Former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry is accused of corruption

By Tim Craig and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A team of investigators hired by the D.C. City Council accused council member Marion Barry of public corruption Tuesday for securing a $15,000 contract for his ex-girlfriend and taking a cut for himself.

Although Barry has run into legal trouble in the past -- including convictions for drug possession and failure to pay local and federal taxes -- Tuesday's allegations marked the first time the former mayor has been accused of pocketing taxpayer money.

Barry obtained a contract for Donna Watts-Brighthaupt after lending her money to help pay her bills, according to a report delivered to the council by Washington lawyer Robert S. Bennett. To get some of his money back, Barry at one point delivered a city check to Watts-Brighthaupt, drove her to a bank and waited in the car until she came back with the cash.

Barry, 73, denied the allegations leveled against him. "I have been in office 55 years, and even my public enemies, my political enemies, my other enemies have never implied that I ever took a penny that wasn't owed to me," Barry said from the council dais in reaction to Bennett's report.

The report also says Barry "provided substantial financial benefits to some of his close friends and supporters" and called for the case to be referred to federal prosecutors.

"We conclude Mr. Barry breached the highest ethical standards expected of him," Bennett told the council during the public hearing. "We find his conduct not only appeared to be improper, but was improper. We find Mr. Barry breached the public trust and violated the conflict-of-interest laws of the District of Columbia."

The report also found that Barry (D-Ward 8) "mounted a concerted effort" to interfere with the investigation by attempting to dissuade Watts-Brighthaupt from fully cooperating with her subpoena.

Barry's colleagues stopped short of calling for his resignation Tuesday, but several indicated that they support Bennett's recommendation to submit the matter to the U.S. attorney's office for investigation. Benjamin Friedman, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney, declined to comment.

However, two law enforcement sources familiar with the matter said FBI agents and prosecutors have been examining the allegations since they became public in July. Barry might have violated the law, they said, but prosecutors are not sure they could have proved the allegations in court and will cull information from the report, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not permitted to discuss such matters in public.

Absent a criminal probe, however, council members said the District charter has no mechanism for impeachment. But they have begun discussing a possible censure resolution.

With his colleagues looking on, Barry told Bennett, who is best known for representing President Bill Clinton during the Paula Jones lawsuit, that he "resented" being publicly accused of misusing taxpayer dollars.

Bennett said: "Mr. Barry has done some good for this city. . . . I don't question his motives, but we plain and simple found he has done some wrong."

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