Scrutiny scant as D.C. paid felon millions in AIDS contract

By Debbie Cenziper
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 31, 2009; 9:35 PM

In 2005, Robin Beale was convicted in federal court for taking part in a local mortgage fraud scheme that bilked lenders out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

One year later, she landed a million-dollar consulting contract -- from the District's AIDS program.

Beale Inc. was hired to provide experts, meals and note-taking to two advisory groups that help direct the spending of tens of millions of AIDS dollars. From the start, group members complained about the quality of Beale's work.

Yet the D.C. Health Department's HIV/AIDS Administration paid Beale's company more than $2 million over three years, approving invoices that listed unnamed employees and subcontractors, rent for a high-end office that was rarely used, and start-up costs for furniture and equipment that city officials later deemed improper, The Washington Post found.

In March, the HIV/AIDS Administration cut ties with the company. Now, advisory group members want to know what happened to the money.

"Beale should not have ever had that contract," said Wallace Corbett, who heads one of the groups. "She was in charge of hundreds of thousands of dollars. I would not have trusted her with anything."

Beale, 47, defended her company and blamed the advisory groups and the HIV/AIDS Administration for the runaway spending. She said city administrators ordered her to hire certain consultants and spend money on an office that was not needed.

"To see the way things were being done was horrifying," Beale said. "Money was being spent unnecessarily without it helping the cause."

In a two-part series last month, The Post found that the city -- with the highest rate of AIDS cases in the nation -- had paid millions in recent years to nonprofit groups that couldn't account for their spending or services for people with AIDS. An examination of the Beale Inc. contract shows that problems also extended to consultants, hired for everything from HIV studies to computer support.

Beale's job was critical. The company was supposed to provide supplies, meeting space, food and health-care experts to the local Ryan White Planning Council, which competes for federal AIDS funds for the Washington region and then decides how the money is spent. This year, the council directed the city to spend $25 million on medical and dental care, case management and counseling, among other programs.

Beale also supported another organization, the D.C. HIV Prevention Community Planning Group, which advises the city on the populations most in need of money for AIDS prevention. Combined, the groups have about 60 unpaid members, including health-care experts and caregivers, AIDS advocates, government officials and people living with the disease.

Leaders of the Ryan White Planning Council had learned early on about Beale's felony conviction through an Internet search. At the time, Beale was working on paying more than $400,000 in restitution for her part in a real estate scheme between 1995 and 1997 that used bogus paperwork and inflated appraisals to obtain mortgages for distressed properties. Three people went to prison, and three others, including Beale, were sentenced to probation. Beale cooperated with the FBI, records show.

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