Gray acknowledges 'missteps,' calls for investigation

By Tim Craig, Nikita Stewart and Mike DeBonis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, March 7, 2011; A01

District Mayor Vincent C. Gray on Sunday acknowledged "missteps" and said he wants the city attorney general and the D.C. Council to investigate allegations that aides to his campaign paid mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown last summer to continue his attacks on then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty in exchange for a city job.

Gray (D) also accepted the resignation of Talib Karim, chief of staff in the Department of Health Care Finance, where Brown was a $110,000-a-year special assistant until he was dismissed.

"I acknowledge we have made missteps," the mayor said, referring to the vetting process for administration jobs. "We have taken steps to address those missteps."

Gray said he is skeptical of Brown's assertion that he was paid by Lorraine Green, who was the mayor's campaign chairwoman and is one of his closest friends and advisers, and campaign consultant Howard Brooks. Green and Brooks have denied the allegations, and The Washington Post could not independently verify any payments.

"If somebody did that, then they ought to be subject to whatever justice is required," Gray said of the allegations. "I would never condone anything like that, period, point blank."

The mayor's mea culpa came on the day The Post published an article about Brown's allegations. Brown provided cellphone records that indicated dozens of calls between Brown and Gray and the two campaign staffers dating to late June and text messages in which Brown discusses promises he felt were made about a job.

Brown is standing his ground. He said in an interview Sunday that he was paid by Green and Brooks and had been promised a position with the Gray administration for his efforts against Fenty. Brown said he received money between June 24 and the Sept. 14 Democratic primary and used it to pay personal expenses and help fund his campaign.

"I'm willing to take the heat for what I did wrong," Brown said.

Several D.C. Council members welcomed Gray's call for an investigation, but some said they preferred that the D.C. inspector general or an outside investigator look into the allegations rather than the city's attorney general, Irvin B. Nathan, who was appointed by Gray and is awaiting council confirmation.

"I commend the mayor for wanting it investigated, but I also want the independence so we get that quality," said council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1). "We have to get to the bottom of this, obviously."

In a statement issued Sunday night, council Chairman Kwame R. Brown said he planned to refer the matter to the inspector general for an "independent review."

Gray advisers dubious

Several top advisers to the Gray campaign said Sunday that they doubt Sulaimon Brown's allegations are true.

Gray campaign manager Adam Rubinson and senior strategists Mo Elleithee and Lloyd Jordan said that Brown was a nuisance and that his antics on the campaign trail were not helpful. They added that Brown's name rarely came up in discussions because he was not viewed as a credible candidate in the race.

"If anything happened, and I don't believe it happened, it was not part of the campaign," Rubinson said. "I would be shocked to find out anything did happen."

Elleithee described Brown as "this annoying guy who wouldn't go away" and delivered over-the-top attacks on Fenty that generated sympathy for the former mayor. "This notion people were encouraging him to keep doing what he was doing and paying him to keep doing what he was doing, I would be very surprised, because everyone thought what he was doing was harmful to us," Elleithee said.

But council members David A. Catania (I-At Large) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said the matter should be investigated to restore public trust.

Catania also said he didn't think Nathan was sufficiently independent to conduct a credible probe. "We have an institutional crisis," he said.

If Brown's allegations are true, it's unclear whether city or federal law would apply.

District law at one time prohibited "offering or receiving money, property or valuable consideration to procure office," but that provision was repealed in 1982 as part of a sweeping rewrite of the city's criminal code.

Some federal corruption laws, including the criminal bribery statute, specifically apply to District government. But while there is a federal law making it illegal to "offer to procure appointive public office," that statute does not appear to extend to the District government.

"My own recollection is that I'm not aware of anything in the District law that mirrors that," said Evans, who added that he would have his staff research the matter.

In exchange for attacking Fenty, Brown alleges, Green and Brooks gave him a series of cash payments in the months leading up to the primary. Brown's cellphone records, obtained by The Post, show 29 incoming calls from numbers belonging to Gray, Brooks, Green and Gray's personal campaign aide between June and the Sept. 14 Democratic primary.

Brown said he was hired in January to be the administration's eyes and ears in the Department of Health Care Finance because Catania, who chairs the council's health committee, had excessive influence over the agency. Brown was dismissed two weeks ago by the agency's acting director, Wayne Turnage, after media reports about a 2007 restraining order involving allegations that he stalked a 13-year-old girl.

Karim, a Gray campaign supporter, had been appointed as the agency's chief of staff. On Sunday, Karim said he resigned because reports of a protective order filed by his wife three years ago had become a distraction.

Meanwhile, Brown sought to further explain what he did with the money he alleges he received from the Gray campaign. He said he deposited some of the money into his mayoral account under false names in possible violation of campaign finance law. He said he used the rest to pay for personal expenses because he was unemployed.

Misspelled records

A review of Brown's campaign finance reports show four deposits after June 24, the date he said he got a first payment from Green, an envelope containing $750.

At least of one of the donor names listed on Brown's report after that date does not appear to be real. Three other names appeared to be misspelled when the names and addresses are matched with public records.

According to Brown's Aug. 10, 2010, report, "Aulias Naylor" of Annapolis contributed $335 on July 2, 2010. It listed her as an accountant with Booz Allen Hamilton, but the consulting firm's name is misspelled.

Aundrea Naylor, who lives at the address listed on the report, said she didn't know Brown or an Aulias Naylor.

"This is bogus. I'm not an accountant, and I don't work at Booz Allen Hamilton," she said. "I guess I'm curious about how my name got on here. It's fraudulent."

Brown would not disclose how he picked the names he submitted on his report. He said he does not believe he will get fair treatment from the Office of Campaign Finance if it investigates.

Campaign records also show Gray paid tens of thousands of dollars after the general election to Brooks and Gerri Mason Hall, who eventually became his chief of staff.

Brooks, a Gray campaign consultant, was paid $44,000, including a $30,000 payment on Nov. 7. Hall, a protege of Green, received $30,000 on Dec. 9. Her son was hired by the administration but recently resigned from the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Several campaign aides were unclear as to Hall's role during the campaign, although they said she was often seen at headquarters with Green, whose daughter was also hired by the administration.

Brooks, whose son was hired as a $110,000-a-year special assistant in the office of deputy mayor for planning and economic development, is also a friend of Green's.

"He and Lorraine worked closely, but what he did was not clear to me," said one former Gray campaign official, who asked not to be identified in order to speak freely about the matter.

Jordan, who oversaw Gray's political operation during the primary, defended the payments to Brooks, calling him the "utility player" who helped organize fundraising events and transportation for the campaign. "He plugged in everywhere. I would think he should have gotten more," Jordan said.

Gray said in an interview that Brooks organized taxi drivers on behalf of the campaign.

Interviews with several local activists who supported Gray last year reveal they are split on whether Brown's allegations - along with recent stories about high salaries in the new administration - are damaging the mayor's reputation.

Gray has been battling charges of nepotism and cronyism in recent weeks.

Filmmaker Aviva Kempner, an early Gray supporter who lives in Ward 3, said that she thinks Brown is "a loose cannon" and that she still supports the mayor. "As far as I'm concerned, Vince is the straightest, most cautious politician around," Kempner said. "He's an honest, careful guy."

Philip Pannell, a well known Ward 8 community activist who has known Gray for 20 years, said he would be "totally shocked and stunned" if Brown's allegations proved true. "They do not sound like they are talking about the Vince Gray I know," Pannell said.

But Greg Rhett, who campaigned for Gray in Ward 7, said he feared the administration is off to a bad start.

"There's a bigger problem here that's bigger than Sulaimon Brown, and that's what's disturbing," said Rhett, referring to reports that children of senior aides have landed administration jobs.

"We were proud to say, we've got a candidate here who has demonstrated character and integrity and leadership," he added, referring to Gray's campaign slogan. "Then we end up with this organization that's, well, maybe. We weren't expecting a maybe."

Staff writer Michael Laris contributed to this report.

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