A federal grand jury here yesterday indicted a city permit examiner on charges that he solicited or accepted personal payments from 23 applicants for building renovation permits in return for lowering their permit fees or assisting them in other ways.
The examiner, Warner B. Jenkins, 48, who is on administrative leave without pay from his $24,527-a-year job as a structural engineer with the Building and Zoning Regulation Administration, is accused of accepting or soliciting payments ranging from $20 and a fifth of liquor to $1,900 between September 1980 and May 1981.
During that time, according to the indictment, Jenkins allegedly asked for nearly $7,000 in payments "in return for being influenced in his performance of official acts, that is, decisions with respect to building permit applications, including whether and when to issue a building permit, what fee to set . . . and how to interpret the building code of the District of Columbia."
Officials familiar with the investigation said that in many instances Jenkins did not get the payments he allegedly solicited and perhaps received $3,000 of the requested $7,000. Most of the alleged payments cited in the indictment were checks investigators discovered in Jenkins' bank account after his financial records were subpoenaed.
The indictment of Jenkins is the second time in recent days that a city official has been charged with criminal misconduct. Last week, two officials of the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and a local bar owner were charged with bribery and conspiracy involving an alleged scheme to set up a liquor store at the new Hechinger Mall in Northeast Washington.
The investigation leading to yesterday's indictment began after an article in The Washington Post June 4 reported that three persons said Jenkins solicited payments from them in return for lowering the fees they would have to pay the city for their permits. The fees are based on the total cost of the renovation to be done. Those three persons are listed in the indictment, as are 20 other individuals.
D.C. architects and builders involved in the city's booming building renovation industry over the past 20 years have managed to escape millions of dollars in permit fees by undervaluing their projects. A city study earlier this year also showed that the industry had benefited financially from inadequate city administrative controls over the permit review process.
Mayor Marion Barry, acting after the June allegations about Jenkins, said that a preliminary city study showed that some projects had been undervalued by 30 to 50 percent. He ordered city officials to start strict enforcement of building permit rules immediately.
One city official said that since Barry's order it appears the city has collected substantially more in renovation fees. In September, the city issued 15 fewer building permits than in the same month a year ago, but it collected $40,000 more in permit fees, the official said.
City housing officials, who began their own investigation after The Post article, said Jenkins was reassigned. Jenkins then injured himself falling on stairs at the permit branch office on H Street NW and took 45 days of sick leave with pay. City officials said Jenkins was then placed on administrative leave without pay, but was notified last week that the city intends to fire him.
Thomas H. Queen, Jenkins' lawyer, declined to comment on the indictment, saying that he had not seen it.
Jenkins could not be reached for comment. In an interview last June, he said he had done nothing wrong and said that any money he might have accepted would have been for interior design work unrelated to the permit applications.
City officials also investigated allegations of wrongdoing by Jenkins' immediate supervisor, W. Monroe Stewart, according to sources familiar with the probe. Stewart allegedly did some planning work for various local churches -- sometimes free and sometimes for pay -- without permission to do so and then approved the plans, according to a source familiar with the investigation. Stewart was given a written reprimand.
The city also investigated allegations that two other officials in the branch moonlighted for contractors who might also be doing business with the District government. Those officials, permit examiner Ahmet Ozusta and acting division head James E. Dickson, were cleared of any wrongdoing.