Scott Bishop Jr. could always count on his father for a job. When Scott Jr. was 21, Scott Bishop Sr. hired him as a bodyguard to keep him company during the night shift at a Bladensburg Road NE auto-body shop. Scott Jr. would stand at the edge of the garage and keep watch. His thick build served as cheap insurance during the quiet, dark hours that his father banged out accordioned hoods and junked bumpers. If anybody came by, Scott Jr. would warn his father.
There were other jobs. Scott Jr. graduated to driving his father to work, running errands such as picking up car parts and paint, and keeping his father’s busted radiator working. Sometimes he’d get to work in the shop and fill out order forms for new batteries or fenders. His father would dictate the orders, and Scott Jr. would write them down.
When his father started an after-school program at Kennedy and 5th Streets NW, Scott Jr. got a job looking after the children. At the end of the day, his father would slip his son a few crumpled bills. Tens, 20s—enough for his generic menthols and his favorite crab-leg dinners. None of his jobs felt like busy work.
Scott Jr. says his father is his best friend. His father made him feel “like I had a life.” His education had been stunted by mental illness, a problem that periodic stays at mental hospitals could only temporarily keep at bay. His father would always wait for him on the outside with another job and another second chance.
If there was anything about the world Scott Jr. did not know, his father would be there to explain it to him. Even predict it. Scott Jr. would marvel at how his father could tell how customers would act as soon as they entered his mechanic shop. His father would know exactly what they’d want or what they’d come to bitch about. Father and son both would laugh over the customers’ predictability. They had their own jokes.
“They were very close,” explains Benjamin Bishop, Scott Jr.’s younger brother. “They had a bond that I didn’t have. I can’t explain it….He’s a junior.”
The father–son combo regularly dabbled in jobs for D.C. politicians, a constituency that Scott Sr.’s political-junkie side cultivated. Among political insiders, Scott Sr. was known as the “poster king.” When his father got work putting up signs for Jack Evans’ 1998 mayoral campaign, Scott Jr. helped out. He’d collect the signs from his father; then his father would tell him where to post them. The arrangement worked well for Scott Sr., too: “From the beginning, we always worked for one candidate in every campaign….He always depended on me. If he got into any problems, even the worst in his mental illness, I could calm him down,” says the father.
Four years later, at the start of Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ 2002 re-election campaign, Scott Sr. got a promotion into the upper ranks of campaign grunts, as a paid field organizer—a lofty term for campaign jack-of-all-trades. On one of his roving assignments, he was tasked with getting petition signatures to put Williams on the Democratic ballot. Soon he had signature work for Scott Jr. and Scott Jr.’s wife, Crystal Bishop. “I was jobless. I was happy to help,” Scott Jr. says. “Like I do all the time.”
Of the petition job, Scott Jr. remembers late-spring days canvassing in some of the city’s busiest spots. He and Crystal solicited shoppers on M Street in Georgetown, Gay Pride revelers in Dupont Circle, and commuters at the Minnesota Avenue SE Metro stop. It was hard work, he says—frustrating, even. But people were usually friendly.
Scott Sr. agreed to pay his son and Crystal $1 per signature. Scott Jr. says that he and his wife witnessed and certified a little more than two petition sheets—50 signatures each—on each of their five canvassing stints. He says they got a lot of rejection and that at times Crystal would complain and want to give up. “I would just keep going, hoping to get more people,” he remembers.
Scott Jr. didn’t consider his job an entree into politics so much as a form of self-employment. He felt as if he were his own boss. But the meaning and purpose behind the job was—and still is—as inscrutable as adulthood. “I don’t even know what a petition is to this day, really,” he admits.
Almost as soon as the job began, it ended. In early July, the Williams campaign turned over its petitions to the Board of Elections and Ethics. And then within days, the work of Scott Jr. and his father and Crystal would come under scrutiny. Suddenly the quiet lives of the Bishops were placed under klieg lights, with the city’s angriest activists using them to shame the mayor and the press camping out at Scott Jr. and Crystal’s residence hoping to get them talking.
The petitions became both a Page One story and a national joke. And the Bishop name was soon made synonymous with what would become the city’s biggest election scandal.
It’s a dark moment in D.C. history that requires little introduction. A sloppy Williams re-election effort turned in nominating petitions containing roughly 6,500 forgeries out of 10,102 signatures, according to the Board of Elections. The campaign needed only 2,000 good ones to make the ballot.
The suspect petitions bore the fingerprints of saboteurs, pocked as they were with the names of pop-culture figures and international power brokers. Consequences came swiftly: The campaign was ordered to pay a $250,000 fine—the largest in the city’s history at the time. Also, the board banished the mayor’s name from the primary ballot. If Williams wanted to win re-election, he’d have to do so as a write-in candidate—a huge irony for a mayor who had joked at his June campaign kickoff that his biggest opponent might be himself.
Three years later, the mayor bears no scratches from his brush with political ignominy. He won the write-in election by a huge margin. He’s used his second term to lure a Major League Baseball franchise to town and mull the most meaningful ways to disburse the budget surpluses that have coincided with his mayoralty. And he’s traveled overseas 18 times in 2005.
Those years haven’t been as kind to the folks at the very bottom of Williams’ 2002 campaign team. The Bishops’ work on the mayor’s petitions has consumed law enforcement and city prosecutors for the entire three years. The Bishops have submitted to several rounds of handwriting analysis and interrogations. And they’ve done a lot of anxious waiting. On May 31, all three Bishops were formally charged by the D.C. Office of the Attorney General with hundreds of misdemeanor election-fraud counts. If convicted, they could face thousands of dollars in fines and years in prison.
The charges stem from Scott Jr. and Crystal’s admission that just before the July 3 petition deadline, they signed as circulators on a bunch of sheets thrust before them by Scott Sr. By signing as circulators, they were certifying that they had personally witnessed the signatures on the sheets. As it turned out, many of the sheets certified by Scott Jr. and Crystal contained blatant forgeries. All three Bishops have stated repeatedly that they have no idea where those forgeries came from. Indeed, the Bishops aren’t charged with forgery, but, rather, with the more technical offense of certifying sheets they hadn’t circulated.
People with serious titles in the 2002 campaign aren’t bearing any responsibility for how all those forgeries ended up on the petitions. Charles Duncan, a former Clinton-administration staffer and campaign veteran, held the title of senior campaign adviser and faces no charges. Georgetown attorney Max Berry, a legendary fundraiser and co-chair of the Williams campaign, faces no charges. And longtime Washington Teachers’ Union official Gwendolyn Hemphill, the other co-chair, faces no charges—though she’s likely headed to prison for a different scandal. In September, Hemphill was found guilty in federal court for her role in the theft of millions of dollars from the bank account of the teachers’ union. She is expected to be sentenced later this month.
Scott Jr. doesn’t remember how he learned of his charges in the petition mess. He thinks he heard it on the radio and faintly recalls someone asking if the newscaster was talking about him. He didn’t think so at the time. But he remembers being taken to D.C. Superior Court and then to a police station, where he was fingerprinted and placed in a cell. Crystal was there, too, and Scott Jr. was embarrassed about Crystal’s being behind bars. “I thought somebody should be responsible, the top powers,” he says. “We were just helping out, really.”
Scott Sr. says he has felt like a scapegoat from the moment the scandal hit: “They needed somebody to attack, and I was the guy,” he says.
Following their arrests for election fraud, Scott Jr. and Crystal underwent evaluations to determine if they were fit to stand trial. In both cases, the evaluations were triggered by “odd or bizarre behavior” exhibited by the defendants. Although by no means comprehensive, the tests would hint at a reality already grasped by D.C. politics insiders: These were very unlikely masterminds of an election-fraud scheme.
In a 45-minute session on Sept. 27, Scott Jr. told a clinical psychologist about the medication regimen to which he was adhering: a monthly injection of Prolixin and daily doses of four antipsychotics and antidepressants. Scott Jr. also reported that he had been diagnosed as bipolar, but he failed to disclose the bulk of his mental-health history to his examiner.
The examiner wrote, “[Scott Jr.] noted that he usually smokes one and one-half packs of cigarettes daily as this gives him something to do when alone.” Scott Jr. was deemed competent to stand trial.
On Sept. 14, a court-mandated examiner found Crystal alone and sobbing, lying on a bench in a Superior Court cellblock. During the 45-minute session, the examiner explained to Crystal the basic facts surrounding her case. Still, she couldn’t get very far in bringing Crystal up to speed. “She initially showed some interest in the topic, but very quickly became irritable once again and continued crying,” the examiner wrote. “Defendant initially stated that she did not know the nature or gravity of the charges against her, did not know her attorney, and did not know of any papers filed in court on her behalf in this case.”
The psychologist determined that Crystal was unfit to take part in court proceedings. A month later, however, Crystal underwent a second evaluation. And this time, she was deemed competent to stand trial.
Crystal may not have had a keen understanding of the court system, but she had spent most of her life mastering the city’s labyrinthine mental-health system. She knew her way around waiting rooms and commitment forms, and she could divine the difference between an Axis 1 and an Axis 2 diagnosis. She reported to her court-appointed examiner that she had been a frequent visitor to St. Elizabeths Hospital since she was 13 years old. Since a 10-month hospitalization in 1987, she’d had four more periods of inpatient care for both schizoaffective and bipolar disorders.
Crystal’s desire to cure—or at least calm—her illness had led her all over the District: to the Washington Hospital Center, the Psychiatric Institute of Washington, and Providence Hospital’s Seton House. When those visits failed her, she self-medicated with PCP, marijuana, and cocaine. Her coke habit stuck for six years, until she quit at the end of 1995, according to court documents.
The following March, Crystal met Scott Jr. It wasn’t the most elegant of introductions. Scott Jr., living at his group house, often spoke on the phone with a friend who lived at Seton House. One day, he asked the friend to “put a woman on the phone.” Crystal happened to be nearby. “I would tell her everything I would do for her,” Scott Jr. recalls. “She cared about me. She made me feel loved and appreciated, like I wasn’t alone no more.”
Three months later, Scott Jr. and Crystal got married at a relative’s house in Deanwood. They attempted a honeymoon, Scott Jr. recalls, at a motel on New York Avenue NE. But they felt uncomfortable with their seedy digs and by nightfall gave up their room. Crystal returned to her parents’ house, and Scott Jr. returned to his group home.
Within a few months, the couple moved into an efficiency at a Section 8 apartment building at the corner of 15th and R Streets NW. It was there, Scott Jr. says, that they learned to rely on each other. He says he loved Crystal’s home cooking and Crystal loved the way he treated her with respect. But nothing held the couple together more than their bond over their shared mental-health histories.
Scott Jr.’s childhood was as chaotic as Crystal’s. In his elementary-school years, the child found himself in the middle of an odd custody seesaw between his parents. He’d stay with his father for stretches of time, only to be plucked away by his mother, who, in turn, would send him back to his father’s on a whim. “Over and over again, she would do crazy stuff,” says Scott Sr.
Scott Jr.’s mother could be uncaring and abusive, regularly launching into violent rages. Once she left Benjamin, then 2 years old, in a car for an entire summer day. He was found by the police, according to mental-health records. The records indicate that Scott Jr.’s mother once hit him hard enough to cause a head injury.
“For me, the most frightening part was living with my mother and hearing the key go through the door,” says Benjamin. “You never knew what to expect when she walked through the door.”
A lot of times, Scott Jr.’s mother just wasn’t around. Her emotional meltdowns would often give way to lengthy stays at St. Elizabeths or plunges into PCP and marijuana use and flings with random men. Sometimes she would use drugs in front of the boys.
Scott Jr. grew withdrawn and unstable as a teenager. By the time he reached the 11th grade, records indicate, he had attended roughly 15 schools. He was sinking deeper into his own world, one populated by his inner torments, hallucinations, private jokes, and voices. “I was trying to resist them—[to] do God’s way,” he says.
Benjamin shared a bedroom with Scott Jr. He realized that his older brother was in trouble when Scott Jr. started staying up all night. He would lie in his bed muttering to himself the bruising phrases and epithets that his mother belted out: “bastard,” “imbecile,” or “You are no good.” Benjamin recalls one of her favorite mantras: “You wasn’t worth the fuck it took to get you here.”
Benjamin says that eventually Scott Jr.’s all-night ritual seemed to consume him like an addiction. He had no other outlet than his bed and his frenzied whispering. It got bad enough that when Benjamin turned 16, he says, he took his brother to the mental-health ward of D.C. General.
In August 1986, his mother kicked Scott Jr., then 17, out of the house for losing a job at Wendy’s, according to hospital records. She was apparently upset that she’d lost the income. He wandered the streets for about two days before making it to his grandfather’s house, exhausted and talking to himself. He was then hospitalized at the Psychiatric Institute.
Doctors diagnosed Scott Jr. with depression and, in turn, paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Within a year, he had racked up five stays at the Psychiatric Institute. He had trouble solving the puzzles of his illness and getting the hallucinations out of his head. “The patient has still very little understanding about the presentation of his illness….The patient continues to have delusions and paranoid thoughts,” wrote one psychiatrist in December 1987.
Around that time, Scott Jr.’s meds were not working properly, according to Scott Sr. One cold night, Scott Jr. put on Michael Jackson’s song “Bad” and proceeded to wreck things at Scott Sr.’s home. “I hear Michael Jackson playing, ‘I’m bad.’ Stuff’s getting broken up, he’s tearing up the house, he’s busting up the TV and everything, and he’s just dancing,” recalls Scott Sr. “I sent him out to the truck. I looked out and he was dancing in the bed of the truck in just his underwear.” Scott Jr. ended up at his grandfather’s house to recuperate.
Every new bout of trouble meant a change of address for Scott Jr.—to another relative’s place, another group home, another crisis house, another mental hospital. He says he felt “stressed…like I was tired. Just, uh, like I needed some rest. Exhausted.”
Each institution seemed to feed him a different set of medications. He says he’s tried out 10 different meds, some leaving his mind “zombied.” But Scott Jr. admits that the hospital stays, which spanned from 1986 to 1995, had one consistent positive: “I felt safer from all the ruckus out there.”
Adulthood only brought more of the same, as Scott Jr. shuttled between menial jobs and mental-hospital stays. He found work as a McDonald’s line cook, a Chesapeake Bay Seafood House waiter, a Zayre’s stocker, and a Holiday Inn–restaurant busboy. By the early ’90s, he had resorted to the odd jobs that came courtesy of his father.
With Crystal, Scott Jr. could create his own buffer against the outside world. In 1997, they moved up from their efficiency to a two-bedroom apartment in their Section 8 building. Their combined income from Supplemental Security Income amounted to $516 per month, barely enough to cover their $281 rent and expenses. Still, Crystal managed to stay off drugs. And Scott Jr. managed to stay out of mental hospitals.
Scott Jr. loved their home life. “Sitting in the living room, eating dinner, smoking cigarettes with her,” he says, listing his favorite moments of their marriage. “It was fun to go grocery shopping and clothes shopping and furniture shopping.”
Around the time that his father approached him about the petitions, Scott Jr. says, he was at his most stable. His medications finally felt right. He functioned well enough to keep a janitor job at the Library of Congress and attend classes part-time at Strayer University. The petition work capped a very good period for him and Crystal. “I think that was a high point in our marriage,” he says. “Doing stuff together made us happy. It was extra money, which we needed.”
For each day out on the petition drive, they made a combined $100. Their earnings totaled $500, he says, which came in handy for “dinner food and lunch food.”
Scott Jr. and Crystal brushed up against the campaign’s elite on only two occasions. After one petition outing, the couple wanted to get paid. Although Scott Sr. usually was the one to give the couple money for their petition work, this time he directed them to see campaign co-chair Hemphill. So the two took a bus up 16th Street NW and huffed a few blocks through her leafy Colonial Village neighborhood.
Scott Jr. says he liked Hemphill’s neighborhood, and from what he could tell, her house was nice, too. The couple didn’t get to go inside. Hemphill opened her door only wide enough to slip Scott Jr. a wad of cash. “I don’t think she knew who we were,” he says. “If she did, she didn’t say nothing.”
The next time the couple shared space with the bigwigs was after the scandal broke, inside the Board of Elections’ hearing room at One Judiciary Square. There, all the campaign workers occupied the same tables and chairs and spoke into the same microphones. Scott Jr. came and asserted his Fifth Amendment rights, wearing the No. 48 jersey of then–Washington Redskin Stephen Davis. He sat alone, surrounded by a moat of empty chairs, staring into space and pining for lunch and a smoke. In an interview, he expressed the hope of meeting local television celebrities such as then–Channel 9 sportscaster Jess Atkinson.
By then, Scott Jr. had left his Library of Congress job. A week before the hearings, he’d lost another job, working security in downtown Silver Spring. He had lasted only four days at that one.
Crystal’s coping skills weren’t any better. She wasn’t initially available when she was called before the board; she had checked herself in to a mental institution. Scott Jr. explains that she was “talking out her head about anything. She was getting sick….She started getting angry with me, not sharing. She stopped cooking.”
When Crystal finally did appear before the Board of Elections, she promptly asserted her Fifth Amendment privilege and then returned to the mental facility for more treatment. A few days after Scott Jr. testified, Crystal left the institution and took a bus back to their apartment. During an interview, she said she had no idea how all those bad signatures had ended up on all those petitions.
After their brief stints at the witness table, Scott Jr. and Crystal more or less disappeared from the give-and-take at the hearings. However, the role of Scott Sr. managed to preoccupy the board. Senior campaign adviser Duncan testified that he and Hemphill had hired Scott Sr. to be the campaign’s field director.
Hemphill’s testimony put the petition drive squarely in the hands of Scott Sr. When the board inquired about reports provided to the mayor on the pace of the petition effort, Hemphill distanced herself from the process. “[The mayor] might say something like, ‘How is the petition process moving along?’ and I would say, ‘According to Scott, XYZ.’ And he would say, ‘Who is handling them?’ and I would say, ‘Scott Bishop Sr.,’” Hemphill stated at the hearing. She claimed she never reviewed any of the petitions that included forgeries. Likewise, Duncan distanced himself from the nitty-gritty of the petition effort.
Scott Sr. took the Fifth in the hearings, a decision he says he now regrets. If he’d had a chance to tell his story, he would have kept the board’s stenographer busy. First of all, Scott Sr. had quit a great job in the District’s Emergency Management Agency to work on the mayor’s campaign. He was battling prostate cancer and taking care of his cancer-stricken wife while trying to get Williams re-elected. When he first started work for the campaign, he wasn’t initially tasked with petition work and instead handled a variety of ad hoc jobs, including stocking campaign headquarters with his own furniture. Two days before the petition deadline, he says, Hemphill told him to get circulator certifications on a sheaf of petitions. “Forty-eight hours before the final deadline, she said, ‘We gotta get the petitions in,’” recalls Scott Sr., who says that both he and Hemphill scurried to put together the entire petition package. They both rushed around town to gather stray petitions, he says.
The hearings revealed that other Williams loyalists may have violated campaign laws. The mayor’s then–religious adviser, Carlton Pressley, collected signatures and signed completed petitions before he was a registered D.C. voter. Another volunteer, Ann Lewis, testified that Williams campaign worker Robert Yeldell instructed her to sign petitions she had not circulated. Pressley and Yeldell were never charged.
Through it all, the Board of Elections doggedly pursued answers to the question on the lips of everyone in town: Who had the chutzpah to write such names as Kofi Annan, Martha Stewart, Tony Blair, and Donald Rumsfeld on those petitions? Did a bunch of people sit around a kitchen table and doctor up the petition sheets?
After the hearings, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office spent two years trying to track down the forgers. A grand jury was convened, and campaign records were subpoenaed. Handwriting experts and FBI agents were brought in.
Duncan, Hemphill, and Berry were never called before the grand jury. Of those three, only Duncan says he was interviewed by the FBI.
Crystal was questioned, too. Scott Jr. says that he and his father were summoned by the FBI merely to give handwriting samples on several occasions. Each had to write his signature, a sentence, and a paragraph. Scott Jr. was surprised his father could handle the test because, he says, his father has trouble reading. FBI agents, Scott Sr. recalls, noticed that he could barely write, because of an old hand injury. “Most of the time, Scott writes everything for me.”
Scott Jr. says that the FBI agents didn’t ask him any questions about the petition effort or the roles of the higher-ups in the campaign. Only as he was leaving the FBI’s field office did any agent speak to him: “‘Here’s the pen,’” Scott Jr. says an agent told him, giving him the utensil to keep. “‘Don’t say we never did nothing for you.’”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office never charged anyone in the case; it sent its case file over to the D.C. Office of the Attorney General. “We took a look at it, and we determined there wasn’t sufficient evidence to charge a federal violation,” explains Channing Phillips, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
D.C.’s chief prosecutor fared no better in untangling the petitions’ chain of custody. After reviewing the U.S. Attorney’s Office investigation, bringing in its own handwriting experts, and conducting its own interviews, the Office of the Attorney General rounded up only those on the very bottom of the org chart: the Bishops. In fact, city prosecutors focused their case entirely on the Bishops.
The office’s summary of the investigation recounts that Crystal Bishop told FBI agents in December 2003 that Scott Sr. showed up in July 2002 with a stack of petitions for her and Scott Jr. to sign. She would later tell Attorney General investigators that she signed the petitions, which included signatures she and her husband had not witnessed. She also told the interviewers that Scott Sr. paid her $80 per day to collect signatures.
On May 20, 2005, an Attorney General investigator interviewed Scott Jr. He told the investigator he had signed only petitions he had personally circulated. He also reiterated Crystal’s account of his father’s delivering petition sheets for them to sign, saying his father told him that “the deadline was coming, and we don’t have enough petitions.” Contradicting himself, he stated that he’d signed those, as well. Scott Sr. says he believed his son and Crystal signed only petitions they had worked on; “They never said, ‘Dad, these are not mine.’”
Scott Jr. says the D.C. investigator, just like the FBI before him, never asked about any top officials in the Williams campaign. Of his interrogator, Scott Jr. says: “He was nice. He told me he was just doing his job and he believed that I was a good man.”
The big, unanswered question of who wrote thousands of names on Mayor Williams’ nominating petitions will not be answered by prosecuting the Bishops.
Duncan says the identity of the forgers haunts him to this day. “That is the question that I ask myself time and time again,” he says. “Knowing that we were under the scrutiny we were under—to do something like this makes no sense whatsoever. Who would do something like this and think they could get away with it?”
Duncan says of Scott Sr.: “I got the impression that he was a good, loyal soldier.”
Campaign co-chair Berry says he had a definite notion of who held ultimate responsibility for petition quality control: Hemphill. “I had worked with her before on the [Marion S.] Barry [Jr. D.C. Council] campaign, so we were quite confident in her ability to do that,” he says. “So we would get reports on the number of signatures we had from Gwen.” When media reports of widespread forgeries started to pour in, Berry says, he called Hemphill. “She said, ‘I’ll guarantee that it is all right. We have 6,000 solid [signatures].’ I got the mayor on the phone to hear this, and she told him the same thing,” Berry says. “Within hours, [her account] was disproved. It was strange that she would say that. I’ve never understood it.”
Hemphill says she “had no idea” who forged the signatures. When asked who might know, she responds, “Did you ask Charles Duncan?”
Scott Jr. takes a pass on all the talk about ultimate responsibility. When asked whether Hemphill deserves some of the blame for his troubles, he replies, “Who is that?”
And who is Kofi Annan?
Scott Jr. is stumped: “I heard of Tim Duncan on the news, but I never heard of Kofi Annan.”
When Williams was asked recently about the scandal, he shook his head and looked at the ground. “That was a mess. Jesus Lord,” said Williams.
But not enough of a mess to send Scott Sr. into political exile. During the 2004 primary season, he was paid a total of $8,400 by the campaigns of Ward 2 D.C. Councilmember Evans and D.C. Shadow Rep. Ray Browne. He also did postering for Barry’s Ward 8 run.
That was before the election-fraud charges. Now Scott Sr. has fled the District—to Clinton, Md., according to Scott Jr., where he works as an auto-body mechanic and lives with his fourth wife. Scott Sr. still hasn’t been officially charged and arraigned, because authorities technically can’t cross into Maryland to reach him.
The predicament of the Bishop family has gotten little attention in the local press, and Williams has been understandably silent on the matter. He may be the chief executive of the D.C. government, but Williams says he’s never discussed D.C. Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti’s decision to go after the three Bishops. “The attorney general must operate independently of the mayor,” he says of the man he appointed. “And I respect the independence of the office.”
Williams’ official take on the Bishop prosecution clashes with his personal feelings on the matter. “It’s tragic. Really tragic,” he says. “There could be a finding of wrongdoing,” in the case, he says. “But you can also have leniency on sentencing given the special circumstances.”
The mayor clearly feels sorry for the Bishops. But no one has bothered to fill him in on what has happened to his former campaign workers since the scandal blew over in 2002. “If the case were made to me that the Bishops were in a hard way, I’d be willing to help them,” says Williams. “I help a lot of people who have been in harm’s way in the city.”
The Bishops’ tale carries no internal conflicts for Spagnoletti. Once his underlings found sufficient evidence to charge the Bishops, they moved. “We take election fraud very seriously,” Spagnoletti says. “It’s also a matter of what we can prove. We are sending a message that you need to play by the rules.”
But Spagnoletti concedes that the trail of petition wrongdoing doesn’t end with the Bishops. “There were plenty of others,” he says.
Marie Drissel, a veteran campaign organizer who headed Williams’ 1998 ballot drive, believes that if criminal charges had to be filed, they shouldn’t have been filed against the Bishops. “Nobody ever said Scott Sr. was the kingpin,” Drissel says. “I don’t think they’re the ones that really organized this. That’s my experience saying that.”
Drissel says that prosecuting the Bishops is a waste of time. “I just don’t think they knew what they were doing. This is somebody higher up who knew what was happening.”
The only way to reach Crystal at her fourth-floor R Street apartment is by waiting at the front door for someone to let you in the building. Crystal can’t buzz visitors inside, because her phone has been disconnected.
She doesn’t want to entertain visitors with questions about an episode that she wishes had never occurred. On a recent Friday night, she opened her door looking skinny, her face damp with sweat. For a few minutes, she spoke in a low, sharp voice. “I didn’t have nothing to do with it,” she said at the threshold of her apartment before shuffling back inside.
Crystal has resumed the cocaine habit that she kicked about a decade ago, according to court records. She failed three drug tests following her arrest for the petition screwups. “Apparently Ms. Bishop began to abuse cocaine in July 2004,” the examiner wrote. “She indicated she tends to use a little cocaine almost every day as it helps her to relax.”
Just about nothing makes up Scott Jr.’s days. He spends most of the time hunkered down in his dark basement studio apartment, separated from Crystal by both miles and temperament. The two parted ways in late 2004.
Blessed with a carefree disposition, Scott Jr. kills hours wandering his hazy imagination, smoking Monarch menthol 100s, listening to souped-up R&B on the radio, or watching Seinfeld or The Simpsons on his small television.
Scott Jr. got the apartment, located just off New Hampshire Avenue in Fort Totten, about a year ago through his outpatient therapy organization, which owns the building. It is furnished with the bare essentials he mostly scavenged from donations and a curbside eviction—as well as a tranquil waterfall painting he found by his building’s dumpster. Old clothes hide a couch and spill onto the floor. Scott Jr. says he’s waiting for his father to come over to help him sort out the mess.
On the floor are colored-pencil sets and a pair of sketch pads. Scott Jr. says drawing is one of his main hobbies. He shows off his latest work, a pencil rendering of a bearded Jesus with an outsized and radiating heart that he did in July.
July was a rough month, a month of backsliding. According to Scott Jr.’s mental-health records, he reported “an increase in paranoid thoughts” that month and was temporarily placed at Jordan House, a group home for the mentally ill, so that doctors could stabilize him. It was his third such placement since the scandal broke. He told his caseworkers that he felt “stressed related to court case” and “began to become ‘confused’”—which caused him to mess up his daily med intake.
“[Scott Jr.] exhibited paranoid thoughts about others out to get him, he became highly distrustful of others but eventually agreed to go to Jordan House for stabilization,” a caseworker wrote. “[Scott Jr.] doesn’t report a substantial support network.”
The radio can make for meager company. Scott Jr. says he’s lost weight and misses Crystal’s cooking. But mostly, he says, he just misses her at night.
A week before Thanksgiving, Scott Jr.’s TV blasted the last frustrating moments of another Redskins nail-biter. The hapless Raiders had just kicked a field goal, taking a 16-13 lead. There were enough ticks on the clock for Coach Gibbs to mount one last drive. Scott Jr. sat in a corner of the room mumbling. Every few beats, he’d let out a chuckle over some joke in his head. When the Redskins’ drive stalled out and the game ended, Scott Jr. asked how much time was left.
It’s a pattern with him: unwavering optimism batted down by harsh realities. Scott Jr. says he would like to get a job, maybe work in a government building. But with the case hanging over his head, he fears his prospects are slim. He says he gets $100 a week from Supplemental Security Income, more than half of which goes to rent.
He adds that he got a lump sum of $5,000 from Social Security for back pay and had to give half of that money to his lawyer. At his last status hearing, his lawyer failed to show up. But he got to share a brief moment with Crystal outside Superior Court. He told her to be safe. She asked him for a cigarette and then walked away without saying another word.
Scott Jr. can still count on his father to ring him up first thing in the morning and also before bedtime. They don’t get together as much as before, in large part because Scott Sr. can get arrested if he crosses into the District. The last time they hung out in D.C., they went to get a free turkey at Bread for the City.
Looking back at the scandal, Scott Sr. shows a rare bitter streak: “I gave my government job up to go out and help Tony Williams. And I got fucked,” he says.
Scott Sr. also calls his son before all his court dates. “He prays with me,” says Scott Jr. CP