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All spring, Ward 1 D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham hounded prominent developer Douglas Jemal. A second-term councilmember eager to leave his mark on local politics, Graham smelled something fishy in the dealings
between Jemal’s Douglas Development Corp. and the city’s Office of Property Management. Graham’s probe focused on the city’s purchase of a Jemal-owned lot at 4800 Addison Road, as well as $929,000 that the city paid to Jemal for basement space it never occupied at 77 P St. NW, the old Peoples Drug warehouse.
Equipped with documents and some evasive testimony from city officials, Graham concluded, “[T]his is the fraud of Douglas Jemal.”
The city’s lawyers appeared to agree with the councilmember. On July 29, the District sued Jemal for triple damages from the 77 P St. basement deal.
A few days later, Graham jetted off to Cuba for a month.
Throughout Graham’s property-management investigation, Jemal has mostly kept silent, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in Graham’s council hearings and staying out of the media. Even when clothier H&M on Aug. 29 held a grand-opening bash at Jemal’s prized Woodward & Lothrop building at 11 and F Streets NW, the flamboyant developer skipped the party.
Clearly Jemal had better things to do: This Tuesday, his legal team at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld released a two-part counterpunch, rebutting the city’s case against Douglas Development Corp. The package contains Jemal’s $6.9 million counterclaim in the pending civil case to reimburse the developer for unpaid rent and construction costs at 77 P St. And for all the nonlawyers in town, the Jemal team authored a 42-page narrativecomplete with a tome of tabbed exhibitspraising Jemal’s role in the city’s renaissance. The two-volume hagiography is titled 4800 Addison Road and 77 P Street: “The Rest of the Story.”
“For more than six months, Councilmember Jim Graham has orchestrated a smear campaign against Douglas Jemal and Douglas Development Corporation under the guise of conducting an ‘investigation’ into the District of Columbia’s Office of Property Management,” reads “The Rest of the Story”‘s executive summary. “Mr. Graham has created fear and intimidation without bothering to obtain all the facts.”
The Paul Harvey-ish telling portrays Jemal as an accidental real-estate mogul, a mildly eccentric, historic-preservation-inclined risk-taker, who just wants to see downtown D.C. flourish again. And, gosh darnit, he’s surprised every time he makes a dollar selling and leasing properties that no one else seemed to want a few years back.
“While Mr. Graham’s accusations have been loud, frequent and wide-ranging, his inquiry has been far from fair or impartial, leaving Mr. Jemal no choice but to appeal directly to the Council in the hopes of placing these issues in their proper context before an unbiased audience,” writes Akin Gump attorneys John M. Dowd and Jeffrey M. King.
LL read through all the documents Tuesday night. For those interested in the highlights, LL provides the Akin Gump text, followed by the Akin Gump subtext.
Page 3: “Mr. Jemal came to Washington in 1966, installing his young family in a one-bedroom apartment on H Street and quickly establishing himself as a successful retailer, first as the owner of bargain shops in downtown D.C. and later as the co-founder of a successful electronics chain.”
How can you question the man who introduced D.C. to Nobody Beats the Wiz?
Page 5: “Two years ago, Mr. Jemal acquired control of the old Avalon theater in Upper Northwest. As a developer dedicated to the needs and wants of the community, Mr. Jemal knew that the community desperately wanted to maintain the dilapidated property as a theater.”
The Secret Lives of Dentists or $2.99 dental floss at another Connecticut Avenue CVS. Which would you rather see?
Page 6: “The Woodies Building languished empty for years until Mr. Jemal purchased it on speculation and, through tenacious persistence, managed to convince H&M, a dynamic clothing store with significant national and international presence, to move in.”
Nobody Beats the Wiz, H&M, 4800 Addison Road. Great deals all around!
Page 7: “In short, Douglas Jemal is a friend of the city and a dedicated community-based developer. One of the most regrettable aspects of Councilmember Graham’s hostility is how Mr. Jemal’s contributions to the welfare of this city have been eclipsed by baseless accusations and empty innuendoes.”
So baseless and empty, indeed, that we urged Mr. Jemal not to dignify them with a response.
In footnotes to the narrative, Jemal’s legal team takes issue with Graham’s public characterizations of Jemal and his deals with the city. For example: “Mr. Graham has also alleged that Douglas Jemal conditioned the proposed sale of Addison Road on the District simultaneously selling to Mr. Jemal a former firehouse located at 438 Massachusetts, N.W. However, those two transactions were not tied to each other.”
Funny. LL has an e-mail distributed at a Graham hearing in June, in which former Office of Property Management Deputy Director Michael Lorusso wrote that “the only way that Douglas would permit the sale of Addison was to include a partial exchange for the previously leased fire house.”
The Akin Gump image-rehabilitation documents, however, do something more than just glorify Jemal: They seek to saddle Graham with the same charges that have been haunting Jemal for most of the yearnamely, that he has helped arrange sweetheart deals at the city’s expense.
In 10 pages of densely worded case-building, the Jemal team links Graham’s name to lucrative real-estate deals developer Marvin Jawer completed with the city. Akin Gump is careful to map the cozy history between Graham and Jawer. “Mr. Jawer told the D.C. Board of
Zoning Adjustment at a May 2002 hearing that he ‘developed virtually all of the facilities for the Whitman-Walker Clinic,’ of which Mr. Graham was executive director,” reads “The Rest of the Story.” Jawer and his associates contributed $11,000 to Graham’s 2002 re-election campaign, according to Akin Gump.
The Jemal team would like readers to believe that those contributions rewarded Graham for his assistance in finding lucrative deals for his friend. The city in 2001 and 2002 purchased two properties from Jawer, one at 35 K St. NE and one at 821 Howard Road SE, for a total of $14 million. Akin Gump alleges that Jawer didn’t even own those properties at the time he began negotiating to sell them to the city.
Graham aided Jawer by championing a piece of emergency legislation to consummate the 821 Howard Road deal.
“The foregoing facts lead to the inevitable conclusion that Mr. Graham has unfairly singled out Mr. Jemal for criticism, while far more serious questions could be asked, for example, about some of the District’s dealings with Mr. Jawer, with whom Mr. Graham maintains closer ties,” Jemal’s team concludes.
Graham says he never saw the Jawer angle coming, and for good reason. “While there’s a lot of inflammatory language, there’s nothing to suggest I’ve been involved in any illegitimate activity with Marvin Jawer,” responds Graham. “They don’t even have an assertion. They don’t even have a charge that I did anything specific.”
Jawer told LL that he hadn’t seen the Akin Gump documents. He said he will offer a response to the council soon.
Akin Gump attorney Dowd claims that if Graham had run his committee with an even hand, he would have questioned the Jawer transactions with the same fervor he applied to Jemal. “There was no semblance of openness in these transactions,” says Dowd. He also asserts that Graham used his position to influence other city agencies in the Jawer purchases, but declines to give LL specifics. “We’re still working on that. We believe he influenced the Office of Property Management,” Dowd says. “We haven’t alleged that yet, but we’ll find it.”
Good luck, says the councilmember. “For a law firm of this status…to issue this without a scintilla of specific allegations is outrageous,” says Graham. “To challenge my integrity without a shred of evidence is very problematic.” CP
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