Mayor Marion Barry's legal counsel has asked Jose Gutierrez, the city's former top purchasing official, to supply him with a "complete statement" to document his allegations that City Administrator Thomas Downs exerted improper pressure on him to award city contracts.
In a letter requesting Gutierrez to specify his allegations, Herbert O. Reid, the mayor's counsel, said that he is investigating Gutierrez's handling of 15 specific contracts while he headed the Department of Administrative Services, the city's chief purchasing agency.
The contracts under review include ones for lime, a computer for the D.C. corrections department, telephone services, leases of city office space and janitorial services.
Reid said the mayor has asked him to determine, among other things, whether there were any conflicts of interest between Gutierrez and private businessmen seeking city contractors and whether prospective contractors were forced to hire certain subcontractors as a prerequisite to doing business with the city.
Gutierrez, who was demoted to a low-ranking position in the city planning office after publicly alleging improper influence in the award of city contracts, has contended that Barry ordered the investigation to discredit him and has ignored his complaints about Downs.
Reid has said he will pursue all leads, including allegations against Downs.
Downs has called Gutierrez's allegations "categorically untrue."
Reid said in his letter that based on his preliminary investigation he is examining two main areas: the contracting process while Gutierrez headed the administrative services department; and whether "any improper pressure or influence" was exerted on the contracting process.
"Naturally," Reid said in the letter, "this would include any political influence exerted upon you or the process by anyone."
However, Reid said that while Gutierrez has made his allegations about Downs in the press he has not provided the city with specific information concerning his claims. Reid calls attention to a memo Gutierrez sent Barry shortly before he left the administrative services department in which Gutierrez outlined 20 specific instances of disagreement he had with Downs during the last two years.
"Nowhere in that memorandum do you charge political interference by Mr. Downs or anyone else," Reid said in his letter.
Reid has asked Gutierrez to turn over to him by Friday "a complete statement of your allegations of improper political influence," a statement outlining instances in which Downs may have "interfered with the contracting process," a list of all contracts in which Gutierrez alleges political influence was exerted and a copy of a letter Gutierrez drafted but did not send in which he specified allegations of interference by Downs.
Gutierrez yesterday referred questions about Reid's letter to his attorney.
Gutierrez did say that FBI agents recently questioned him about some city contracts and the agents subsequently met with his attorney, Luis M. Nido. Gutierrez said he did not know whether the FBI has a specific investigation under way or was seeking leads from him.
Nido, in a separate interview, declined to say whether he had talked to the FBI.
Nido said that he has some "procedural concerns" about Reid's investigation and declined to say whether Gutierrez will comply with Reid's requests. "We are interested in cooperating with an investigation into the District's contracting practices," he said.
Gutierrez, who had been Barry's highest-ranking Hispanic aide, was transferred by the mayor in mid-February from the administrative services department to head the office of Policy and Program Evaluation. After he made his allegations public, Barry demoted him to the planning job and ordered Reid to launch the investigation.