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Late last year, the Washington Post reported that a digital sign company doing business in the District sent Councilmember Jack Evans $50,000 and, separately, 200,000 shares of stock through his consulting firm before he pushed legislation that would have benefited the company.
Though there have been whispers of a criminal investigation of Evans’ actions, no concrete evidence of it was revealed publicly until this week.
A federal grand jury issued a subpoena last September that demanded documents related to Evans’ legislation and his connection to Donald MacCord, the founder of Digi Outdoor Media, as the Post first reported yesterday.
The D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability (BEGA) investigated Evans’ relationship with MacCord and Digi Outdoor, but suspended its inquiry to make way for law enforcement. BEGA officials have been tight lipped about the nature of the law enforcement investigation.
Although the subpoena offers some answers to questions about the potential scandal that’s plagued Evans for months, it is still unclear if Evans will face criminal charges. Federal prosecutors typically present evidence and testimony to a grand jury and then decide whether to ask its members to return an indictment.
“It’s a very different and one-sided proceeding,” white collar criminal defense attorney Barry Pollack says of the grand jury process. “It’s not adversarial like a trial. That’s why there’s the old saying that a prosecutor could indict a ham sandwich if he wanted to. The prosecutor is really able to steer the grand jury to the result the prosecutor is looking for.”
Pollack adds that the existence of a grand jury does not indicate that criminal charges are imminent. A prosecutor could decide the case is not worth pursuing during the grand jury proceedings. However, if a prosecutor does ask for an indictment, “it’s rare they vote no,” Pollack says.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson says he did not know of the subpoena until yesterday when news broke.
“I haven’t seen it, I don’t know anything about it,” Mendelson says. “It’s not an accusation. And if it was an accusation, that’s all it is. I learned a long time ago you let these things play out, and at that point I will respond.”
Councilmember David Grosso, through a spokesperson, reiterated his previous call for the Council to form an ad hoc committee to investigate Evans, but had no further comment on the recent news.
To help you keep track of the developments in this convoluted narrative, here’s a brief timeline of Evans, Digi Outdoor, and their connections via previous news reports:
• Summer of 2016: Digi begins installing signs in the District
• July 19, 2016: Evans forms a consulting firm, NSE Consulting LLC, with longtime lobbyist N. William Jarvis.
• Three weeks later, MacCords’s company cut two checks for $25,000 each to the firm. Evans originally told the Post the money was payment for a “retainer.”
• August 25, 2016: Evans sends a letter to MacCord returning the $50,000.
• DCRA also issued stop-work orders to Digi Media, but the company ignored them, according to a news release from Racine’s office.
• October 28, 2016: Shares of Digit Outdoor were issued to NSE Consulting.
• A month later, Evans pushed legislation that would have helped Digi. He later pulled the bill for lack of votes.
• January 2018: BEGA opened an investigation.
• September 25, 2018: the Office of the City Administrator received the subpoena.