold. The $50,000 check Hayes gave the St. Regis for a security deposit bounced, a hotel official said. The hotel and volunteers said they repeatedly tried to reach Hayes by phone and e-mail but never got a response.

The veterans ball is the only one of 10 official and 45 unofficial inaugural balls under investigation.

The U.S. attorney's office, Secret Service and D.C. attorney general's office are looking into whether Hayes committed financial fraud, officials at the agencies said. Investigators are trying to determine whether Hayes used Obama's name and sympathy for veterans organizations to boost donations and ticket sales and whether Hayes actually planned on throwing such a ball.

"We're investigating what the hell happened with the money," said D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles.

Hayes is a longtime Republican who ran a successful inaugural ball for George W. Bush in 2001. This year, he advertised his veterans ball on area radio stations and on the Web site of the Congressional Education Foundation for Public Policy, which he runs. The ads characterized the ball as a fundraiser for wounded Iraq war veterans.

Reached at his mother's home in Baltimore, Hayes, 52, said he was forced to cancel after all but two of the ball's 15 corporate sponsors pulled their support. Hayes said he had expected they would each contribute $10,000 to $15,000.

The Psychiatric Service Dog Society, an Arlington County group that places guide dogs with the disabled, donated $5,000. Its president, Joan Esnayra, said the money has not been refunded.

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