Ex-Prosecutor Charts the Rise, Fall
By Vanessa Williams
During his four years as U.S. attorney for the District, DiGenova convicted two of Barry's deputy mayors and investigated other aides and political supporters. He and Barry engaged in rhetorical roughhousing that stirred passions among their fans and foes. But when he left office for private practice in 1988, DiGenova announced that he had no evidence to charge Barry with any crime.
Slightly more than a year after DiGenova stepped down as U.S. attorney, Barry, then serving his third term as mayor, was snared in an FBI sting smoking crack in a downtown Washington hotel room.
In the end, DiGenova said during a recent interview in his office on McPherson Square, he was saddened by Barry's downfall.
DiGenova, who has lived in the Washington area for 31 years, said he was impressed initially with "the new vigor which [Barry] promised to bring to the politics of the District."
When DiGenova was named the chief prosecutor for the District in 1983, he said he saw the city and its government sinking into mismanagement and corruption, while city residents and entire neighborhoods were being consumed by rampant illegal drug activity.
Early on, he said, he worked with D.C. police, with Barry's support, to battle the wildfire of crack cocaine that was destroying the city across racial and class lines.
"Marion Barry took the lead," DiGenova recalled, "imploring the police to do something, imploring Capitol Hill to provide more dollars for treatment." Barry railed against drug use and sometimes rode along with police during drug raids. "Marion Barry was very much out front."
Yet along the way, there were rumors, innuendo, even a tape recording of a D.C. government employee bragging that she had provided cocaine to Barry in the past. The woman, who Barry acknowledged was "a close associate," was eventually convicted of selling cocaine to others, but refused to testify before a grand jury against Barry.
At the same time, DiGenova was aggressively pursuing accusations of abuses by city officials.
In 1985, he secured the conviction of Ivanhoe Donaldson, a former deputy mayor and one of Barry's closest confidants, for stealing more than $190,000 in city funds. In 1986, Alexander Exum, the head of marketing for the D.C. lottery board, was convicted of accepting payoffs from a contractor. In 1987, a second deputy mayor, Alphonse G. Hill, was convicted of defrauding the D.C. government.
Barry and his supporters accused DiGenova of trying to destroy the popular mayor. Former delegate Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.) staged a demonstration denouncing the U.S. attorney.
DiGenova pressed on until he left office at the end of 1988. And just to show that he was fair, he said, "we issued a statement saying there was insufficient evidence to charge" the mayor.
And then came the bust at the Vista Hotel.
"I was quite pleased I was not in office when that occurred," he said. "Because it showed that it did not have to do with zealous law enforcement, but rather with a deep-seated personal problem."
Barry's real enemies, DiGenova said, were his friends and aides, who looked the other way while the mayor was destroying himself and the city. He would like to think that Barry understood that sooner or later he would lose a game.
"He's a tough political guy, and he knew this was ultimately going to be a problem for him," DiGenova said, referring to Barry's lifestyle. "And in his own way, he respected the fact that I and others were not going to ignore it, and in his own way he knows we did him a favor. . . . He knows it."