Dominican Republic Town's Mayor Questioned by D.C. Council in Equipment Donation

By Martin Ricard and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The mayor of a town in the Dominican Republic answered questions this week about the controversial donation of a firetruck and ambulance to his Caribbean community -- a charitable act involving a friend of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty that is under investigation by the D.C. Council and the inspector general's office.

Vladimir Céspedes, mayor of the town of Sosua, was deposed Monday night in the council investigation led by members Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Phil Mendelson (D-At Large). At a news conference Tuesday, Céspedes said he has never seen the used emergency equipment that was to be given to the town by Peaceoholics, a nonprofit group known for working with troubled youths.

In late March, D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles stopped the shipment of the equipment while it was en route to Sosua so that officials could address the controversy. Council members questioned the secrecy of the donation, whether proper procedures were used and who was behind the unusual contribution of surplus city property, which is generally auctioned.

According to a recent deposition of Peaceoholics co-founder Ronald Moten, the donation was arranged when he was approached by Sinclair Skinner, a friend and fraternity brother of Fenty (D), and David Jannarone, director of development in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. They needed a nonprofit group, such as Peaceoholics, to serve as the go-between for the donation. Skinner provided Moten with a check for the shipment, Moten told council members. Deputy Chief Ronald Gill Jr., fleet management director with D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services, traveled to the Dominican Republic to aid in the transfer.

Céspedes said he was not sure who from the mayor's office was involved but said he hopes his town will get the firetruck and ambulance. "Finally we're going to have a good solution, because we really need that equipment to save lives in our country," he said through a translator.

William Walker, director of the nonprofit Faith Productions, said his group originally forged the relationship with the town in hopes of beginning a cross-cultural, youth-oriented program to connect children from Wards 7 and 8 with Sosua. The exchange of equipment, however, was taken over by Skinner, Jannarone and Moten, according to Moten's deposition. Céspedes and Walker said Skinner had made several trips to the town regarding the firetruck.

Walker joined Céspedes at the news conference, set up by community activist Dorothy Brizill, at the Westin Washington Hotel. Photos of the equipment were spread on a coffee table in the lobby, where the officials met with reporters.

"We would like to continue the deeds of good work and good faith with the city of Sosua in the Dominican Republic," Walker said. "But because some people like to play political games and are involved in ego gratification, the whole situation has been blown out of proportion."

Staff writer Tim Craig contributed to this report.

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