Robert B. Robinson, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry's former administrative assistant, pleaded guilty yesterday to two misdemeanor theft charges for using $1,500 from the mayor's ceremonial fund to pay overdue bills on a $4,500 fur coat that Barry bought for his wife.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel J. Bernstein said during the brief court hearing that the "government has no evidence that Mayor Barry was involved in these illegal transactions involving the fur coat." Barry said last night that his integrity was "intact."
"Mr. Robinson, no matter how well intentioned he was . . . shouldn't have done it," the mayor said. "He made those payments without my approval. It's clear that this chapter of the ceremonial fund is over, that this mayor's integrity is intact," Barry said.
Bernstein said Robinson used money from the fund to pay Le Parisien Furriers after the firm's owner repeatedly pressed the mayor's office for payments. The coat was purchased in November 1982, with Barry paying $500 down and agreeing to make 18 monthly payments of $264.71.
The two separate charges stem from Robinson's making a $500 payment on the coat in October 1984, and a $1,000 payment in April 1985. He faces a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a $2,000 fine when he is sentenced on Dec. 18.
During yesterday's hearing before U.S. Magistrate Jean F. Dwyer, Robinson said, "I believe that as I understand the law at this time, I am guilty."
Robinson's plea agreement with the government does not require him to testify in any other criminal proceedings, but prosecutors indicated they are continuing their investigation of expenditures from the discretionary funds controlled by the mayor's office.
Robinson, 36, is the 12th former Barry administration official to plead guilty or be convicted, including former deputy mayors Ivanhoe Donaldson and Alphonse G. Hill. In connection with the Donaldson case, prosecutors said Robinson approved and wrote two checks totaling $63,500 that Donaldson later converted to his own use. Robinson was not charged in that case.
The charges against Robinson come one week after former University of the District of Columbia president Robert L. Green was indicted on charges of theft, fraud and five counts of lying to the grand jury that is investigating the discretionary funds.
Robinson left the District government last year after spending irregularities in the mayor's accounts were first disclosed when records were turned over to The Washington Post in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
At the time, Barry and a top aide, Carol Thompson, blamed the problems on Robinson, saying that it was a result of shoddy record keeping while he controlled the funds from October 1984 until August 1986.
In a statement read after the hearing by Samuel Buffone, Robinson's attorney, the former mayoral aide said he was "remorseful" for his actions, and pointed out that "in each case, the funds I misappropriated were returned -- many months before any investigative interest was aroused."
"During my tenure as a D.C. government employe, I believed deeply in the principles espoused by the Barry administration. I still do," Robinson's statement continued.
"I am absolutely confident that once the entire story is known, the public will realize that the venality and corruption that I have been accused of by the press and others will be proven to be totally false."
In a later telephone interview, Buffone denied that Robinson had kept poor records. "He believes that everything he did while an employe of the District was done in a businesslike and professional manner, with the exception of the things he pleaded guilty to today," Buffone said.
The ceremonial fund is money appropriated for official functions and entertaining by the mayor's office. Recently, D.C. Council members have criticized Barry's use of the fund, which until recently had not been subject to audit.
Bernstein said in court that Robinson made the payments after the furrier, Chris Fotos, tried to contact the mayor about the overdue bill and reached Robinson, who said he was in charge of the mayor's accounts.
When Robinson asked the mayor about the bill, Barry said his wife, Effi, believed the elbow of one of the sleeves was wearing prematurely, according to Bernstein. Fotos then repaired the coat twice and continued to press Barry for payment through 1983 and 1984.
In making the two payments, Robinson wrote checks to cash, negotiated them and then used the money to get bank checks to pay Fotos.
Washington Post staff writers Sharon LaFraniere and Tom Sherwood contributed to this report.