Washington developer Douglas Jemal, his son and a top executive in his development company pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges that they had bribed a District contracting official and defrauded government and financial agencies.
Jemal, son Norman Jemal and leasing executive Blake Esherick were indicted by a federal grand jury last month for allegedly conspiring to ply a former D.C. government official with $25,000 in cash and gifts in exchange for sweetheart contracts. Prosecutors said Jemal's company, Douglas Development Corp., received inflated profits for leasing property to the city from 2001 to 2004.
Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina ruled that the three defendants could remain free without bond and scheduled their trial for next September. But at the prosecution's urging, Urbina ordered that the defendants turn over their passports and make special requests to the court to travel abroad.
All three defendants declined comment after their arraignment. They have said they are looking forward to establishing their innocence at trial.
Most of the allegations involve dealings with Michael A. Lorusso, former deputy director of the D.C. Office of Property Management. Lorusso, who was fired from his city job in January 2003, pleaded guilty to bribery charges last year and agreed to aid prosecutors in their investigation.
Jemal, his son and Esherick were accompanied in court yesterday by a large entourage of attorneys, five of whom sat with them at the defense table. At the prosecution table, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Dubester sat alone.
"They get the fun table," Dubester wryly joked during a break. "They have somebody to talk to."
The charges against the three men came roughly a year after Lorusso admitted to accepting bribes to help Douglas Development and another company, International Builders Inc. Prosecutors allege that Lorusso gave Douglas Development favorable deals in return for gifts that included trips to Las Vegas, a Rolex watch and two pairs of cowboy boots worth a total of $1,000.