D.C. Council member Jack Evans has been fined $20,000 by the city’s ethics agency for using government resources and touting his influence as an elected official while soliciting employment from local law firms.
The settlement approved Thursday by the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability (BEGA) is the latest fallout for the city’s longest-serving lawmaker who has been embroiled in an ethics scandal.
Earlier this year, The Washington Post obtained emails that Evans (D-Ward 2) sent from his council office while trying to land jobs at law firms in 2015 and 2018. In business proposals, he highlighted an ability to attract private clients as a lawmaker and as board chairman of Metro, the regional transit agency.
D.C. Council members, who have $141,282 salaries, are allowed to hold outside jobs.
But the ethics board determined there was “substantial evidence” that Evans’s contact with the law firms violated rules that prohibit the use of government resources for personal reasons and using the prestige of office for private gain.
Evans declined to comment Thursday. But his office released a statement.
“Councilmember Evans, while not admitting any violation of the D.C. Council Code of Conduct, recognizes that these issues needed resolution in order to avoid a protracted and costly dispute resolution process,” the statement said.
Evans, a lawyer and one of the city’s most influential politicians, is under scrutiny for the overlap between his public service and private business dealings. He was not hired by the law firms at the center of the ethics agency probe but formed a consulting business in 2016.
The D.C. ethics board is the second body to find Evans in violation. This spring, the Metro ethics committee concluded that he failed to disclose a conflict-of-interest with a paying client.
Other investigations, which remain active, focus on actions Evans took while in office. An outside law firm hired by the D.C. Council is examining private paid consulting Evans performed for companies that had interests before the city government. The firm’s report is to be made public this fall.
Evans is also under federal criminal investigation. Investigators searched his Georgetown home in June, and a federal grand jury has issued subpoenas for documents and testimony from officials at city hall and Metro. Evans has not been charged with a crime.
In July, Evans told council colleagues that investigations will show his “actions — while not becoming — are far from that which has been reported or suggested.”
The ethics board also halted its initial investigation into Evans, which started in 2018. According to city officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the investigation, the probe was concerning his personal business dealings with a digital sign company that would have benefited from legislation he proposed. That investigation was stayed after federal law enforcement officials also started probing Evans.
Brent Wolfingbarger, the D.C. agency’s director of government ethics, described the probe that concluded Thursday as a “spinoff” investigation and said the earlier case is still on hold.
“We are working with law enforcement to do what we can, but we are taking a second seat,” Wolfingbarger said.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) called the fine against Evans “substantial” but said the pause in the agency’s larger investigation has made it more challenging for lawmakers to discipline Evans.
“To the extent there are other allegations which are of concern to the public, BEGA continues to not be able to help us,” Mendelson said. “The law’s not working here, and that’s why we stepped in with our own investigation.”
As part of the settlement, Evans agreed to pay the $20,000 fine by August 2020. He and his legislative staff must also undergo ethics training by October.
Evans told investigators he did not realize council resources would be used in his job hunt and that he thought his chief of staff would use personal email accounts to contact the law firms, according to the agency’s report on the case. He also told investigators that an ethics professor advised him that his emails could be characterized as “puffing” his contacts and experience instead of an ethics violations.
After The Post published Evans’s emails with law firms, his colleagues on the council voted to reprimand him and strip him of some responsibilities, eventually taking away his chairmanship of the powerful finance committee. Evans has apologized for the emails but also compared the violation to printing a boarding pass on an office computer.
The emails also prompted the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to hire a law firm to conduct an ethics investigation into Evans.
The outside firm found Evans “knowingly” violated ethics rules to help friends and private clients. The WMATA board’s ethics committee found that Evans failed to disclose a conflict of interest with a parking company paying him for consulting services.
Evans stepped down from the transit agency’s board amid an outcry over the findings.
First elected to the council in 1991, Evans has not filed for reelection next year. If he seeks another term, he faces five challengers in the Democratic primary, as well as an ongoing effort to recall him from office.
Steve Thompson contributed to this report.