During one of the episodes underpinning the scandal that enveloped D.C. Council member Jack Evans over the past week, he wrote in an email: “To me, where there’s smoke, there’s often fire.”
It was 2017, and Evans was talking about a parking company that did business with Metro, for which Evans served as board chairman.
“It was my understanding that you would look into this serious matter and get back to me in short order,” he wrote to Metro inspector general Geoffrey Cherrington, demanding a renewed investigation into procurements involving LAZ Parking, one of the nation’s largest parking management companies.
Evans didn’t mention to Cherrington, nor did he disclose to Metro’s board, that he had recently been hired at $50,000 a year by one of LAZ’s biggest competitors in the region, Colonial Parking, according to the outside law firm hired by the Metro board’s ethics committee to conduct an investigation of Evans.
The email exchange — obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and first reported in March by Jeffrey Anderson of the website District Dig — is at the center of the Metro ethics investigation that garnered attention over the past week, initially for its fumbled and secretive handling, and later for its central finding — that Evans failed in his duty to disclose a conflict of interest involving Colonial Parking.
The smoke around Evans’s business dealings intensified Thursday when he announced he would resign from the Metro board and culminated Friday when the FBI arrived at his Georgetown home to conduct what officials described as “court-authorized law enforcement activity” and carry out boxes to waiting cars.
A memo written by the lawyers who conducted the ethics probe and obtained by The Washington Post characterized Evans’s 2017 attempt to spark an investigation into LAZ as part of an attempt to “oust” the longtime Metro contractor.
The lawyers wrote that Evans, in an interview, “acknowledged that these efforts were prompted by” Colonial’s top executive, Russell “Rusty” Lindner, “and were based on information that Lindner provided to Evans for the purpose of discrediting LAZ, a Colonial competitor.”
A lawyer for Colonial, one of the largest operators of parking facilities in the Washington region, on Friday disputed how the Metro lawyers presented some of the findings.
“Neither Colonial nor Mr. Lindner was contacted as part of Metro’s review of Mr. Evans’ conduct,” Kevin Byrd, general counsel for Colonial’s parent company, Forge, said in a statement. “As such, its characterizations of the company’s and Mr. Lindner’s intentions relative to the 2015 and 2016 Metro parking solicitations are inaccurate and misleading.”
Evans (D-Ward 2) refused to answer specific questions about the Metro board ethics investigation.
Forge has been a client of several firms for which Evans has worked. In 2014, while Evans was with the powerhouse legal and lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs, the company sought Evans’s help in its effort to lobby Congress to revive a federal program that provided tax incentives to attract investment in economically distressed areas, records show.
In 2015, Evans left Squire Patton Boggs and began working at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. Months later, Forge also migrated to Manatt, which became its lobbyist for the tax incentives, records show.
While still working for Manatt in July 2016, Evans set up NSE Consulting out of his Georgetown home and began negotiating contracts with prospective clients.
Forge entered into a contract with NSE on Oct. 1, 2016, according to the 20-page memo written by Metro’s outside lawyers. Evans’s services were to include “information and advice regarding the metropolitan Washington, D.C. business community, including strategic issues relating to jurisdictional competition, transportation, and real estate,” the agreement said, according to the memo.
At the time, Metro was seeking private companies capable of managing the agency’s 56 parking facilities — more than 59,000 parking spots — for a contract length as long as 50 years. The contract was “potentially quite lucrative” because the previous year, Metro had generated nearly $50 million in parking-related revenue, the lawyers’ memo said.
That September, representatives for both LAZ and Colonial attended an informational meeting for bidders, records show.
Also that month, according to the outside lawyers’ memo, the agency’s inspector general received a complaint about the bidding process. The inspector general later found that Metro’s parking director had inappropriately shared internal information with LAZ, the memo says, and the director was fired.
In November of that year, Metro canceled the privatization plan. Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld has said that was because the transit agency decided it didn’t make financial sense. Since then, Metro has concentrated on upgrading its parking facilities, which would make them more attractive to companies if privatized in the future. But Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said the agency has no plans to revive the privatization plan anytime soon.
Byrd, the lawyer for Colonial, said the company never intended to bid on the Metro project. He did not say why a company representative attended the bidding meeting.
In August 2017, media outlets reported that LAZ had agreed to pay $5.6 million to settle allegations that its employees stole from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. LAZ officials blamed the thefts on a few “rogue employees” who had been terminated, and the company said it reimbursed the transit agency for the losses.
Evans emailed news reports to Cherrington, reminding the inspector general of concerns Evans had previously raised about the agency’s relationship with LAZ. Aside from its interest in the canceled privatization plan, LAZ held a $167,000-a-year contract administering the agency’s reserve parking space program.
“Among those episodes most troubling to me were mismanaged procurements and, in the case of the RFP that was withdrawn last year, evidence of inappropriate emails between the Parking Department and LAZ representatives while the RFP was underway,” Evans wrote.
The next day, Evans received a response from Cherrington that he had sent the information to investigators.
“I spoke with them and we are opening an investigation and assigning it to a special agent,” Cherrington wrote. “We will keep you apprised of the results.”
Minutes after receiving Cherrington’s response, Evans forwarded it to his client, Lindner, emails show.
Cherrington said in a recent interview that no formal investigation was opened as a result of Evans’s email.
“I was reviewing the facts of the former investigation, rather than formally opening a new one,” Cherrington said. “There was never another investigation opened on LAZ. We determined there was no need for a second investigation.”
Cherrington said he was unaware until the third week of June that Evans was getting paid by LAZ’s competitor, Colonial. He said he did not feel that Evans was intimidating him.
“It doesn’t happen that often, but it would not be unusual for a board member to request our office to look into certain matters,” Cherrington said.
A spokeswoman for LAZ, Mary Coursey, said the company was unaware of the business relationship between Evans and its competitor. “We look forward to continuing to provide innovative, best-in-class parking services for Metro customers,” she said in an email.
The memo by Metro lawyers said Evans’s help to Colonial extended to other matters. He “shared [Metro] communications regarding parking issues, ridership data and other information with Lindner, Colonial’s CEO, on a regular basis, sometimes virtually contemporaneously with the events themselves,” the memo said.
In May, The Post reported that last year, Evans also used his position as chairman of the D.C. Council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue to try to insert language in the city budget promoting the tax incentives that Colonial had sought his help in lobbying Congress to reauthorize. The language did not end up being incorporated into the budget, and a federal bill on the incentives did not move forward.
Colonial has said previously that the company never asked Evans to take action as a D.C. lawmaker on its behalf and that its contract with Evans included a provision requiring recusal on any matter that might create a conflict of interest. An attorney for Evans, Mark Tuohey, has said Evans acted on the tax incentives because of “numerous business entities and their employees who would benefit.”
Robert McCartney, Peter Jamison and Fenit Nirappil contributed to this report.