District officials said yesterday that records of nearly two years of expenditures from Mayor Marion Barry's ceremonial fund, which are being sought by a federal grand jury, were "routinely" destroyed because city officials saw no need to keep them.
Barry also said last night that the aide in charge of the fund may have used $1,500 from it to help pay a fur coat bill for the mayor's wife Effi.
Barry also disclosed yesterday that $1,850 from the fund was used in 1984 for a loan to Anita Bonds, the mayor's principal political adviser. Bonds said she repaid the loan within about a week, and did not know until recently that the money had come from the fund.
In a telephone interview late last night, Barry said the aide in charge of the fund, Robert Robinson, told him that the money for the fur coat had come from Robinson's private savings account. But, Barry said, "the problem is, it is still not clear whether or not Rob took ceremonial funds" to cover the bill.
Earlier in the day, Barry told a reporter that no money from the ceremonial fund was used to pay for the fur coat. A short time later, however, several administration officials contradicted Barry's statement, saying it appeared that the bill had been paid from the $17,500 annual fund.
In the subsequent telephone interview, Barry said that aides had "refreshed" his memory about events surrounding the purchase of a $4,500 coat from Le Parisien furrier on Connecticut Avenue.
The disclosures came in a day of back-to-back meetings, interviews and a news conference at which the mayor and his aides sought to explain how the fund was used and what records were kept. A federal grand jury is attempting to determine whether any money from the fund was used to pay personal expenses of the mayor or his wife.
The ceremonial fund consists primarily of money that is intended for use in entertaining and providing gifts for dignitaries. The fund consists of two separate discretionary accounts, totaling $17,500 annually.
At a news conference yesterday, Barry again blamed aides for poorly keeping records of the fund, but said he has never used the fund for his personal expenses. Barry also said that there is no legal requirement to keep detailed records of the account. He later said that he had been unaware of the loan to Bonds when it was made.
Barry said that the money is "discretionary, and under the law, when the mayor certifies the account, that is the end of the matter, except for one question and one question alone: were any of the funds used for the personal benefit of the mayor. In terms of myself, the answer to this question is 'no,' and these records support this."
At another point, Barry said, "None of this money went to Mayor Barry for his personal use. That much we do know. That is an undisputed fact."
In response to a Freedom of Information Act suit filed more than a year ago by The Washington Post, Barry last week released partial documentation for the fund covering 1984 to 1986, after an extended court fight to keep the records secret.
The statement that the records had been destroyed came one week after a city official said in an affidavit only that the records from October 1982 to June 1984 do not exist.
In an interview before Barry's news conference, Corporation Counsel Frederick D. Cooke Jr. said the records for the two-year period, from 1982 to 1984, were destroyed "in the normal course of business" and before a grand jury had requested them. Cooke said he was told that the records were destroyed, but said he did not know precisely when, by whom or how.
Cooke said records since 1984 from the fund have been maintained because of the grand jury's interest in them.
Cooke said that before city officials were aware of the grand jury investigation, there was no requirement to keep the records.
He also said it is routine for District agencies to dispose of old records. However, it was unclear yesterday whether other agencies do destroy old records and at what point. There is no uniform policy of when to dispose of the ceremonial fund records.
During the news conference, Barry blamed his former aide Robinson for keeping inadequate records of the fund. Barry said he has been advised by attorneys not to ask Robinson about $7,500 in unexplained deposits and $5,750 in cash withdrawals because the issue is before the grand jury.
"I don't have an explanation of those," said George Thomas, a government accountant who was brought in last year to audit and control the ceremonial account, but has said he has been unable to reconstruct many of the records.
However, after the news conference, Barry revealed that a cash withdrawal from the fund of $1,850 in 1984 went to Bonds, his political adviser, and that the funds were repaid in four days.
Bonds, in a telephone interview, said that Robinson offered to lend her the $1,850 after there was a delay in a city government check she was expecting for consulting work she had done. Bonds said she did not know that Robinson used the ceremonial fund for the loan until the grand jury asked her about it this year. Bonds said she repaid the loan from Robinson within a week, and that he apparently deposited her personal check into the ceremonial fund.
Despite confusion that has surrounded the fund records, Barry complained yesterday that the news media had inaccurately depicted the records as either missing or being in total disarray.
"We take this unusual step of assembling all of my top staff here because we don't want the public to get the impression that we don't know what we're doing . . . " Barry said. Throughout most of the 20-minute news conference, Barry was prompted by whispered advice from Cooke, Thomas and Herbert O. Reid Sr., Barry's legal counsel. Deputy Mayor Carol B. Thompson and City Administrator Thomas M. Downs also flanked the mayor.
Barry said that he believed that "every penny" of government money should be accounted for, but said the ceremonial fund was a unique account that has existed since the 1940s, and was one that had never been subject to audits or public disclosure.
"There have been no strict guidelines set out for the use of this money, and the law does not require a strict accounting for the expenditure . . . ," Barry said.
Barry said he asked aides last year to begin keeping more accurate records of the fund only because of news media inquiries about it. In addition, Barry and the D.C. Council rewrote the city's law covering the ceremonial fund. Beginning next month, Barry and the council will each be allowed $25,000 in ceremonial expenses that will be subject to annual audits.
The current ceremonial fund of $17,500 a year is actually made up of two accounts -- an official expense fund of $2,500 and a "reception for eminent persons" account of $15,000. Barry has kept both accounts in one bank account called the Mayor's Ceremonial Fund.
Staff writer Sharon LaFraniere contributed to this report.