Advisers to D.C. Council member Harold Brazil asked the Williams administration in 2001 to give a political appointment to a woman who had been working on Brazil's staff and with whom he was having a close personal relationship, according to interviews.
In early 2001, city records show, the D.C. Office of Property Management responded by offering the woman, Aimee Occhetti, a position as special assistant to the director. Occhetti, a lawyer who had worked on Brazil's council committee, received a $21,000 raise and currently earns $78,356 a year.
Moving Occhetti was considered necessary by Brazil's advisers and some of his aides because they believed the relationship had become too public and was a distraction for his council staff, according to five individuals who are knowledgeable about the situation.
They said efforts to find Occhetti a new job were handled by Joe Louis Ruffin Jr., an official in the council member's 2000 campaign, and Robert Lee "Bob" Jones, a political insider with close ties to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and a friend of the city's property management director at the time, Timothy F. Dimond. Neither Jones nor Ruffin was an employee of the D.C. government.
Jones acknowledged his role in an interview but said he believed that Brazil was not involved. "I did not talk to Harold about Aimee's move, and to my knowledge no one else did until she had an offer," Jones said.
Jones and Ruffin worked on the arrangement with Dimond, according to three people familiar with the talks. Mark A. Jones, at the time the mayor's deputy chief of staff, said he also held discussions about Occhetti with Bob Jones and Ruffin at the city's Judiciary Square office.
Mark Jones said in an interview that he had several conversations with Ruffin and Bob Jones about giving the special assistant's job to Occhetti in early 2001. Mark Jones said the discussions took place before he and Abdusalam Omer, then the mayor's chief of staff, approved the move.
"I did meet with Joe and Bob. We had more than one conversation about it," Mark Jones said. "They wanted Aimee to get the job."
Brazil, 55, who is married and has served on the D.C. Council since 1991, is one of the mayor's closest allies on the council. He is seeking reelection this year as an at-large representative.
Brazil declined to be interviewed.
Darden Copeland, Brazil's campaign manager, said Occhetti got the job with the help of Erik S. Gaull, who at the time was an aide to then-City Administrator John A. Koskinen. Gaull is out of the country and could not be reached.
In a statement provided by Copeland, Gaull said that his wife worked with Occhetti in Brazil's office. Gaull's wife, Karen Severy, was a research specialist on the council's Committee on the Judiciary, which Brazil chaired and where Occhetti worked.
"Aimee has often publicly credited me with providing the entree that made it possible to be hired by Director Tim Dimond," Gaull's statement said, adding that Occhetti had expressed interest in moving to the executive branch. "There was never any assistance in this regard from Councilmember Brazil."
Occhetti, 35, declined to be interviewed. In an e-mail, she denied any suggestion that she got the job through the intervention of others.
"The storyline is false, damaging to my reputation, and I will do nothing to help you advance it," Occhetti wrote in the e-mail.
Tony Bullock, spokesman for Williams, said the mayor "has no knowledge of and had no involvement in" the hiring of Occhetti at the property management office. Bullock said there is no indication, or any document, that shows anyone in the Williams administration arranged for Occhetti to get a job as a favor to Brazil.
"Where's the evidence to back it up?" Bullock asked.
Mark Jones said that following the discussions with Ruffin and Bob Jones, they "went back to Tim Dimond and said it's clear."
Mark Jones was fired in 2001 in a fundraising scandal involving the mayor's office. A lawsuit filed by him against Williams is pending.
Omer, who was traveling in Dubai on business, said in an e-mail that he "might have approved" Occhetti's job at property management but that he could not recall for certain.
According to city records, Occhetti left her council position -- which paid $48,549 a year -- on March 23, 2001, and was hired at property management two days later at an annual salary of $69,549. City records show that the position filled by Occhetti was authorized by Omer, Koskinen and the personnel director at the time, Milou Carolan, said a spokeswoman for the personnel department.
Dimond declined to be interviewed. But in a one-paragraph statement faxed Saturday, he said that Occhetti was referred to his office by Gaull and that Brazil did not ask him to hire her. His statement does not address the conversations he had about Occhetti with Mark Jones, Ruffin and Bob Jones, but it said the special assistant's job "was not created specifically for Ms. Occhetti."
Dimond resigned as property management director last June after months of criticism about the agency's handling of millions of dollars in leases with a private developer.
In the interview, Bob Jones acknowledged that his efforts to move Occhetti out of Brazil's council office stemmed from rumors about the relationship, and he said that Occhetti was also interested in pursuing a new career path. He said he became involved in the move after Ruffin asked him to help.
Ruffin said Occhetti "is qualified, given her knowledge of local politics. She knows all the players, and she is an attorney by trade. I think she is competent politically."
Occhetti's job was one of 220 excepted service positions allotted throughout the various agencies in the District government. They are political appointments that, for the most part, are filled noncompetitively. Those holding the positions serve at the pleasure of the mayor. Kelvin J. Robinson, the mayor's current chief of staff, said the position of special assistant filled by Occhetti was established in 2001 to address staffing needs, but he did not provide a specific date.
According to the D.C. Office of Personnel, Occhetti's job was converted to a career service position last July. Such a reclassification, which is not unusual, grants her civil service protections.
Carol J. Mitten, the current director of the property management office, said Occhetti's responsibilities include serving as a liaison for capital projects at Eastern Market and overseeing requests for proposals for redevelopment of the Old Naval Hospital. Mitten said Occhetti is also in charge of the agency's leasing of District government properties to private tenants. She added that Occhetti is one of two special assistants at the property management office.
Occhetti's move came at an opportune time for change in Brazil's staff. He had been reelected to the council and, by January 2001, was named chairman of the Economic Development Committee. Previously, he was chairman of the Judiciary Committee, where Occhetti worked for him.
Occhetti is one of two lawyers on Brazil's staff who performed legal work for his private personal injury law firm. The D.C. Office of Campaign Finance is conducting an investigation into whether Brazil violated city laws or personnel regulations by having members of his staff do the outside legal work.
Tara Hajcman, who said she was a housemate of Occhetti's for about six months in 2002, recalled in an interview that Occhetti told her the two were involved in a relationship. Hajcman, who worked briefly in Brazil's council office as his communications director, said there were stretches when Brazil would visit the rowhouse on 14th Street SE.
"He came over a lot for visits and would be there at nights," Hajcman said. "Sometimes he would be there three or four nights a week."
"She told me that they were involved," she recalled, adding that Occhetti and Brazil would have drinks at the house and often went out to bars and restaurants.
Another former staff member in the council member's office recalled raising concerns with Brazil on several occasions about how indiscreet his relationship with Occhetti was becoming, but Brazil did not appear to be particularly worried. The former staff member also said Occhetti visited the council office after she had started working at property management and showed photos of her and Brazil together.
Hajcman, who had also worked at Brazil's personal injury law practice, was employed at his council office from August to October 2002 before quitting. "I was unhappy. It is hard when you see your boss so much," she said.
Hajcman said that Occhetti had mentioned to her that working for Brazil had been "a good reference" for her job at property management but that Occhetti never indicated that the council member had helped her obtain the agency position.
"She was proud of her job and her accomplishments, like drafting successful legislation," Hajcman said.
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.