D.C. probes credit card purchases by city insurance department

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 13, 2011; 8:26 PM

The D.C. Office of the Inspector General is looking into purchases of more than $13,000 in electronics and promotional merchandise by the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking on city credit cards over the past year, according to employees interviewed by investigators and the agency's incoming chief.

In recent weeks, the inspector general has interviewed employees about purchases under outgoing Commissioner Gennet Purcell. Last week, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) appointed Bill White, a consultant who worked at the insurance department from 2003 to 2004, to replace Purcell.

Officials with the inspector general's office declined to comment. But insurance department employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because investigators asked them not to talk with the media, said the probe centers on electronic equipment bought from several area businesses.

According to city records of credit card purchases, the insurance department spent $7,302 at Electroworld, a Prince George's County-based company whose owner knows Purcell's husband, Will. The employees said investigators are also inquiring about $5,857 spent on "electronic sales" at Best Buy. Insurance department officials said the purchase at the retail chain was for five televisions the office needed to keep abreast of current events.

In a statement through the insurance department, Gennet Purcell said the inspector general has found no evidence of wrongdoing. She blamed the investigation on agency employees upset by cost-cutting that led to a dozen layoffs.

"The IG has looked into her personal finances, and she is clean," said agency spokeswoman Michelle Phipps-Evans. "This has been ongoing since she has been at that agency. This all comes from a disgruntled current or former employee."

White, who takes over from Purcell on Monday, said he doesn't know the "specifics" of the probe but vowed to move quickly to restore public confidence and staff morale.

"I understand, as a District government official, I am there serving the people and even the appearance of improprieties is to be avoided," White said. "I want to find out what is going on and how we should handle the current issues."

In September 2009, then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) nominated Gennet Purcell, a friend of his wife's, as commissioner despite concerns from some D.C. Council members that the now 36-year-old lawyer didn't have enough experience in the insurance industry. Earlier that year, Fenty had appointed Will Purcell to the Contract Appeals Board, but he was stripped of that position after being disbarred in Maryland following an equity-stripping scheme involving a homeowner there.

According to employees interviewed by the inspector general's office, investigators are looking into whether procurement procedures were followed and are trying to sort out the relationship between Will Purcell and Electroworld and its owner, Nevaldo Bailey.

In 2008, the Purcells sold their Rockville home to Bailey for $585,000.

Public business records do not list Will Purcell as a principal or employee at Electroworld, which has a store on Kennedy Street in the Brightwood neighborhood of Northwest Washington and a repair shop on H Street NE. But Will Purcell is known to Electroworld employees.

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