Use of Taxpayer Money for Constituents 'Is What Politicians Do,' Barry Says
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
D.C. Council member Marion Barry said he has done nothing wrong in using taxpayers' money to hire a former girlfriend or provide grants to nonprofit groups in Ward 8, even as federal law enforcement officials are reviewing those matters.
A federal law enforcement source described the investigation as a preliminary examination of information that has emerged in media accounts the past three weeks. Federal authorities are not sure any crime has been committed but believe that they would be remiss if they did not examine such questionable practices, the source said.
Barry (D) was unavailable to comment Monday, but in an interview late last week, he said he did "what politicians do all over America."
"I make no bones about it: I am going to find as many resources for Ward 8 as I can, because I am not going to be here long," Barry said.
Barry has acknowledged that last year he gave then-girlfriend Donna Watts-Brighthaupt a $5,000-a-month city contract to start a leadership program in Ward 8. Washington City Paper has also reported on nearly $1 million in earmarks Barry helped secure for organizations in Ward 8. The paper reported that Brenda Richardson, Barry's constituent services director, appeared to oversee several of the groups that received the money.
Frederick D. Cooke Jr., Barry's attorney, said he was not aware that federal investigators were looking into matters involving his client. But Cooke said he is optimistic it will not progress into a more comprehensive probe.
"They have not contacted me or my client," Cooke said. "I do know the FBI has a public integrity [unit], but does this rise to that? I would be surprised at this point."
A. Scott Bolden, Richardson's attorney, said federal authorities have not contacted his client. Bolden said he has found nothing to suggest that Richardson did "anything inappropriate, unethical or illegal."
"My client is fully cooperating and will cooperate with any investigation going on in terms of [Barry's] conduct or her conduct," Bolden said.
The Washington Examiner first reported that the FBI was investigating Barry. But law enforcement sources cautioned Monday that it is routine for the agency to track media accounts of ethics-related allegations made against lawmakers.
In an interview Monday, Watts-Brighthaupt said that federal investigators have not contacted her but that she will cooperate if they do.
On July 4, Barry was arrested on a charge of stalking Watts-Brighthaupt. The U.S. attorney's office later dropped the charge, but Barry's relationship with Watts-Brighthaupt has led to questions about how he and other council members spend taxpayers' money.