D.C. Mayor Fenty's associates bypassed rules in donating rescue vehicles

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 28, 2010; B04

A friend and a staffer of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's skirted procurement rules when they orchestrated the delivery of a surplus city firetruck and ambulance to the Dominican Republic last year, according to a new D.C. Council report.

After a six-month investigation, two council committees concluded that Fenty friend Sinclair Skinner and administration official David Jannarone were principal players in arranging a deal that raised questions about how to properly dispose of city property.

"What makes the transaction so incredible is the fact that so much effort -- at the highest levels of District government -- was expended to facilitate a transfer of surplus property without even a hint of potential benefit for the District government," said a report by the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment. "Rather, the entire affair was merely the pet project -- even if well intentioned -- of a senior District official and a well-connected non-government individual."

The Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, which also investigated the matter, reached a similar conclusion.

Skinner and Jannarone, the former director of development in the office of the deputy mayor for planning and development, teamed with other administration officials to transfer the aging firetruck after a vacation together in the Dominican Republic to attend a friend's bachelor party, according to the committees.

On a subsequent trip to the Dominican Republic by the two men and a District deputy fire chief, Skinner accepted $11,000 from the mayor of the Dominican town of Sousa for transportation of the fire equipment.

No city laws were broken, but the two committees are alarmed that Skinner, who is not a government employee, appeared to make policy decisions and have control over taxpayer resources.

Jannarone did not return calls seeking comment, and a Fenty spokeswoman deferred questions to D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles. Skinner's attorney, A. Scott Bolden, declined to comment until he has reviewed the report. Bolden added that he questioned its integrity because he says the council has lost the depositions of two city employees.

Skinner, one of Fenty's fraternity brothers, is also at the center of the controversy over why the administration awarded contracts without council approval.

In their reports on the firetruck controversy, the committees call for stricter policies on how government property can be donated or auctioned off, especially to a foreign government. The reports also say that the Fenty administration hastily arranged the transfer of the firetruck and ambulance to Sousa outside traditional procurement procedures.

In an interview, Nickles accused two council members, Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), chairwoman of the government operations committee, and Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), chairman of the public safety committee, of playing politics, saying they should not have launched their investigations because the independent inspector general is also looking into the matter. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 1) voted against issuing the public safety report, saying it was "amateurish" and hard to understand.

According to the reports, Sousa Mayor Vladimir Céspedes and Jannarone began working in late 2007 with District Fire Chief Dennis Rubin on how the city could fulfill Céspedes's request for a firetruck, but that deal fell through. In January 2008, after Jannarone and Skinner took a second trip, the two men began working with Deputy Fire Chief Ronald Gill Jr. to donate another truck and an ambulance. In January 2009, Jannarone, Skinner, Gill, and Jonathan Bolden, one of Gill's friends who is a volunteer firefighter in Prince George's County, traveled to Sousa to finalize the deal.

After receiving the $11,000 from Céspedes, Skinner "deposited some of the money and spent other parts of it," according to Cheh's committee report.

When the group returned to Washington, fire officials began doing the paperwork to donate the truck, the report states. Skinner then partnered with Peaceoholics, a local nonprofit group that specializes in youth rehabilitation programs, to facilitate the transfer. After working with city officials to make sure Peaceoholics was certified as a nonprofit, one of Skinner's companies wrote a check for $11,630 to pay for the truck's transfer.

Meanwhile, according to the report, Skinner, Giles and Jannarone were working behind the scenes to make sure the transfer would be legal. In March 2009, the District government issued an emergency rule "to allow the Chief Procurement Officer to donate surplus supplies to Peaceoholics," according to the report.

"By the time the emergency rule had been published in the D.C. Register, the donation was already underway," the report by Cheh's committee states.

After the donation was made public, the firetruck was returned to the District in late spring.

The Cheh report concludes "standard operating procedures were not followed, and non-government actors were able to obtain a fire engine and ambulance at no cost for the exclusive purpose of re-donating the property to a foreign government."

Staff writer Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.

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