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Keith Forney‘s days of gaming the District elections and contracting system appear to be over, but his legal troubles certainly are not.
The politically connected developer, strip club owner, and tax cheat was found guilty last week in D.C. Superior Court of perjury, corrupt election practices, and defrauding D.C.’s contracting program that gives preference to local businesses, known as Certified Business Enterprises (CBE).
Earlier this month Forney was also found guilty of violating campaign donation limits.
The 60-year-old faces a maximum sentence of 23 and a half years in prison for those crimes. He was convicted in September 2018 in Superior Court of tax fraud and making false statements. He’s also awaiting trial in two cases in federal court.
For years, Forney has been a major player in development projects in the District, including Eastern Market’s renovation, the Deanwood Community Center and Library, and school modernizations. His $2,800 gift to then-Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry in 2012 earned the mayor-for-life a Council censure.
Forney’s scheme for his most recent conviction, as laid out in court documents, allowed him to skirt campaign contribution limits, register to vote in two different jurisdictions, and win millions in contracts with the D.C. government by falsely claiming he lived in the District.
In 2012, Forney personally donated $500 each to Ward 5 Council candidate Delano Hunter and Mayor Muriel Bower, who at the time was running for the Ward 4 seat. He also gave $1,000 to Vincent Orange for his campaign for an at-large Council seat, court records show.
Through his business, Forney Enterprises Inc. (FEI), he donated the same amounts to each of the three candidates, according to court records. He then directed his employees and associates to donate to those candidates and reimbursed them through his company. Only one employee, executive administrator Michelle Brockington, is named in court records. Three others are identified by their initials only.
Campaign contributions from a single person or business entity are limited to $500 for ward-level candidates and $1,000 for candidates for a city-wide seat.
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Bowser and Orange won their races. Hunter lost in a special election to Kenyan McDuffie. Earlier this year Bowser nominated Hunter to serve as director of the Department of Parks and Recreation. He is now awaiting Council confirmation.
Court records show that Forney gave false information on his driver’s license applications in both D.C. and Maryland.
On June 10, 2010, Forney claimed to have lost his Maryland license and applied for a duplicate, swearing that his permanent residence was in Maryland. On the same day, Forney applied for a D.C. driver’s license and listed his D.C. property as his address.
Though Forney owned residential property in Maryland and the District, he rented out the space in D.C., court records state.
Forney used his D.C. license to get approved as a “Resident Owned Business” or ROB in the District’s CBE program, which earned him extra points when bidding for District contracts. FEI bid on 15 to 30 contracts per year, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, with the boost from the ROB designation. All of the contracts were worth over $1 million, and many were worth tens of millions.
Court records show that from 2008 to 2012, Forney cast four ballots in Maryland while registered in D.C.; and from 2010 to 2014 cast four ballots in D.C. while he was registered in Maryland.
As for Forney’s looming indictments: In the first case, he is accused of claiming more than $218,000 in personal expenses as business deductions on his taxes and of grossly underreporting his income. The expenses include home renovations for an FEI employee, $168,512 in Forney’s personal credit card debt, contributions to D.C. Council candidates, and his kid’s college education. This case is set for trial in July.
In the second case, Forney is charged with mail fraud and financial crimes related to his role in a copier maintenance contract with the Maryland Administrative Office of the Courts. Forney was retained as part of Maryland’s “Minority Business Enterprise” program, but didn’t actually do any work, prosecutors allege. Instead, he funneled the money he was paid to John Vassos, who loaned Forney and his business partner millions to finance the purchase of property where their strip joint, Stadium Club, is located, according to court records. A trial date has not yet been scheduled.
In both cases, Forney asked a judge to let him take a couple work-cations—one to Costa Rica and the other to the Dominican Republic.
The trip to Costa Rica, the ever-industrious Forney told the judge, was necessary in order to address issues with a development project there. In court records, prosecutors poked holes in Forney’s description of his role in the projects and claim that his physical presence was needed.
“Forney is an investor … not an owner, and his presence is not required in Costa Rica,” prosecutors write in court documents. “The defendant is the person who requested an in person meeting.”
The excursion to the Dominican Republic was for a fraternity golf tournament.
The judge said no to both trips.
Photo of D.C. Superior Courthouse used under Creative Commons license CC0 Public Domain