By Tim Craig and Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 28, 2009; B04
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.
Barry has dismissed the controversy over Watts-Brighthaupt's city contract. He said that there is no law against it and that it is routine for elected officials in the District to give jobs to family members and friends.
Late last week, Barry said the earmarks stemmed from a request that D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chairman of the Finance and Revenue Committee, made last year to secure a $10 million grant for Ford's Theatre.
Barry said he was initially opposed to Evans's request but, in an effort to get more funding for Ward 8, began bartering with Evans and other council members who needed his vote.
"Jack would help us and other members of the council identify certain parts of the budget for others," Barry recalled. "That is how it works down there. I resent the notion that hanky-panky is going on."
Evans was unavailable to comment, but Barry said he ended up with about $8 million in city funds that he decided to distribute to nearly 40 organizations, many of them in Ward 8.
"I am going to get as many resources as I can for Ward 8," Barry said. "I don't care who likes it and who doesn't like it."
Washington City Paper focused on six organizations that each received between $75,000 and $450,000 in taxpayer money from Barry. Some of the groups received money before they were legally incorporated, it reported.
Barry said the leaders of the groups had been working in the community for several years, providing social services on a volunteer basis. Barry said he decided to "bring some resources to them" after Evans and other members agreed to free up money for Ward 8 in the fiscal 2009 budget.
After the grants were approved last spring, Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) implemented new rules requiring groups that receive earmarks to be registered nonprofits. Barry said he then, acting on advice from Gray, tasked Richardson with helping to make sure that the organizations became incorporated.
"I told Brenda to get it done, and she got it done," Barry said.
Questions have been raised about whether some signatures on the incorporation papers were forged. But Barry said those allegations are untrue. He said he has documents showing that some of the people involved sign their names two different ways.
"These groups were set up for the betterment of Ward 8, and my client was the project director and doesn't know anything about forged signatures," Bolden said.