Federal agents on Friday searched the home of D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), a day after the disclosure of a confidential memo that says Evans “repeatedly and proactively” used his position as chairman of the Metro board to help a company that was secretly paying him $50,000 per year.
Within hours of the conclusion of the FBI search, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) announced that he would seek to strip Evans of his position as chairman of the council’s finance and revenue committee and appoint a panel to investigate him.
“It is imperative that public officials maintain high ethical standards,” Mendelson said. “Public trust is critical. At the same time, it is delicate and precious. We must now work to regain it.”
Evans has not been charged with a crime, and the council’s investigation could take months. But the federal and local actions signaled a once-unimaginable turning point for the District’s longest-serving elected official.
A seasoned retail politician and a powerful ally of developers and the business community, Evans has for decades been a fixture in the turbulent politics of a changing city.
For months, Evans has largely deflected questions about conflicts between his consulting business and his role as a lawmaker and head of the regional transit agency’s board.
But those defenses began to crumble after The Washington Post on Thursday published a 20-page memo summarizing the findings of an outside law firm hired by the Metro board to investigate those conflicts.
Evans, who falsely asserted for days that the ethics probe had cleared him of wrongdoing, said by late afternoon Thursday that he would resign from the Metro board — while keeping the seat he has held for 28 years on the D.C. Council.
Among its findings, the Metro investigation said Evans knowingly violated the board’s ethics rules by taking official actions that would benefit his personal friend, Rusty Lindner, and Lindner’s company, Colonial Parking.
Evans shared Metro ridership information with Lindner and repeatedly spurred the agency’s inspector general to investigate a rival parking company. At the same time, a consulting firm owned by Evans collected a $50,000 annual consulting fee from Lindner’s company that the council member did not disclose, the investigation found.
The probe also determined that Evans took action to benefit another consulting client, Digi Outdoor Media. Digi Outdoor wrote checks worth $50,000 to Evans and issued him 200,000 shares of the company’s stock. Evans said he returned the checks and stock.
The Metro board’s four-member ethics committee concluded that Evans committed only one ethics violation — a failure to disclose a conflict of interest related to his work with Colonial Parking.
A federal grand jury has subpoenaed documents from Evans and his consulting clients, as well as from the council and office of D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D). But until this week, Evans had largely avoided condemnation by his fellow elected officials.
That changed after the findings of the Metro investigation became public.
“This is straight-up corruption. I don’t know how else to view it,” said council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3). Cheh, who has served on the council with Evans for 12 years, said she felt “a deep sense of betrayal” after reading the memo, having given Evans the benefit of the doubt after questions about his alleged conflicts of interest arose.
“You sit next to somebody, they tell you things, you believe what they’re telling you, and then you find out it’s not so. It’s very, very demoralizing,” she said. “I’ve known Jack for a long time. I’m real sad about this whole thing.”
Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), said Evans should immediately be censured, in addition to losing his committee chairmanship.
“The memo and the investigation that’s been released by [Metro] — I think it makes clear that council member Evans has taken advantage of the public’s trust for his own personal gain,” Allen said. “He’s betrayed the council’s trust. He’s done damage not only to the council as a body, but to the District of Columbia, and so I think the council needs to act on that.”
The full council must vote to remove Evans as chairman of the finance committee. Mendelson said the earliest that could happen is July. The demotion would be a watershed in District politics, where Evans has for years used his perch on the committee to function as a kind of concierge for Washington’s business community.
Among its responsibilities, the finance committee oversees the awarding of lucrative tax abatements. Evans, a centrist Democrat, has championed lower taxes, often bucking the more progressive tendencies of an increasingly left-leaning council.
On Friday, 10 of the council’s 13 members said they would vote to strip Evans of the committee leadership. Council members Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) and Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) declined to comment.
Lawmakers who spoke to The Post on Friday stopped short of calling for Evans’s resignation from the council, saying their investigation should play out first.
Some activist groups and advisory neighborhood commissioners began urging him to step down.
Bowser, who has defended Evans and chided the governors of Virginia and Maryland for demanding more information about the Metro board’s ethics probe, said at an unrelated news conference Friday that she was “sad” and “disappointed” about the federal search, but she declined to say whether she supported the council’s new moves to discipline Evans.
“Clearly, all of the revelations of this week have been disturbing, with very serious allegations,” she said.
Evans and his lawyer, Mark Tuohey, did not return calls or respond to text messages seeking comment Friday.
Federal agents arrived at Evans’s 19th-century townhouse on P Street NW in Georgetown around 6 a.m., when Kate Blackwell, who lives nearby, said she heard pounding on a door.
“I woke up and I looked out and saw all these cars,” she said, adding that an agent told her Evans was waiting outside in a car while authorities searched his home.
Evans walked back into his house about 9:15 a.m. Agents started filing out of Evans’s house, carrying boxes, about 9:20 a.m. Tuohey entered the house at 9:26 a.m. and left after 20 minutes, declining to speak to reporters outside.
Officials in the office of the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and the FBI’s Washington Field Office confirmed that agents were present at Evans’s house for “court-authorized law enforcement activity” but declined to comment further.
Federal authorities have been investigating Evans at least since fall. The probe appears to be focused on whether the council member took inappropriate action to help clients of the private firm NSE Consulting that he has operated from his home.
Schulte Roth & Zabel, the law firm that conducted Metro’s investigation, said that Evans, when interviewed, “was vague about what services he actually provided pursuant to his consulting agreements.”
The investigative report states that he negotiated agreements for those clients to pay him a total of $325,000 per year. Evans disputed that, saying the payments were spread out over three years. Evans also wrote an email to his accountant asserting that he had $34,560 in business expenses in 2016, according to the law firm’s memo.
The Metro probe was launched in March after The Post reported that Evans sent business proposals to law firms offering his connections and influence as a lawmaker and chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
According to the memo on the ensuing investigation, the proposal was originally drafted for Evans by Rob Hawkins, a former deputy chief of staff to Bowser and a lawyer at Nelson Mullins, one of the firms where Evans was trying to gain employment.
Hawkins did not return calls seeking comment Friday.
The independent investigation commissioned by the transit agency ultimately uncovered “a pattern of conduct in which Evans attempted to and did help his friends and clients and served their interests, rather than the interest of WMATA,” according to the memo. “The evidence uncovered through our investigation demonstrates that Evans’s ethical violations occurred not by accident, but ‘knowingly.’ ”
Evans “solicited and accepted money” from people who were “actual or potential WMATA vendors, with business interests that intersected with WMATA interests, and could be served by certain actions or decisions of WMATA or its Board,” the memo said.
The Metro board initially refused to release any information about the findings of the ethics investigation, saying no written record of the investigation was created and no minutes kept of the meeting where the ethics committee discussed the probe.
Evans announced that he would not seek reelection as board chairman, but said his decision was not related to the investigation. That claim was buttressed by Corbett Price, a health-care executive appointed to the board by Bowser and a member of the ethics committee. Price and Evans said that the committee had not accepted the law firm’s findings and did not determine that Evans had committed any ethics violations.
Those statements were not true. The ethics committee’s three other members, as well as the board’s general counsel, confirmed that the committee found Evans guilty of a violation for failing to disclose a conflict of interest related to Colonial Parking. Evans ultimately backtracked.
Price declined to comment Friday.
Council member David Grosso (I-At Large), who began urging a council investigation into Evans in March, said Mendelson’s actions were overdue.
He also said Price should be replaced on the Metro board, having become “too compromised” by the false statements he made in defense of Evans. Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) also said Price should step down from the board.
Grosso said he hoped the council’s own investigation could help restore some faith he fears has been lost in the District’s ability to police its own officials.
“You have other jurisdictions that are looking at us like we’re not taking care of business,” he said.
Robert McCartney, Steve Thompson, Dana Hedgpeth and Laurel Demkovich contributed to this report