Evidence made public Wednesday in a D.C. Council investigation of alleged corruption in the city’s contracting process points to favoritism for a top political donor, questionable firings of reform-minded District employees and the chance of an illegal leak of confidential information during the bidding for a prized construction project.
On Thursday, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said what she plans to do with that evidence: nothing.
Bowser and her most powerful appointed cabinet official, City Administrator Rashad M. Young, forcefully rejected the findings of Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), whose committee has spent months investigating allegations that administration officials inappropriately tried to steer millions of dollars in contracts to Fort Myer Construction, a top campaign contributor to Bowser and other local politicians.
During a brief interview Thursday, the mayor called Cheh’s assertion that there is strong — albeit circumstantial — evidence that a District employee had illegally leaked information about a competitor’s bid to Fort Myer “a wild accusation.” She said, “We don’t have any reason to think that’s true.”
Cheh noted in her report that Fort Myer had outbid a competitor in highly specific ways that suggested the company had access to the competitor’s bid materials. It would have been illegal for any D.C. employee to share that information.
Cheh said Thursday it was “unfortunate” that the mayor was not taking the evidence from the committee’s inquiry more seriously, but that she hoped the inspector general would launch an investigation to determine if bid information was illegally shared.
“There’s an expression: A turtle on a fencepost requires an explanation. That’s what this is,” Cheh said. She said Bowser and other administration officials were “fumbling around to try to have a response” to her report’s findings.
Deputy Inspector General for Business Management Jaime Yarussi said the office was reviewing Cheh’s report.
Chris Kerns, vice president and general counsel at Fort Myer, declined to comment.
The Committee on Transportation and the Environment, chaired by Cheh, investigated the circumstances surrounding the abrupt resignation last year of former Department of General Services Director Christopher Weaver and the subsequent firing of his top deputy and the agency’s general counsel.
Those employees, Yinka Alao and Carlos M. Sandoval, alleged they were fired to appease Fort Myer after they did not award the company lucrative demolition and road work at a planned soccer stadium at Buzzard Point and a practice facility for the Washington Wizards at the St. Elizabeths campus in Southeast Washington.
Cheh’s committee heard more than 20 hours of testimony in closed-door sessions and reviewed thousands of pages of Bowser administration documents, including emails, meeting records and personnel files.
On Thursday the committee voted to make public the evidence it had accumulated, but committee members could not agree on a report summarizing the investigation’s findings. As a result, Cheh released her own report.
Weaver, a retired rear admiral appointed by Bowser to bring greater integrity to the city’s contracting process, testified that he resigned rather than carry out Young’s orders to fire Sandoval and Alao and told Young that “in the world I come from and that I grew up in, this is something I cannot do.”
Ana Harvey, director of the D.C. Department of Small and Local Business Development, testified that she was eating lunch at Boss Shepherd’s shortly after Weaver’s resignation when a lobbyist for Fort Myer approached her to discuss pending legislation that could affect contracts.
“I already got rid of that f----- Weaver. Watch it,” she recounted the lobbyist saying.
Harvey also testified that Weaver told her “he was being pressured by the city administrator to award the contracts to Fort Myer because Fort Myer said they were ‘not getting enough contracts.’ ”
Young, echoing previous statements, said in an interview Thursday that he intervened in the contracts in question only to assure that they were awarded fairly and that work on the projects could move ahead on schedule.
“Fort Myer is not a favored contractor to me,” Young said. “We have hundreds of contractors in the District. I have no relationship with them.”