Contractor defends dealings with D.C.

Omar Karim, owner of Banneker Ventures, and his attorney, A. Scott Bolden, before Karim testified about his contracts with the city.
Omar Karim, owner of Banneker Ventures, and his attorney, A. Scott Bolden, before Karim testified about his contracts with the city. (Richard A. Lipski/washington Post)
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By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 11, 2009

A fraternity brother of D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's on Thursday denied pulling strings to win a multimillion-dollar construction contract this year, but in testimony at a D.C. Council hearing, he acknowledged ties to city employees involved in the procurement process.

Omar Karim's testimony before the council was highly anticipated after four committees joined in October to probe the Fenty administration's decision to transfer millions of dollars to the independent D.C. Housing Authority, which later awarded the contract to Karim. Under the contract, Karim's company managed the construction of parks, recreation centers and ballfields.

More recently, council members have delved into the selection of Banneker Ventures, a company Karim started in 2005, to manage more than a dozen projects worth at least $82 million.

Banneker competed against 12 firms for the parks contract in March. In his opening statement, Karim said he did not participate in "any inappropriate, unethical or unlawful actions to obtain the contract."

But council members asked Karim about the amount of contact he had with city officials before Banneker won the contract.

Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) honed in on e-mail exchanges between Karim and David Jannarone, director of development in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. Jannarone and his team handled the routing of capital funds to the Housing Authority.

Cheh read the e-mails aloud. One had Jannarone writing "great work" to Karim.

Karim testified that the e-mails referred to Banneker's previous, unrelated work on the Walker Jones Educational Complex in Northwest Washington.

Karim also tried to clear up confusion over Jacquelyn Glover, a program manager who was supervised by Jannarone. Glover was on the selection committee that picked Banneker for the parks contract, and she was in charge of overseeing contracts for the deputy mayor's office.

Karim testified that Banneker mistakenly listed her as a company employee when it bid on a project in 2008. Karim told council members that Glover interviewed with Banneker but did not take the job. "It was clearly a mistake on our part," he said.

Thursday's hearing was the fifth in a series of meetings about the contracts. Under city law, contracts exceeding $1 million require D.C. Council approval.

Attorney General Peter J. Nickles has said the contracts were unlawful but are legally binding. The Fenty administration is submitting a bundle of contracts to the council to approve retroactively. Nickles said in an interview that 15 projects are stalled because of the controversy.

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