Marlene Johnson, chairwoman of the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and a former legal consultant to Mayor Marion Barry, yesterday denied the testimony of Charles Lewis that she possessed drugs in the Virgin Islands.
Lewis, a key government witness in Barry's drug and perjury trial, testified on Tuesday that Johnson had "drugs at her hotel" in early 1988 while she was in the Virgin Islands to provide advice on a joint D.C.-islands personnel project.
"Charles Lewis is lying," said Johnson, who has been a close adviser to Barry for years and has received several city contracts. She denied that she had possessed or used drugs in the Virgin Islands and said she had not seen the mayor use drugs.
"It is shocking to me," said Johnson, a lawyer. "I don't have any knowledge at all about Mr. Lewis and drug use at all."
Johnson was a key figure in the joint D.C.-Virgin Islands personnel project, which was criticized by a U.S. Interior Department inspector general and a D.C. Council committee as a waste of District personnel and money.
Late last year, Johnson and then-mayoral legal counsel Herbert O. Reid Sr. visited a Barry associate who was present when Barry allegedly smoked crack cocaine with Lewis at the Ramada Inn and had been called to testify before the grand jury, according to sources.
According to a source, public works employee James McWilliams has told investigators that Johnson and Reid questioned McWilliams about what he intended to tell the grand jury.
Johnson told McWilliams that she understood he was going to say he had not seen any indication that Barry had used drugs, the source said. McWilliams subsequently agreed to cooperate with investigators and is expected to testify soon.
Barry last month renominated Johnson to the liquor board, and her nomination is pending before the D.C. Council.
Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), chairman of the Government Operations Committee that investigated the joint personnel project, said yesterday she would oppose Johnson's nomination.
Kane, who had criticized Johnson for her role in the project, said yesterday that she found Lewis's testimony "troubling."
Although the allegations were not proved, Kane said she would vote against Johnson's reappointment and recommend a similar action to her colleagues.
"Simply the appearance of impropriety is something you have to be very sensitive to," Kane said. Members of the licensing board "are in a position of requiring high standards from the people that we grant licenses to. They themselves must be people who themselves are above reproach."
Kane had asked Johnson a series of questions about drugs during her committee's hearings on the personnel project in April 1989.
"Absolutely not," Johnson twice answered in response to questions about whether she had any knowledge of any District employee associated with the project using or being offered drugs by Lewis, who had been indicted that day on cocaine charges.
The report issued by Kane's committee accused Johnson of a conflict of interest because she simultaneously represented the District and the Virgin Islands government in the project to revamp the island government's personnel system.
At the time, Johnson was earning up to $71,000 a year as a legal consultant to the mayor's office and acting as a consultant to the Virgin Islands government, staying in $300-a-night hotel rooms and receiving nearly $5,000 in reimbursements from the District government for work done for the Islands government.
Johnson denied the conflict, but Kane recommended that Johnson be investigated by the D.C. Bar Committee.
Lewis, a convicted drug dealer whose cooperation played a central role in the Barry investigation, told the jury on the opening day of testimony that he "felt comfortable" approaching Johnson for money to buy crack cocaine for Barry in 1988 because he had seen Johnson with drugs the previous week. He said Johnson did not give him the money.
"I talked to Marlene Johnson and I said the mayor wants me to go and pick up some stuff for him, are you the one to give me the money," Lewis testified. "And I felt comfortable asking her that question because about a week before she had drugs at her hotel."
Johnson said yesterday, "He did not come to my hotel room when the mayor was in the Virgin Islands. He did not come to my hotel room at any time I was there. I don't have any recollection of him asking me for any money."