Hug of War: Fenty and Wilmot, in a bout of hollow back-slapping.
Hug of War: Fenty and Wilmot, in a bout of hollow back-slapping. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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If David W. Wilmot ever tires of his decadeslong run as one of this city’s premier lobbyists, superlawyers, and businessmen, LL has a suggestion for an alternate career: motivational speaker!

After all, LL knows of no one who is as astute a manager of his own time as Wilmot. In 2006, for instance, he earned $290,000 as president and chairman of Individual Development Inc. (IDI), nonprofit operator of 11 group homes for the mentally disabled. On a tax return that year, the company reported that Wilmot spent 75 hours a week doing that job, running the $12 million-a-year operation.

Meanwhile, his lobbying business was booming. The same year that Wilmot was spending more than 10 hours a day as an executive at IDI, his firm collected more than $480,000 in lobbying fees from 10 high-power clients, including Anheuser-Busch, Wal-Mart, Comcast, Fannie Mae, and PhRMA, the pharmaceutical trade group.

The next year, Wilmot had a bit more time to relax: His hours went down, to a mere 40 per week, even as his salary went up—to $300,000. And meanwhile, his firm managed to bill more than $500,000, according to lobbyist disclosure forms.

Wilmot’s dual role as a Wilson Building power broker and as the chief executive of a city contractor has been highlighted by the District’s decision to sue IDI, seeking to put two of the 11 group homes that the company operates for D.C. residents into court receivership. Furthermore, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty announced last week that the District would altogether stop placing its intellectually disabled wards in IDI’s homes—a decision that stands to cost Wilmot $300,000 a year.

On one hand, the decision to target the politico looks surprising. Last week, at Georgetown’s exclusive L2 Lounge, Wilmot co-hosted a fundraiser for Fenty’s re-election campaign along with developers Anthony Lanier and Kingdon Gould III. According to one person who attended the posh affair, Fenty greeted Wilmot warmly. “It was very cordial, no acrimony or anything,” says the partygoer. “Adrian at those things is very pleasant, all smiles.”

But the District’s chief executive all but ignoring Wilmot is a longstanding trend. Wilmot, deep inside Marion Barry’s inner circle, hasn’t been a key denizen of city executive suites since Barry left the mayoralty. About a year later, a former LL reported that Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ administration was taking particular glee in showing the power broker the cold shoulder, with one anonymous aide saying, “We’ve pretty much marginalized him.”

And a review of lobbying records since 2007 shows that Wilmot has never declared any contact with Fenty on behalf of any client. With one exception: Fannie Mae reports treating Fenty to a $65 lunch on Feb. 23, 2007; the mortgage financier, however, employs a team of lobbyists outside of Wilmot, and the meal came as part of a large-scale luncheon event at Fannie HQ.

But Wilmot has established other sources of income.

In 1996, Wilmot was appointed by a bankruptcy judge to take control of We Care Inc., a group-home operator funded by what was then called the Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Administration. We Care had been founded six years earlier by Charles Dorsey, a former aide to then Ward 7 Councilmember H.R. Crawford who had no experience in the field. The city at the time was scrambling to get folks out of the decrepit Forest Haven institution and into residential settings.

Dorsey received low-interest loans from the city to build the homes, then got Medicaid funds to operate them. Auditing was lax, and the nonprofit ended up in bankruptcy. We Care’s main creditor, the Bank of New York, decided to place the agency in Wilmot’s hands, with fellow politically connected lawyers Fred Cooke and A. Scott Bolden rounding out the board of the group, which would be renamed IDI.

Why Bank of New York would take this group from one political crony and hand it to another, albeit more accomplished, group of political cronies, is a question that LL has been unable to answer. Calls to Wilmot and Cooke were not returned.

Wilmot, as he has protested mightily in council hearings and newspapers, didn’t draw a salary from IDI for several years after taking over. But by 2000, he was making $105,000 for a reported five hours of work per week. By 2002, that had risen to $161,400 yearly. And then, in in 2003, his pay more than doubled, to $346,743. (His reported hours also surged, to 40 per week.)

The pay bump coincided with a period of financial stress for IDI’s chairman and president. In late 2002, Wilmot finalized a contentious divorce with his wife of 35 years. As part of the settlement, contained in D.C. Superior Court records, Wilmot had to pay $4,000 in alimony and $2,500 in child support monthly starting in 2003, in addition to more than $227,000 in lump-sum payments. Furthermore, his assets—including three retirement accounts, cars, and his Kalmia Road NW home—were split in half.

Representing him in the divorce was Cooke, who, as an IDI board member, would have been a rare check on Wilmot’s compensation. Cooke, with Bolden, also approved a $300,000 loan from IDI to Wilmot in 2001—the year the divorce began. (Bolden took out a similar loan, worth $55,000, a year later.)

Meanwhile, the board members benefited in other ways. Wilmot took a $215,000 “consulting” fee in 2000, according to tax records. Bolden’s law firm, Reed Smith, did more than $175,000 in legal work for the group around that time. Later, members of Wilmot’s law firm would be paid more than $530,000 for legal work, tax returns indicate.

IDI has been plenty solvent, mind you, but care for its residents is another matter. Since 2006, the nonprofit has garnered the attention of University Legal Services, a group charged with overseeing the District’s services to the mentally disabled as part of a decades-old class action. ULS has documented ongoing poor medical care in IDI’s facilities, which serve some of the District’s most medically fragile residents.

If Wilmot et al. were expecting political cover for their failings, they are no longer getting it under Fenty and D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles. University Legal Services and the court monitor under the class action have been pressuring city officials for some time to take action against IDI’s homes. “They get cited by us, by the court monitor, by the District,” says Sandy Bernstein of University Legal Services. “And then, when you read it all together, you realize, ‘Wow, we’ve let this go on for years.’ We put a lot of pressure on the District to do something about these houses.”

Things came to a head, she said, after a meeting in September of IDI, the city, and the court overseers. IDI was “sort of wishy-washy over whether they were going to do anything,” Bernstein says.

Nickles finally made his move earlier this month, asking a Superior Court judge to place IDI into receivership. Says the AG, “This is a problem that is persistent, continuing, and serious. I got to the point where I said no more Band-Aids.”

Revelations about IDI’s business practices—first aired in a D.C. Council hearing chaired by David A. Catania and Tommy Wells last year—had little to do with the decision to sue, Nickles says. “I need a medical director; I need a head of nursing; I need a lot of things. That’s what I’m telling them right now.”

The IDI trio’s political ties were related to the suit “not at all,” Nickles says, calling them “great lawyers” and noting “they’ve done very well in the city.”

“If the end product is lousy service, they’re gonna get hit,” Nickles says. “I don’t care if they’re a bunch of lawyers, I don’t care if they make a lot of money, I don’t care who they associate with. I’m after them!”

Political Potpourri

For the last month or so, the Fenty administration has been getting hammered on cuts to homeless services. Dozens of providers cried foul after they were notified by the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness that, due to trying economic times, their budgets stood to be cut by 15 percent or more.

The providers demanded answers! Councilmembers demanded answers! The homeless people demanded answers!

Last Thursday morning, Fenty gave them one. In his weekly wee-hours appearance with WRC-TV’s Barbara Harrison, he called the perception that homeless funding was being cut “either a miscommunication or a distortment of the facts.”

Said Fenty, “We have a contractor that works for us that overspent their budget last budget year. We gave them the same amount this year that we gave them last year, but last year they overspent it.” That’s a clear reference to the Community Partnership, which contracts with the city to distribute and oversee funding of homelessness programs.

It was a convenient excuse—throwing the nonprofit under the bus made the Fenty folks look less heartless and burnished Hizzoner’s good-governance credentials.

Only one problem: At a D.C. Council hearing the day before, Fenty’s human services chief mentioned virtually nothing about the Community Partnership overspending. Rather, Director Clarence Carter explained, the city had handed the group $10 million in federal funds last year that weren’t going to be available for the coming fiscal year.

In other words, if the Community Partnership was overspending its budget, it was doing it with the full faith and credit of the Fenty administration.

Sue Marshall, executive director of the Community Partnership, said at the hearing that she would “very much take exception” to any suggestion that her group overspent. “We are not allowed to do that,” she told Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells.

That came before Fenty broadcast his claim on TV; Marshall could not be reached to respond to his televised comments.

During the interview, Harrison tried making the point that “maybe there were just more homeless people that they have to serve?”

But Mayor Fiscal Rectitude wouldn’t have it: “There are inefficiencies in government, and we should not be afraid to say, no matter what agency it is, people have to spend money responsibly….Overspending your budget is not a recipe for us just giving you more money. We’re not going to do that.”

Fenty, told on Tuesday that his comments were disputable at best, passed LL to a spokesperson.

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