Metro board Chairman Jack Evans violated the panel’s ethics code in numerous instances, a law firm retained by the board to investigate him found, including in his dealings with two private companies and a 2018 business plan he used to seek a job, the ethics committee’s chairman said Monday.
While the firm found “evidence of multiple violations” of the board’s ethics code and the Metro Compact, the board’s four-member ethics committee could agree to cite Evans on only one violation — a conflict of interest regarding Evans’s work on behalf of Colonial Parking, committee Chairman Clarence W. Crawford said.
Evans failed to disclose he was receiving $50,000 a year in a consulting contract with Colonial as he was “waging a campaign” against another company, Laz Parking, such as by repeatedly initiating investigations by Metro’s inspector general, Crawford said.
Crawford said the committee determined that Mr. Evans would no longer be board chairman, “consistent with [the] conclusions” of the ethics committee’s findings.
Evans announced on May 23 that he would not seek reelection as chair when his term expires June 30. He said then that the decision had nothing to do with the ethics committee’s probe, but Crawford said at the time that he could not confirm that. Crawford also said then that the results of the investigation would not be released.
Crawford, who represents Maryland on the Metro board, described the results of the ethics probe in a four-page letter to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D).
He released the letter late Monday afternoon, hours after the governors sent a rare, joint letter to the Metro board seeking public disclosure of the ethics investigation.
Evans’s lawyer, Mark Tuohey, and ethics committee member Corbett Price, who represents the District and is usually allied with Evans, disputed the accuracy of Crawford’s letter.
They said the ethics committee rejected the outside law firm’s findings and found no violation of the ethics code. They also said that while Evans informed the committee he would not seek reelection as board chair, that decision was not related to any ethics violation.
But ethics committee member David Horner, who represents the federal government, supported Crawford on two key points. He said his recollection was that the committee found there was a violation of the ethics code and that there was an agreement that Evans would not run again for chair.
Crawford’s letter provided the first detailed disclosure of an ethics probe that began in March and concluded in May. It added to the legal and political troubles of Evans, who, in addition to being Metro chair, is a longtime, influential member of the D.C. Council. The Democratic council member represents Ward 2, which is made up of Georgetown and most of downtown.
The letter said the law firm Schulte Roth and Zabel, which conducted the investigation, found violations of the board’s ethics code in three primary areas: Evans’s efforts to help Colonial Parking; his actions to assist Digi Outdoor Communications, an electronic sign company; and his business plan used in connection with his efforts to obtain a job with a private law firm.
Evans did not disclose the consulting agreement with Colonial and a “close personal friendship” with its chief executive, Rusty Lindner, at a time when Colonial was seeking a contract with Metro or otherwise had interests with the transit agency, Crawford said.
“By repeatedly and proactively taking action that would benefit Colonial and Lindner, at or during the same time that Evans was being paid $50,000 per year, Mr. Evans improperly used his position at [the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority] for his own personal financial gain and/or for the private financial gain of his close friend Lindner and Colonial,” the letter said.
The relationship between Lindner and Evans was first reported by District Dig.
Evans also violated his duty to avoid conflicts of interest based on an undisclosed consulting agreement with Digi, and he improperly sought Metro’s assistance on behalf of Digi, Crawford said.
Finally, by offering in a business plan to “leverage” his Metro connections in seeking a job with the law firm Nelson Mullins, Evans “violated the prohibition on using his official position for his financial gain,” Crawford said.
Altogether, the law firm’s six-week investigation found 16 separate ways in which Evans violated either the board’s ethics code or the Metro Compact, which is its founding charter. They included failures to avoid conflicts of interest, failures to disclose personal interests, and using his official position for personal or private gain.
But Crawford said the ethics committee “was able to reach a simple majority” regarding only one violation, of Evans’s “duty to avoid conflicts of interest” in his efforts on behalf of Colonial Parking.
With respect to Digi and the business plan, the committee “was not able to reach a simple majority,” the letter said.
One person with knowledge of the ethics committee’s work said some members were cautious because of what they saw as an overly aggressive approach taken by Schulte Roth and Zabel, and because the ethics code was vaguely worded in places.
Those members felt that “basic decency” required that the committee “err on the side of caution when rendering findings that could destroy the reputation of a person,” said the individual, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Evans’s defenders, Tuohey and Price, said Crawford was not authorized to send the letter and had smeared Evans.
“That letter is absolutely false, in the sense of what the committee found,” Tuohey said. “They found by majority vote of 3 to 1 that he did not violate the code.”
Price said the committee “by majority vote rejected the views of outside counsel and concluded that there were no violations of the code of conduct by Mr. Evans.”
But Horner, the committee member who represents the federal government said, “My recollection was that we found he violated a requirement to disclose a commercial relationship with a party having business before” the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
Horner added that the committee “obtained his agreement not to run or stand again,” as Metro board chair.
The fourth member of the ethics committee, Paul Smedberg, who represents Virginia, did not respond to requests for comment.
Apart from the Metro probe, Evans’s legal problems arise primarily from questions over whether he used his official positions to solicit business for his private legal and consulting work.
Federal prosecutors are investigating his relationships with clients. The D.C. Council has formally reprimanded him, and he faces a recall vote in his ward.
The Crawford letter was released as the letter from the Maryland and Virginia governors added overwhelming political pressure on the Metro board to disclose results of its Evans probe. Maryland and Virginia provide more than half of Metro’s funding, and representatives of the two states make up half of Metro’s board.
“Transparency and accountability, principles that are essential to maintaining public trust, must be preserved,” the governors said in the joint letter. “This can be achieved only through the disclosure of investigative findings.”
The governors’ letter was initiated by Hogan, and Northam readily agreed, Maryland officials said.
They released the letter Monday afternoon, hours after the Maryland agency responsible for the state’s funding and administration of Metro approved a separate, strongly worded letter also urging disclosure of the Evans investigation’s findings.
The Washington Suburban Transit Commission, which includes representatives of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, as well as the state, acted 11 days after a similar body in Northern Virginia made an appeal to the Metro board.