The former chief fiscal officer for the D.C. Department of Employment Services pleaded guilty yesterday to a fraud charge stemming from what prosecutors called a "shopping spree" involving the purchase of more than $6,000 in electrical fixtures with city funds.
Crystal J. Willis is the first department official to plead guilty in a federal grand jury investigation into illegal purchases, contract fraud and other possible violations within the Department of Employment Services, which supervises millions of dollars in job training programs.
Willis, of New Carrollton, pleaded guilty to second-degree fraud and faces up to three years in prison and a fine of nearly $20,000. In return for her plea, the government dropped a mail fraud charge against her. Willis also has agreed to cooperate with the government's investigation. No sentencing date was set.
Willis and two others, Dwayne Moore, the former chief of the department's support services unit, and Clarence B. Wade Jr., a private contractor hired by the department, billed the department for more than $6,000 in chandeliers, ceiling fans, track lights and other electrical fixtures used in their homes and elsewhere, assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel J. Bernstein said in court. Bernstein said the three bought the fixtures during a May 15 lunchtime visit to a store that had a purchasing agreement with the city.
Willis, who approved payments for department purchases, was brought into the scheme by Moore, who was in charge of buying maintenance and other supplies for the department, Bernstein said in outlining the evidence against Willis.
When Willis balked at Moore's plan to include Wade, Moore assured her that Wade could be trusted because "Wade was wired with" Matthew F. Shannon, the director of the employment services department, Bernstein said in court.
"Wade was the boyfriend and living with the sister of Matthew Shannon" at the time the illegal purchases were made, Bernstein said.
Moore told Willis that Wade, as part of his contract with the department, would sign for the purchases, creating the impression that the items were used for department business, Bernstein said. Moore also said that if the scheme was uncovered, Wade had agreed to "take the heat," but Moore added that he did not think Shannon would expose the purchases because of Wade's involvement with Shannon's sister, Bernstein said.
Shannon has declined to comment on the investigation since it began and could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The investigation was touched off in July after Shannon notified police of possible improper purchases made by Wade, who was subsequently charged with felony theft. He has pleaded innocent to the charge.
Mayor Marion Barry has praised Shannon for alerting the police and has said the department has tightened its financial controls following a separate city inspector general's inquiry.
Several department officials have testified before the grand jury, and at least four job training-related contracts with private vendors have been subpoenaed, according to department officials.
Willis and Moore were fired by the city in August. Moore has not been charged in the criminal investigation.
Wade's contract to run the the department's In-School Linkage Program, a job training program for D.C. public school students, was also terminated.
Bernstein said Wade met Shannon's sister, Nina Turner, while they were living in Atlantic City, and that Shannon subsequently offered Wade a job with the department if the couple moved to Washington, which they did earlier this year.
When Shannon spotted the electrical fixtures in their apartment here, Turner initially told him that she bought them with winnings from the D.C. lottery, Bernstein said. However, Bernstein said, Turner later became "enraged" with Wade and told Shannon the fixtures had been stolen from the department and demanded that Shannon call the police and have Wade removed from her house.
Police, after being notified by Shannon, recovered some of the fixtures billed to the department during a search of Turner and Wade's apartment.
Bernstein said Willis confessed when police questioned her and gave officers the items she had purchased with city funds.