D.C. Council Member Wants Barry Probe Expanded to Include Grant
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
D.C Council member Muriel Bowser wants investigators to expand a probe of council member Marion Barry to include his role in securing nearly $300,000 in city money for a social services group accused of misusing the funds.
In a July 17 letter to council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), Bowser (D-Ward 4) said Robert S. Bennett, the lawyer hired by the council to investigate Barry's use of taxpayer money to employ a girlfriend last year, also should look into an earmark for the National Association of Former Foster Care Children of America.
Bowser's call for an expansion of the probe comes as all earmarks face intense scrutiny because of mounting evidence of inconsistencies in the way the council funds nonprofit organizations.
According to council documents obtained by The Washington Post, two employees of the foster care group allege that Louis Henderson, the executive director, engaged in "unethical" conduct in administering a $291,000 grant to provide tutoring, life skills instruction and other social services to city youths.
Barry (D-Ward 8) issued a statement last night accepting responsibility for the grant to Henderson's organization. But Barry said, "What's going on with Mr. Henderson and the employees don't have anything to do with the community investment that the program was working on."
Henderson said he was awarded a contract last spring even though he did not meet "some of the guidelines of the grant." To comply with the rules, Henderson said, he teamed with the Rev. Anthony Motley, who is a longtime adviser to Barry and heads up another educational organization. Motley agreed to serve as the fiscal agent for the contract.
Motley said he deposited the grant money in a joint account he set up with Henderson. "Mr. Henderson was lacking some documentation, and that is why he needed a fiscal agent in order to comply with the requirements," said Motley, who said he takes a 5 percent fee for passing the city money along to Henderson.
Two former association employees say the money never reached some of the people who were supposed to receive it. Clarice Wilkins, who was director of program development. and Shirlynn Hallum, who was a general equivalency diploma instructor, resigned in late May because Henderson had not been paying them, they said. He told them that the nonprofit had run out of money, they said.
"As desperately as I need to get paid, I am also concerned that funds allocated for our children are not being spent in that manner," Wilkins wrote last week to council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), chairman of the Committee on Human Services.
Betty North, executive director of the Preparatory School of DC, said she worked with Henderson in November to implement his GED and tutorial programs after he asked to use space in her school. She said she saw only one student attend Henderson's GED program at her school from December to late February, when he canceled the contract. She said he still owes the school $13,000 in back rent.
"It really hurts, because there was no reason for him not to honor our contract because he was getting the funding," North said.
Questions about the earmark come on the heels of a Washington City Paper investigation that found that Barry directed nearly $1 million last year to eight organizations that appear to be run by members of his staff.
In an interview, Henderson said Wilkins is upset that he will not pay her for work she did not do. He said that he owes Hallum a few thousand dollars and that he will pay her after he receives additional grant money.
Henderson said his organization has had a difficult year. Last July, the association filed for bankruptcy after a separate contract with the city Child and Family Services Agency was terminated. In November, a fire destroyed the group's headquarters in the 5500 block of Fifth Street NW.
"We were able to do those programs after having a fire, and we've had to be relocated. We've had to find some place to provide these services, but despite all of that, we continue to deliver services," Henderson said.
Henderson said he is confident that any questions about his grant will be cleared up after the city auditor's office conducts an investigation. That investigation is supposed to start Wednesday, Henderson said.
In paperwork Wilkins sent the council, she alleges that she is owed about $13,000 for helping to organize tutoring programs.
After she tried to collect the money in early May, she said, she was told that the program was out of money, even though Motley told her that he had transferred a total of $188,000 to Henderson since November.