For all those who enjoy compiling the legendary foul-ups of D.C. government, here’s a new one: Back in 2001, deputies of Mayor Anthony A. Williams found a parcel of land in Prince George’s County where they wanted to open a new impoundment lot. That’s where delinquent motorists would go to retrieve their ticketed-and-towed cars.

Here’s the kicker: They didn’t want to tell anyone where it was.

If you don’t believe LL, read this e-mail exchange among some top Williams honchos: Department of Public Works Director Leslie Hotaling, her press spokesperson, Mary Myers, City Administrator John Koskinen, Office of Property Management Director Tim Dimond, and his then-deputy, Michael Lorusso.

From: Hotaling, Leslie (DPW)

To: Koskinen, John (EOM); Dimond, Tim (OPM); Lorusso, Michael (OPM)

Sent: Sept. 26, 2001 10:46 a.m.

[We] fully plan to be operational on October 1…but want to run under the radar screen for a while before we go really public. Need to talk to you about the public outreach strategy. There is real concern here that the ‘noisier’ we make this announcement, the more political flack we will get, especially for the PG County council, which feels like this was “snuck in under their radar screen”…

From: Koskinen, John (EOM)

To: Hotaling, Leslie (DPW); Dimond, Tim (OPM); Lorusso, Michael (OPM)

Sent: Sept. 26, 2001 11:58 a.m.

I’m happy never to make any announcement about this. The public thinks we’re already there. My concern has been that they—or the press—would discover we aren’t….

From: Myers, Mary (DPW)

To: Hotaling, Leslie (DPW)

Sent: Sept. 26, 2001 5:47 p.m.

Yeah, and I always hoped that Mom would never find out that I wasn’t at choir practice. Are we planning to slip a note under the door at DMV or MPD?

From: Hotaling, Leslie (DPW)

To: Myers, Mary (DPW)

Sent: Sept. 27, 2001 10:13 a.m.

what can I say….Obviously we need a fact sheet for DMV and MPD to go to them before we become operational …hmmm…sounds like we need to do this in the next 24 hours….

Hmmm. Did Hotaling expect folks to take the Orange Line to Cheverly and wander around until they saw a bunch of Taxation Without Representation license plates?

LL didn’t get these e-mails by hacking into servers at the John A. Wilson Building or at One Judiciary Square. This insight into how your government thinks comes courtesy of Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, who chairs the subcommittee that oversees the city’s Office of Property Management. For nine months now, Graham has been on a quest to find out why the city’s real-estate agents wanted to fork over $12.5 million to local developer Douglas Jemal for the stealth impoundment lot, as well as millions in leases for other Jemal-owned properties.

Graham first concentrated on the impoundment lot: In 1998, Jemal purchased the property at 4800 Addison Road for $1.5 million. He began leasing part of the 37-acre site to the District for just under $1 million per year in 2001 and offered to sell it for a cool $12.5 million—which would have been a 733 percent increase in little more than four years of ownership. How did Jemal and the OPM’s Lorusso settle on that price tag? An appraiser made the calculation on the basis of the current three-year lease with the city and a nine-year extension, which Jemal’s lawyer had prepared.

A few problems: Jemal was in a legal dispute with P.G. County over the permits required to operate an impoundment lot on the site—hence Hotaling’s concerns about nosy neighbors. Graham later found out that the nine-year lease-extension math had been wishful thinking.

The irregularities in the transaction led Graham to look into other agreements Lorusso had struck with Jemal’s Douglas Development Corp. At Jemal’s restored Peoples Drug Building at 77 P St. NE, the councilmember discovered five city agencies renting space at four different rates ranging from $31.75 to $36.07 per square foot. Graham found other curiosities in the building, as well: The city had paid Jemal $929,000 up front for office space it never occupied. And some of the furniture in the building was coming from across the Atlantic, originating north of Venice, Italy, courtesy of a one-man corporation working out of his Dupont Circle home.

It was vintage D.C.: ostentatious purchases on the public dime, a local heavy, public officials pointing fingers and pleading ignorance. “I think we have clear evidence of fraud and theft,” says Graham about the whole debacle.

LL will let Inspector General Charles C. Maddox make those determinations and pass them on to the U.S. attorney—if, that is, he’s still in his office at the end of next week. “By providing false and misleading information to the appraisers, the former Deputy Director, at a minimum,violated his fiduciary duty to the taxpayers of the District of Columbia and the District government,” concluded D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols in a May 15 report. The FBI is investigating Lorusso, as well, according to Nichols.

Questions about Addison Road first entered the public consciousness during last fall’s mayoral campaign, when At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz balked at emergency legislation sent to the council by the mayor to approve the Jemal sale. Schwartz requested that the D.C. auditor review the deal. Williams eventually withdrew the legislation.

As she hit key campaign stops, Schwartz cited the land sale as proof that Williams hadn’t delivered on his promise to reinvent D.C. government. “This is so typical of the shenanigans going on in this government,” said Schwartz at the time. “It’s the quintessential sweetheart deal.”

Schwartz’s activism on the Jemal front apparently didn’t sway too many voters. However, she delivered an accurate appraisal of her opponent’s management acumen, as subsequent e-mails attest. October 2002 e-mail traffic from the executive office makes clear that the Addison Road site had a screwy assessed value, based on a nine-year lease extension that the Office of the Corporation Counsel never approved. Nonetheless, mayoral spokesperson Tony Bullock did his best impression of Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf.

From: Bullock, Tony (EOM)

To: Francis, Nathan (EOM); Tillery, Herbert (EOM); Dimond, Tim (OPM); Lorusso, Michael (OPM)

Cc: Howland, William (EOM); Price, Eric (EOM); Koskinen, John (EOM); Teal, Arabella (OCC); Robinson, Kelvin (EOM); Lloyd, Elizabeth (EOM)

Sent: Oct. 22, 2002 12:17 p.m.

Here are some additional (somewhat more blunt) talking points given to the mayor prior to his meeting at the Washington Post ed[itorial] board today. On Addison Road…This is a business deal—nothing more. No one is trying to give a sweetheart deal to Doug Jemal. He is entitled to a fair market value for his property, nothing more, nothing less. The negotiated sale price was based on a current opinion of value from a certified, professional appraiser….There is a very real possibility that this transaction will fall apart due to the fabricated controversy and hoopla.

For Koskinen, the oddities in the Jemal transaction merited attention only to the degree that the local media endeavored to expose them. The following exchange occurred after the Post ran a small news item about Schwartz’s insistence that the D.C. auditor review Addison Road.

From: Koskinen, John (EOM)

To: Bullock, Tony (EOM)

Sent: Oct. 24, 2002 3:47 p.m.

I read [the item] carefully—but thanks. I think Herb [Tillery]’s getting it under control—and no one else seems to care.

From: Bullock, Tony (EOM)

To: Francis, Nathan (EOM); Tillery, Herbert (EOM); Dimond, Tim (OPM); Lorusso, Michael (OPM)

Cc: Howland, William (EOM); Price, Eric (EOM); Koskinen, John (EOM); Teal, Arabella (OCC); Robinson, Kelvin (EOM); Lloyd, Elizabeth (EOM)

Sent: Oct. 24, 2002 3:49 p.m.

I imagine Doug Jemal getting a little annoyed.

From: Koskinen, John (EOM)

To: Bullock, Tony (EOM)

Sent: Oct. 24, 2002 3:51 p.m.

The real problem is if we don’t buy it and have to start all over again to find an appropriate site…

From: Bullock, Tony (EOM)

To: Koskinen, John (EOM)

Cc: Tillery, Herbert (EOM)

Sent: Oct. 24, 2002 3:54 p.m.

Perhaps we should get a better handle on Jemal’s cost basis—purchase price, enviro clean up, capital improvements, back taxes paid, legal costs, etc. It would take some of the stuffing out of Schwartz’s allegation if that figure turned out to be millions of dollars higher than the 1.5 she keeps throwing around.

From: Koskinen, John (EOM)

To: Tillery, Herbert (EOM)

Sent: Oct. 27, 2002 10:21 a.m.

I think your idea of going with a new appraisal—and firm—with an appropriate reading of the actual lease…is the way to go….And then we need to get a clear explanation from OPM about who gave the instruction to the appraiser and on what basis. If we don’t get a clear answer, we should ask the IG to look into it….But that should not keep us from proceeding with the reappraisal and the transaction if that still appears to be the best option.

Here’s the larger story the e-mails tell: that reformers have left the Wilson Building—at least in the executive-branch offices. The e-mail traffic illustrates that Williams cabinet members knew early on that there were serious problems with the Jemal dealings. At times like this, promised Candidate Williams in 1998, his government would voluntarily declare its mistakes as well take corrective measures.

Instead, the administration clung to its well-worn scandal playbook: Hide, thwart, and pray that the press doesn’t get the full story.

Mayor Williams dismissed Lorusso in January. Since then, the executive office has been less then forthcoming about what happened with the Jemal deal: At Graham’s February hearing, Eric Price, deputy mayor for planning and economic development, as well as Tillery, deputy mayor for operations, declined to testify.

Jemal and his associates asserted their Fifth Amendment right last Friday.

This week, property management moved to Item No. 1 on the mayor’s desk. To limit the public outcry, Williams on Wednesday announced the resignation of OPM Director Dimond. In defending their actions in Impoundgate, Williams and Koskinen told reporters that they moved quickly last fall to remedy the mess at Addison Road.

Again, e-mail correspondence tells the real story. In December, Koskinen received word from Tillery that, in fact, the city was moving slowly to address the appraisal problem:

From: Koskinen, John (EOM)

To: Tillery, Herbert (EOM)

Sent: Dec. 13, 2002 11:55 a.m.

Sounds perfect. Having a little time expire probably hasn’t hurt at all since only Jim [Graham] seems interested.

POLITICAL POTPOURRI

Last Thursday, A. Scott Bolden became chair of D.C.’s Democratic party, winning the balloting 51 to 10. Bolden vowed to transform the bickering band of local politicos into a professional, well-funded party organization. When elections official Dan Wedderburn announced the results, he got a little nostalgic:

“And the winner of this election is…A. Scott Bishop!” CP

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