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In public pronouncements regarding his ongoing fundraising scandal, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams has remained on message: He had no detailed knowledge of the activities of his wayward underlings—commandeering nonprofit organizations while employed on the public payroll, squeezing city contractors for big contributions, and diverting monies intended to benefit children to political ends.
“As I have said to the public before, the report indicates that I did not manage the fundraising operation closely enough,” remarked Williams in a statement last Thursday. “Because of insufficient management oversight, mistakes were made.”
Perhaps the mayor extracted his stonewalling inspiration from all of the Ronald Reagan iconography surrounding the Wilson Building. But the mayor lacks fall guys with the loyalty of a Bud McFarlane or an Ollie North.
The 44-page redacted summary of Inspector General Charles C. Maddox’s findings on the mayor’s fundraising efforts states that “contradictory” testimony prevented Maddox from concluding exactly what the mayor knew and when he knew it. Yet in the unabridged 514-page tome, Maddox documents that Williams received briefings on all the hanky-panky.
According to the report, former Deputy Chief of Staff for External Affairs Sandy McCall solicited private funds directly from the mayor’s office as head of Millennium Washington-Capital Bicentennial (MWCB), a 501(c)(3) created to finance a series of events celebrating the millennium and D.C.’s bicentennial as the nation’s capital. McCall claims that he apprised Williams, as well as then-Chief of Staff Dr. Abdusalam Omer, regularly about his work. “McCALL adamantly asserts that he met with the Mayor every week to brief him on every aspect of Millennium Washington, to include the fundraising activities of the non-profit,” writes Maddox in the report. “Dr. OMER stated that McCALL provided a full report concerning the Millennium Washington at every Monday EOM [Executive Office of the Mayor] meeting.”
In an April 2 editorial, the Washington Post noted the difference between Maddox’s abridged and unabridged versions and harshly rebuked Williams for feigning ignorance of the quick-money fundraising schemes. “‘It strains credulity to believe that the Mayor did not know this,’” the editorial quoted from Maddox’s 514-page report.
The Post, in fact, had done a little redacting of its own: “It strains credulity to believe that the Mayor did not know this, or the fact that the company that provided regulated cable television service to the city donated $50,000, or that the White House donated $400,000, or that distinguished local business leaders such as Donald GRAHAM, Mark WARNER, and Mario MORINO donated upwards up $100,000 each,” reads the full sentence found on Page 63 of the report.
Apparently, editors at D.C.’s newspaper of record felt compelled to protect a colleague who could comment directly on Millennium Washington’s fundraising practices: Donald E. Graham, who is chairman and chief executive officer of the Washington Post Co.
According to the 514-page report, Graham had firsthand experience with the Williams administration’s hardball fundraising techniques. Graham got entangled in Millennium Washington after receiving a solicitation from America Online co-founder James Kimsey, who had agreed to chair Millennium Washington at the mayor’s urging in 1999.
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“Shortly thereafter, he received a telephone call from McCALL, who GRAHAM believes identified himself as Deputy Mayor, at which time McCALL ‘pitched for large amounts of money,’” reads Page 56 of the two-volume report. “At this time GRAHAM agreed to make a $25,000 charitable contribution to Millennium Washington.”
Maddox makes mention that Graham was the only significant contributor to question the integrity of the nonprofit and its purpose. “Although GRAHAM explained to McCALL that this was contrary to Post’s [sic] policy, he later made a one-time exception and made arrangements for an insert to be included in a Sunday newspaper,” the report continues. “GRAHAM did not immediately forward the donation to McCALL and received another letter in April 2000 reminding him of his $25,000 pledge. GRAHAM then sent a check in this amount to MWCB .
“GRAHAM stated that this was his only involvement with MWCB,” the report concludes. “He did not feel comfortable giving this donation to MWCB because he felt that civic and charitable donations from local businesses should be for activities of higher importance than putting together a year-long party.”
According to Maddox, though, Graham’s misgivings about Millennium Washington didn’t prevent him from attending its New Year’s Eve light show at the Dupont Circle Metro Station along with Williams and other big-time contributors to the nonprofit.
Yet both the Post’s Monday B1 story on Maddox’s report and its ruler-slapping Tuesday editorial failed to disclose Graham’s donation to the scandal-ridden nonprofit, or for that matter, that the Post Co. chair had been interviewed by the Office of the Inspector General about his hefty contribution.
“It was an honest-to-goodness oversight,” explains Post Assistant City Editor Vanessa Williams, who edited the Metro story on the 514-page report by Post staffers Yolanda Woodlee and Carol D. Leonnig. “There was no attempt to hide, protect, or cover up—if that’s what you’re implying.”
As proof that the paper of record has its ethics straight, Williams cited a Jan. 30, 2001, Post story on allegations about Williams’ fundraising improprieties: “Prominent business leaders, such as James V. Kimsey, co-founder of America Online, and Donald E. Graham, chairman of The Washington Post Co., were among the contributors who together gave more than $300,000,” wrote Woodlee.
Graham could not be reached for comment, though Post Co. spokesperson Chip Knight concurred with Vanessa Williams’ statement.
Williams adds that Graham had “no involvement” in the story—either as a reporter or as a source. “I think he has better things to do,” she says.
* Inspectors general fancy themselves investigative professionals who are above the usual muck of politics, which generally entails calling people names and impugning their motives.
Maddox is at his euphemistic best when discussing the testimony of the central duo in the fundraising irregularities: Omer and then-Deputy Chief of Staff Mark Jones, who controlled the accounts of several of the questionable nonprofits.
“A preponderance of evidence suggests that JONES…exhibited a lack of candor during his interviews with the OIG [Office of the Inspector General],” the report states on Page 104. “Dr. OMER also appeared to exhibit a lack of candor to OIG investigators when he denied taking any money from JONES at the [Republican National] Convention.”
Forwarding the report along to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Maddox gives Omer and Jones another chance to get their stories straight.
* Armed with subpoena power and a staff of diligent note-takers, Maddox has done more than most local news outlets to document the disarray that plagues Williams’ shop. Williams & Co. came into office in 1999 promising an administration focused on reform, not ceremony.
But Maddox’s detailed account of the mayor’s April 2000 prayer breakfast, which was partially funded by the nonprofit Church Association for Community Services, shows that Williams ended up embracing the rituals of a previous administration. “According to [the Rev. Donald] ROBINSON, the Mayor did not know much about the prayer breakfast concept other than the fact that it was held every year and that prominent District citizens got together, prayed and had breakfast,” reads Page 78. Robinson served as the mayor’s first special assistant for religious affairs.
So Williams and his staff came to rely on old warhorses, such as the high priest of mayoral prayer breakfasts, Joe Yeldell. “During the course of these meetings, it became clear to everyone that the rivalry and tension between Reverend [Frank] TUCKER and YELDELL, particularly concerning fundraising issues, was making it difficult to move forward,” the report notes. “Reverends TUCKER and ROBINSON stated that YELDELL became impossible to work with.
“Reverend ROBINSON described the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast as chaotic, disorganized, and a horrible embarrassment,” Maddox concludes. “JONES remembered that there were guests at the Events with cash and checks in hand but no one to assist them. JONES did not know what to tell the guests. YELDELL came late and by this time YELDELL and Reverend TUCKER were not communicating with each other.”
* Maddox also resolves lingering questions surrounding payments for the chauffeur of mayoral mom Virginia Williams. Early in her son’s term, Virginia Williams relied on the taxi services of Carol Parris, whom Maddox misidentifies in the report as one Caroline Parrish.
Whisking the mayor’s mom from event to event in her red Dodge Intrepid started to drain Parris’ finances. So she demanded compensation from Omer, who eventually withdrew funds from the Church Association for Community Services, a nonprofit whose purse strings were controlled by Jones. “According to Dr. OMER, PARRISH began coming to the EOM in March or April of 2000, wandering the halls and complaining that she should be paid for her services,” Maddox reports. “She confronted Dr. OMER and demanded compensation….Dr. OMER made arrangements with the Office of Finance to have PARRISH paid as a consultant to the EOM and had a $2,000 District government check prepared and made payable to her.
“When he gave her the check she threw it back at him, believing the value of her services far exceeded this amount,” reads the report.
In his interview with the inspector general, Williams defended payments made to Parris. “Basically my people would not have paid Miss PARRISH unless I said, you know, we should help Miss PARRISH,” the report quotes Williams. “[I]t’s got to be okay to reimburse someone for driving my mother to meet her responsibilities where there’s a public purpose and it’s not like giving my mother money or me money or driving my mother to like Hecht’s or something…”
* Maddox also provides a fact-finding narrative for the For the Kids Foundation (FTK), which was supposed to sponsor a Christmas party for foster children.
“[Alfonso] SPENCE advised that he attended the party on December 21, 1999, and that there were no children in attendance. He claimed that because funds were raised for FTK, a children’s organization, he assumed that children would be involved in the event or be the event’s beneficiaries,” reads Page 163. “He conceded that it appeared unusual to have a Christmas party for foster children and then have no children in attendance.”
* At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil learned that loyalty has little reward in the Williams administration. Soon after Brazil exchanged whatever remained of his political soul for Williams’ endorsement in his 2000 re-election bid, he helped his sponsor wine and dine politicos at the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.
Brazil’s efforts landed him right in Maddox’s path. “During the evening of August 16, 2000, Council Member Harold BRAZIL hosted a two-hour martini reception at the D.C. Hospitality Suite,” the report notes. “BRAZIL indicated that he contacted Claudia McKOIN, Director of Technology and Internet Services for Verizon Communications, and asked her if Verizon would be willing to pay for the evening reception.”
Asked about the undisclosed fundraising last week, Brazil responded that he “didn’t recall,” according to the Post. Verizon apparently had regrets, as well: “Verizon paid Nic’s Restaurant $1,795.50 for the beverages served at the reception,” the report notes. “However, McKOIN stated that Verizon had not been informed that its contribution would be used to purchase alcoholic beverages.” CP
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