Gray orders new checks on appointees; source says Sulaimon Brown had thorough vetting

Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 4, 2011; 12:45 AM

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said Thursday that having a criminal record would not automatically disqualify someone from serving in some positions in his administration. But he is asking city police to again scrutinize senior and mid-level managers he has hired thus far, fearful that the initial vetting process was not thorough enough.

Speaking to reporters a day after he ordered new background checks for dozens of recent hires, Gray (D) said he takes responsibility for the hiring of a few members of his administration who had legal troubles in the past.

"I'm the mayor, and the buck stops with me, and I wish we had known some of the information that has come out," Gray said.

But a source close to the transition said at least one of the controversial hires - Sulaimon Brown - had been extensively investigated before he was offered the job, including a police background check.

"Sulaimon Brown was vetted more thoroughly than a lot of people," said the source, who asked to remain anonymous.

Brown was fired from a $110,000-a-year job in the Department of Health Care Finance last week after Washington City Paper reported on a 2007 restraining order involving allegations that he had stalked a 13-year-old girl. The source said the allegations were included in a report delivered to the Gray transition.

On Wednesday, City Paper reported that a restraining order was filed in 2008 against another senior manager at Health Care Finance, Talib Karim, after he was accused of pushing his wife. He was not vetted during the transition, the source said.

Karim, the agency's chief of staff, had been a key Gray supporter during the campaign against then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D).

On Thursday, Gray said that the two cases appear isolated and that few controversies have erupted over his cabinet picks.

In a rare after-hours order from the mayor's office, Gray issued a statement Wednesday announcing that he was going to have D.C. police "check and double-check" the backgrounds of political appointees. If any are found to have criminal records, Gray said, decisions will be made case by case on whether they should keep their positions.

"Each case will be decided on its merits," said Gray, who has spoken of the need to better reintegrate former offenders into society.

But two weeks of bad news for Gray - who pledged during his campaign to make ethics a top priority - appear to have knocked him off kilter as he starts his third month in office.

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