While Sulaimon Brown failed to testify at Thursday’s D.C. Council hearing into Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s hiring practices, testimony and new e-mails further explain how Brown got his $110,000-a-year post at the Department of Health Care Finance.
The key fact disclosed Thursday was that Lorraine A. Green, who is accused of orchestrating a scheme to reward Brown’s political attacks with a city job, told Chief of Staff Gerri Mason Hall to speak to Gray about employing Brown.
While Hall initially testified Thursday that “neither the mayor nor anyone else directed me to hire or find a position” for Brown, she said under questioning that she had kept notes of a late-December meeting where Green, close friend of Hall’s and chairwoman of Gray’s campaign and transition efforts, had told her to “check with Vince regarding reaching out for [a] position” for Brown.
D.C. Council member David Catania told Hall that her notes constitute a “bit of a smoking gun.”
”It does tie Ms. Lorraine Green to you in terms of asking your assistance in locating a position. That’s the way I read it,” he said. “The fact he was hired without an interview in the agency ... leads some of us to wonder what was so special about Mr. Brown that caused the chief of staff of the mayor to insert herself in such a personal way. ... This seemed a little too close for comfort.”
But Hall said she didn’t speak to Gray about Brown until after he was hired. Rather, she testified, she took it upon herself to personally interview Brown and place him in a job.
Hall explained that Brown “was very aggressive in his pursuit of employment. And he was always around the mayor, and I made the decision to remove that distraction and arranged for him to sit down with me.” She added that she “did not see it as such a big deal to assist him in obtaining employment.”
Green’s request, she said, was a “backdrop” for her decision to give him an interview, and subsequently, a job.
Hall initially referred him to the Office of the Inspector General, which had posted an auditing job on its Web site that Brown had brought to her attention. But the job had long been filled, Brown learned in a Jan. 18 interview, so Hall instead sent him to the Department of Health Care Finance.
Hall said Thursday that she knew the agency was in need of auditors based on conversations she’d had with Talib Karim, then DHCF’s chief of staff.
On Jan. 23, Hall emailed Karim: “The candidate’s name is Sulaimon Brown. I believe you have met. ... As mentioned, we are looking for an auditor-type position, with an anticipated starting salary of $110,000. I also have copied Judy Banks to assist in confirming the position. We are looking for a start date of January 31. Thank you for your assistance; feel free to call me as necessary.”
She had apparently already told Brown that he might be headed Karim’s way. He replied: “Got you, and I can work with [human resources director Judy Banks] to get this done. As headsup, before I read this, I got a call from the brother today and was caught off guard and told him to call me tomorrow....just in case he calls you.”
Hall testified that it was her choice to set Brown’s salary at $110,000, based on what she had been told were average salaries for auditing positions. “In hindsight, I understand that is considered very high and offensive,” she said.
Before Brown started work on Jan. 31, Green alerted Hall to questionable details from Brown’s background — details that might have cast doubt on his fitness for a financial auditing job.
On the morning of Jan. 27, Green forwarded Hall two emails from Kenneth Cummins, an investigator hired by the Gray transition to do vetting. He reported that Brown did not have a valid driver’s license and he also forwarded a credit check that noted Brown had five accounts in collections and a “poor” payment history.
But Hall testified that she never read the emails. “That was another error on my part,” she said. “I did not look at that information until after the fact.”
It was after Brown started his DHCF but before his employment was publicized that Gray learned of the hire, Hall testified. In February, the new Health Care Finance director, Wayne Turnage, started work and held an all-hands meeting that Gray attended. Brown was there.
Hall recalled what happened next: “When the mayor returned to the office ... he said, ‘I saw Sulaimon Brown at the Health Care Finance agency ... Did you know he worked there?’ I said, ‘Yes, in fact, I facilitated that; he’s in an auditing position.’ And he said, ‘Oh, OK.’ I said, ‘Is there a problem?’ He said, ‘No -- I just was surprised to see him.’ And that was the extent of that conversation.”
Later, after Brown leveled his explosive allegations, Hall said Gray “confirmed that ... he definitely would have considered and had committed to considering Mr. Brown for a position, but at no time did he guarantee” a job.
It soon became clear that Brown’s hire was not working out. On Feb. 2, Banks emailed Hall and Green, telling her that Brown was a “problem child” who was “acting out already in his new workplace.” She added that he was “in his title from Special Assistant to Special Assistant to the Mayor ” (emphasis in the original).
”Do either of you know him personally and want to talk to him - before I do?” Banks wrote.
Hall emailed back: “Special case ...1 will have to address and will call you.”
Hall explained Thursday that she had learned of “inappropriate” interactions between Brown and his fellow employees. “The reference to ‘special’ was in the context of his behavior,” Hall said. “His behaviors were rather special.”
A week later, Karim e-mailed Banks, asking her a peculiar question: Is there any reason why Turnage wouldn’t be able delegate the supervision of a particular employee? He explained why he was asking: “Sulaimon Brown has told us that you advised that he has to report to Wayne directly,” he wrote.
Banks then e-mailed Turnage, asking, “[A]re there any personnel issues at HCF we need to discuss?”
Turnage e-mailed her back: “Yes. I will call you tonight. Need much advice. Can you send the best number to reach you?”
In her testimony, Hall said that Brown was placed at DHCF “with an understanding that the department’s leadership would be free to terminate him if it was not a good fit or if he could not fill the agency’s needs.”
So it was: Turnage fired Brown on the morning of Feb. 24. And the rest is history.