The Washington Post

ANC member used D.C. government-paid cellphone for adults-only chat lines

Being an elected member of an Advisory Neighborhood Commission in the District comes with a multitude of responsibilities: weighing development plans, examining liquor licenses, fielding neighborhood complaints.

Not among them: frequenting adults-only chat lines.

Yet one commissioner has used his government-paid cellphone to call such numbers at least 240 times since August 2011, according to phone records.

Lenwood O. Johnson, who represents a district in Columbia Heights, spent more than 158 hours — nearly a week — on the “D.C. Raven” and “D.C. Alibi” chat lines, in addition to making many other personal calls.

While it appears those calls did not add any significant expense to the commission’s $200-a-month phone bills, the use of a government resource for personal benefit violates city policy, said Gottlieb Simon, director of the D.C. Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.

Johnson, who has been a commissioner since 1993, said Thursday that he was not told there were any restrictions on the phone’s use when it was given to him about four years ago. “I use it for everything,” he said.

Besides the 9,512 minutes Johnson spent on the 18-and-over chat lines, he spent 4,362 minutes on the line with a particular D.C. number.

The person who answered that number last week acknowledged he knew Johnson but declined to identify himself.

“It was all personal, to be honest,” he said.

Johnson also used the ANC phone for about three hours for more than a dozen calls to Pete Ross, a D.C. businessman who ran unsuccessfully for shadow senator this year. Johnson served as the campaign’s treasurer.

Use of the phone for political purposes would also be an illicit use of government resources, under city laws.

“It probably was political, but I just can’t recall what I could have talked to him for an hour about,” Johnson said, referring to a 60-minute phone call on Jan. 20.

D.C. Raven’s Twitter feed features a photo of a scantily clad woman, and many of the personal messages left on the Minnesota-based chat service are explicit. Johnson said he often calls the chat lines while driving home from a nightclub he co-owns in Baltimore.

“It’s not like a sex chat line or whatever,” he said. “Often I get on the line just to keep me awake or alert while I’m driving home from Baltimore.”

He spent six hours on one call, made at 4:44 a.m. on Sept. 8, 2011.

The records examined by The Washington Post included phone bills for 11 months between August 2011 and September 2012.

While Johnson regularly exceeds the 400 prime-time minutes he is allotted per month, his usage has not incurred significant additional cost to the ANC because its other four lines are used lightly or not at all.

Because the additional charges were nominal, the situation regarding possible sanctions is “nuanced,” Simon said.

“I don’t know if you could go to the person and say you need to pay back the government,” he said. “Still, it’s a public resource that’s not supposed to be diverted for personal use.”

Johnson, who is up for reelection Tuesday, said he would have no problem if told to get his own personal phone. And he said other commissioners have discussed switching to a less costly cellphone plan.

“I think we’re wasting a lot with that phone system,” he said.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.

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