One Thursday night in June 1999, nearly 40 kids aged 12 to 19 made their way by multiple buses or old cars down Bladensburg Road NE, past the Teamsters’ local, empty warehouses, and burned-out buildings of industrial Ward 5, and pulled up to 2146 24th Place NE. The old warehouse-cum-D.C. government office building seemed like an unlikely teen hangout. But inside, it held the promise of a universal teenage pleasure: pizza.
Counselors from Sasha Bruce Youthworks had long ago learned that food could help lure some of the city’s most troubled kids to a weekly session of its drug-treatment program, called Necessary Interventions for Adolescents. But after spending the evening discussing mood-altering chemicals, Program Director Terrence Walton made an unexpected announcement just before dinner: The District’s Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration (APRA) had terminated the program, and that night would be their last together. After Walton broke the news, three-quarters of the kids simply walked out—without eating. “Which never, ever happens,” he says. “Kids don’t turn down pizza.”
Walton was surprised that even kids who had been forced by juvenile court judges to go to the program were upset—angry, even. “‘Here we go again,’” he says they muttered. “They were really devastated,” adds Walton, who is now the treatment director of the city’s drug court.
What happened at Sasha Bruce sounds like the same old story: D.C. running out of money and slashing programs for its most vulnerable populations. Except that the program’s cancellation had nothing to do with money. In fact, the D.C. Council increased APRA’s budget by 20 percent two years ago—and another 20 percent last year—with specific instructions to beef up its services to young people.
Instead, officials told Walton, APRA was giving the youth-counseling contract to a new group called CapitolCare, according to documents filed with the D.C. Board of Contract Appeals. CapitolCare, which runs a city-funded program for adults in Ward 8 called SYMBAS, promised a “holistic” approach to treatment for kids. CapitolCare would trade Sasha Bruce’s pizza and soda for ionized water and vitamin supplements, which the group believed could do everything from raise IQs to reduce violence “in just three days,” according to an article that accompanied its pitch.
Despite its New Age veneer, the company has a rather pedestrian history: D.C. incorporation records show that CapitolCare is a janitorial company whose only experience with troubled teens is sweeping up after them every week at the 24th Place building, which is also owned by a CapitolCare affiliate corporation. Both companies have strong ties to former Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr.
Sasha Bruce eventually protested the contract change, and the CapitolCare program never materialized. Neither did anything else from APRA, which left most of the 150 Sasha Bruce kids to drift away without further treatment. Several are now involved in the adult criminal system, according to Walton.
Old-time cronyism is one reason that, despite receiving $7.5 million in additional funding over the past two years, APRA still serves barely 10 percent of the city’s estimated 65,000 addicts. A Washington City Paper investigation found that hundreds of people have been turned away from city treatment programs while APRA officials have given thousands of dollars’ worth of contracts and jobs to unqualified friends and cronies.
A review of court documents, contract appeals, and internal memos, as well as interviews with current and former APRA employees, paints a portrait of a self-serving agency whose dysfunction has completely obscured any sense of its core mission. Today, APRA is in a shambles, and it is no closer to helping the city kick its collective habit than it was two years ago.
When Ward 8 Councilmember Sandy Allen goes around town touting her achievements in office, she likes to mention her success in increasing the city’s drug-treatment budget. “Since I’ve been in office, we’ve increased the budget by 20 percent in the past two budget cycles,” she said in an interview with the City Paper earlier this year. Allen had good reason to train her sights on the treatment budget.
Substance abuse contributes in significant ways to nearly every one of the city’s social ills, from homelessness to child abuse, ultimately costing the District more than $1 billion in courts, police, and other social-service costs, according to a recent report by Drug Strategies, a nonprofit research group. Despite the staggering statistics, the city’s budget crisis eviscerated substance-abuse treatment in the mid-’90s. Between 1993 and 1998, APRA’s budget was slashed from $31 million to $24.8 million, and the agency lost 2,000 treatment slots.
Still, even when APRA had money, it never did a particularly good job of spending it. In the mid-’80s, the agency, then known as Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services Administration, was a playground for all of Barry’s favorite cronies, who received millions of dollars in noncompetitive, overpriced contracts that did little to help people get clean and sober, according to news accounts and reports by the Office of the D.C. Auditor.
In the early ’90s, the agency became more famous for selling drugs than for treating drug addiction. The media were awash with stories about agency employees selling and using drugs, even openly snorting cocaine at their desks. In 1990, a treatment counselor suffered a drug overdose at the agency’s central intake division, according to a Washington Times report. APRA has never been able to provide evidence that any of its programs actually worked, and it has had virtually no educational requirements for its treatment counselors.
Its long list of problems made APRA a good candidate for the kind of management retooling peddled by former Chief Management Officer Camille Cates Barnett, who arrived in D.C. in January 1998. Instead of overhauling APRA, though, Barnett merely gave it money. In July 1998, APRA received $122,123 in “management-reform” funds to help pay for computer upgrades and prevention programs. Barnett also freed up the agency from bureaucratic constraints, allowing it to hire new people and buy equipment outside of normal channels.
Around the same time, goaded on by Allen, the D.C. Council increased APRA’s budget by $3 million. Dr. Marlene Kelly, then acting director of the D.C. Department of Health, which oversees APRA, pledged that the agency would open 360 new methadone slots, 150 inpatient treatment spots for clients with mental illness and drug addictions, and a 77-bed residential facility that would be on line within two months.
Four months later, none of those programs had materialized—but another one was about to fall apart. In January 1999, kids in the Stanton Dwellings public housing complex learned that Earl Edelin, an APRA employee they thought was supposed to be saving them from drugs, was allegedly the ringleader of the housing project’s biggest and most violent drug organization, called the 1-5 Mob, according to the 1999 indictment and other documents filed in U.S. District Court.
Edelin had been the head of Project Outreach, a prevention program run out of the Stanton Dwellings youth center. He was arrested along with his son Tommy as part of a federal racketeering case alleging that for 10 years, the Edelins had run the project’s crack market. The anti-drug program certainly made good cover. Prosecutors allege that Edelin actually stashed crack cocaine and guns right inside the youth center. The 1-5 Mob has been connected to the killings of at least 15 people, according to prosecutors. Tommy Edelin is now facing the death penalty, and his father is looking at life in prison.
In spite of those indications and myriad others that APRA was an unredeemable mess, last year, Councilmember Allen faced off with the mayor and former Medicaid Director Paul Offner to increase APRA’s budget. Offner and Williams wanted to move $4 million from APRA to Medicaid, which they planned to expand to cover more drug-treatment services. If they had succeeded, the federal government would have anted up an additional $12 million in Medicaid matching funds, vastly increasing the city’s treatment budget. Nonetheless, Allen prevailed and kept the money with APRA. Offner now says, “I don’t think it was terribly smart.”
Indeed, APRA has little to show for its good fortune. Between fiscal years 1998 and 2000, APRA’s budget increased from $24.8 million to $32.3 million. Top officials claim that APRA has opened an additional 1,000 new treatment slots; unfortunately, the new slots don’t seem to be filled with actual people. At a budget hearing on March 24, Senior Deputy Director for Health Promotion Ron Lewis told the D.C. Council that a third of APRA’s 3,000 treatment slots today sit empty, even though the agency currently maintains a waiting list of nearly 400 potential clients.
APRA’s poor showing didn’t surprise too many folks in city government who knew Keith Vance. By the time Vance became second in command at APRA, in 1997, he had earned a reputation—not for his special knack for running treatment programs, but as a shill for Barry. In the mid-’80s, Vance, a former auditor for the Federal Election Commission, had been the director of the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, where he had made headlines for taking no action in half a dozen cases of Barry-administration improprieties.
While turning a blind eye to Barry’s indiscretions, Vance infuriated Ward 4 D.C. Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis by fining her $10,000 for accepting a pen set from Citibank and other campaign finance irregularities. Jarvis fired back by requesting an audit of Vance’s office. Former D.C. Auditor Otis Troupe found that Vance had engaged in “questionable personnel practices” by hiring and overpaying unqualified workers to fill positions, particularly unqualified computer specialists, according to reports in the Washington Post at the time. (Vance could not be reached for comment.)
Under fire from the council, in 1987 Barry sent Vance to work as an executive assistant for personnel at the Department of Human Services (DHS), and he eventually became the acting chief administrative officer at the Commission on Mental Health Services. Vance’s service there came to an end in 1993, when the D.C. Office of the Inspector General found that Vance had improperly spent nearly half a million dollars in capital funds slated for repairs at St. Elizabeths Hospital, according to its report.
Rather than spend the money to fix leaking roofs and ailing plumbing, investigators found that Vance had used it to buy: a dump truck, 10 surplus vehicles from the federal General Services Administration (GSA), computers, printers, portable radios, some tools, and a $150,000 Xerox machine that Vance claimed the commission needed to publish its newsletter. Some of the equipment, which had not been properly inventoried, ended up at the homes of two commission employees, according to the report.
After the report came out, DHS Director Vincent Gray merely reassigned Vance to the D.C. Public Health Commission. Vance didn’t last long at his new post, either. According to sources familiar with the incident, then-Public Health Commissioner Mohammed Akter quickly sent Vance packing after discovering that he had ordered the commission a half-dozen new luxury sedans—with federal grant money and without Akter’s approval. Akter sent Vance back to the DHS general counsel’s office, and eventually he was transferred to APRA, where he became the management services officer.
When Vance arrived at APRA, he stepped into something of a leadership vacuum. The chief administrative officer, Linda Holifield, was famous around the office for helping hire and supervise a man against whom she had a child-support order in D.C. Superior Court. (Holifield would not discuss the incident other than to say, “There was nothing done that was inappropriate.”)
Then, shortly after Vance arrived, Dr. Deidre Roach was appointed director of APRA. Roach, the agency’s longtime medical director, was known for being a very nice, genteel person, but she reportedly lacked the stamina to whip the historically unruly agency into shape. “She was into guided meditation, writing poetry, New Age kind of stuff,” says one APRA staffer, who, like all agency employees interviewed for this story, requested anonymity out of fear of disciplinary action from new Department of Health Director Dr. Ivan C.A. Walks. (Roach declined to comment for this story.)
Vance walked all over Roach, according to people at the agency. Even contractors who came through APRA headquarters were confused as to who was in charge. “If you saw his office and you saw hers, you would think he was running the show,” says one consultant. And in effect, he was. He starting hiring people, buying equipment, and making executive decisions, according to internal memos.
Vance’s brash style quickly rankled longtime APRA employees, and in March of last year, APRA Deputy Director Catherine Bego started making noise about the way Vance was running the show. She made a well-publicized visit to see the D.C. inspector general to report her suspicions of corruption within the agency. When she returned from the interview, Bego discovered that Roach and Vance had transferred and demoted her. Bego sued in federal court, alleging that the transfer was an act of retaliation. Judge Royce Lamberth issued an injunction ordering APRA to reinstate Bego, calling the transfer “the stupidest management decision I’ve ever seen.”
Bego declined through her lawyer, Steven Leckar, to be interviewed for this story. Leckar also declined to comment. Bego’s lawsuit, however, has continued, and in discovery, Leckar has unearthed what he calls in legal briefs a “cronyocracy” at APRA.
As soon as APRA’s initial budget increase took effect, in the fall of 1998, APRA signed a $1.6 million contract with a company called J&E Associates, which was supposed to provide nurses and other staff to the agency’s detox clinic and other treatment programs. The company is owned by John Emery Sr., a former APRA administrator. J&E was one of the companies to which former DHS Director David Rivers had been accused (and later acquitted) of steering contracts in a 1990 criminal trial, according to news reports on the trial. (Emery did not return calls for comment.)
According to APRA sources, J&E’s point person on the contract was F. Alexis Roberson, the former director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services and a close ally of Barry and his wife, Cora Masters Barry. At Vance’s urging, J&E hired a number of people with whom Vance had had prior relationships, according to court documents.
One of those was Reginald Holley, who had worked for Vance at DHS. According to court documents in the Bego case, J&E hired Holley to work as one of Vance’s clerks, but he allegedly spent a great deal of his time at the agency fixing staffers’ cars. Holley says he applied for his job just like everybody else. “I type 90 words a minute, and I knew all the software,” he says. Holley says he does—and did—fix cars, but only on his own time, including his lunch hour. He says he left APRA after about a year for better-paying work.
Vance also used J&E to bring on Ferdinand Harris, a man he knew from St. Elizabeths. Vance had first hired Esther Harris, Ferdinand’s wife, as one of his clerks, according to court documents. Vance then told her that Ferdinand Harris could apply for an APRA job through J&E. But J&E at the time was hiring only treatment counselors, which APRA was in dire need of. Ferdinand, who had been a laborer at St. E’s, has a long arrest record, including a 1992 felony conviction for heroin possession, and didn’t have a lot of counseling credentials.
So, according to court documents in the Bego case, Ferdinand Harris forged his paperwork and claimed that he was certified as an addiction counselor by a variety of professional boards and associations, and J&E detailed him to the detox unit as a treatment counselor. Harris was dismissed from the position in November after colleagues raised questions about his ability to do his job and his bogus credentials were unearthed through Bego’s lawsuit. Harris declined to comment.
With approval from Roach, Vance also got a few of his relatives on the regular APRA payroll. For instance, he hired nephew Christopher Perkins as a social-services assistant. Roach created the job the day after Perkins applied for an APRA position. No other candidates were interviewed for the job, according to court records. The new social-services assistant was supposed to have counseling skills to help drug abusers, but according to court records, Perkins had no such skills. Before working at APRA, he had driven trucks and worked as a nightclub bouncer. After a month at APRA, Perkins was assigned to the Office of Personnel, where he processed APRA’s personnel forms, according to court records. (He has since left the government and could not be reached for comment.)
Vance also brought on Dwayne Henry, whose stepbrother is Vance’s son. Henry was still on probation in Maryland for cocaine possession when APRA hired him in the summer of 1998 as a “prevention specialist,” charged with persuading substance abusers to participate in prevention programs. According to criminal records in U.S. District Court, Henry had twice been convicted of felony cocaine distribution charges and had never worked in social services. Yet Roach signed off on paperwork creating a new social-services assistant job for Henry, whom Vance knew as “a bright and hard working individual,” according to court records. Henry was apparently so hard-working that no other candidates were interviewed for the position, according to court records in the Bego suit.
Three months after he was hired, Henry was pulled over by D.C. cops in a car with two other men. One of Henry’s companions was carrying a
9 mm Smith & Wesson, 120 grams of cocaine, and $1,200 in cash. All three men were charged in federal court with possession with intent to distribute cocaine while armed. The charges against Henry were dismissed, apparently after he agreed to testify against another defendant, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. (When asked about his employment at APRA and relationship to Vance, Henry laughed and said, “I can’t answer them questions. Can’t you call my lawyer or something?” He then hung up and did not call back.)
All told, between July 1998 and December 1999, APRA officials spent more than $300,000 hiring a handful of friends, relatives, and, in some cases, outright criminals for jobs they were largely unqualified to do, according to court records, all while treatment programs were begging for more staffers who would actually carry out the agency’s mission.
Another person Vance brought to APRA was a man named Reuben Lewis. A fellow Barry supporter, Lewis had worked with Vance both at DHS and at St. E’s. In 1993, the same inspector general’s investigation that prompted Vance’s removal from the mental health commission cited Lewis for improperly collecting federal surplus property and stockpiling it in broom closets at St. E’s. (The federal government allows District agencies to requisition surplus property through the GSA at no cost.) According to the inspector general’s report, between July 1990 and June 1992, Lewis made at least 41 trips to federal surplus warehouses, where he procured thousands of pounds of excess property without authority and in violation of city regulations.
Among the things Lewis had gotten from the feds were: lawn mowers, forklifts, motorcycles, clothing, building supplies, personal computers, printers, photocopiers, TVs, VCRs, and other electronic equipment. Investigators found some of the equipment stashed in storerooms at St. E’s, but none of it was documented properly, according to their report.
When investigators could not find the rest, they referred the case to the police department. No charges were ever filed, but Lewis’ employment was not continued when his contract expired in 1993, and the inspector general recommended that “the department should give careful consideration before considering this individual for future employment.” Despite this admonition, when Vance landed at APRA, one of the first things he did with his new “management-reform” money was hire Lewis.
Lewis did not have a college degree, nor had he taken a computer training course in nearly 15 years, according to his APRA job application. His only jobs since 1994 had been working on Barry’s mayoral campaign, inaugural committees, and transition team, according to his application. Nonetheless, Vance told APRA staff in the summer of 1998 that Lewis was an “expert” who would be temporarily working on the agency’s “medical record classification” project. According to APRA staffers, the medical records were never fixed, but Lewis was eventually hired permanently as an APRA computer expert, making nearly $50,000 a year, according to court records.
According to people inside the agency, Lewis was a disaster as a computer specialist. Not only did he have trouble fixing computers, he was woefully ignorant of recent developments in technology. According to people who were there, at a meeting with staffers from the Office of the Chief Technology Officer and consultants who were installing APRA’s new computer network, Lewis once suggested that the consultants use a software program called DB-IV—a database program that hasn’t been current since the mid-’80s.
But Lewis didn’t do much in the way of computer work anyway, according to court records and interviews with numerous people who have worked with him at APRA. According to the Bego suit, Lewis spent his time refinishing Vance’s conference table, supervising the agency’s drivers, and driving around collecting equipment and furniture from federal surplus outlets—just as he had in the old days at St. E’s.
Until Lewis came to the agency, APRA hadn’t gotten a single item from federal surplus since at least 1997. But between October 1998 and March 1999, Lewis made at least 15 trips to one GSA warehouse in Franconia, according to documents provided by the GSA under the Freedom of Information Act. (Lewis, who still works at APRA, did not return calls for this story.)
According to excess-property-transfer orders from the GSA, Lewis left Franconia with at least $62,500 worth of equipment that included: a commercial air-conditioning unit, 15 tables, two drafting stools, 32 chairs, 15 desks, a credenza, seven storage units, five bookcases, a lamp, and 14 filing cabinets. Even though APRA doesn’t use Apple computers and they were not part of the agency’s technology-procurement plan, Lewis acquired for APRA three old Apple CPUs, a monitor, a printer, a keyboard, and two laptops. Lewis also picked up computer cases, video switches, 25 other computer monitors, 17 more central processing units, 11 uninterruptible power supplies, two more printers, a $1,500 Canon camera, three LogiTech computer video cameras, a fax machine, and a VCR.
What happened to all that stuff is anybody’s guess. Surplus-property documents APRA produced in response to a Freedom of Information Act request do not match documents provided by the GSA; APRA records don’t show Lewis obtaining any furniture from the GSA. Department of Health officials denied a request from a City Paper reporter to visit APRA to spot-check some of the more fungible GSA items in person, saying it would be too difficult to track it all down. The City Paper later provided Ron Lewis, a senior deputy director at the Department of Health, with a random list of electronic items APRA had taken from the GSA to see whether APRA could document their whereabouts. He said that all the equipment on that list is accounted for, although not all of it is being used. He also said the agency would have no way of tracking the furniture.
APRA staffers report seeing much of the equipment pass through APRA storage rooms or sitting in hallways, including the commercial air-conditioning unit—an odd item considering the building has central air maintained by the landlord. Employees say they would often find Reuben Lewis sitting in a room full of old computers taking out the hard drives. One source reports walking into a storage room on the first floor of APRA headquarters one day with Vance as part of a wiring survey and finding the room filled with old computers and monitors. Even Vance, apparently, was shocked at the volume of equipment there, according to this source.
Just as Reuben Lewis was stockpiling outdated computer equipment, new equipment was pouring into APRA under a $515,000 federal contract to modernize the agency’s technology infrastructure. APRA was buying dozens of new computers and monitors that were being installed by a firm called Haynes & Associates, whose contract prohibited it from installing used computer equipment. Even if Lewis had been bringing in old equipment for parts, as some government agencies do, the memory and hard drives wouldn’t have been compatible with much of the new equipment, says one source, who notes, “It was junk.”
Lewis’ APRA job application says he runs a computer firm out of his apartment in Mount Vernon Square, and APRA employees report that on at least three occasions, Lewis tried to sell computer equipment to people working in the agency. Two of those employees approached by Lewis declined to buy his stuff because they didn’t know where it came from, according to two sources.
Lewis was successful in selling a computer to Holley, Vance’s clerk. According to sources who saw the equipment, the computer had a new shell, but the hard drive and operating systems were ancient and didn’t work. In an interview, Holley confirmed that he had bought the computer but said that any problems he had with the machine, Lewis fixed. Holley also said, though, that he no longer has the computer.
APRA sources say that Lewis’ sales and acquisitions raised tensions in the building, because no one could keep track of all the stuff coming and going. APRA employees say security guards noted that Lewis was paying regular visits to the agency at night and on the weekends—Vance had given him a key to everything, according to APRA staffers and consultants—often pulling a truck or van up to the front. During one of his visits on a Sunday night in October, according to an APRA employee, Lewis tripped the silent alarm at APRA headquarters and the police were summoned. (Police records confirm that the burglar alarm went off, but the police did not take a report at the scene, and APRA has not responded to a request for documentation about the incident.)
According to documents from the GSA, the last of Lewis’ 15 trips to Franconia was on March 29 last year—the same day that Deputy Director Bego made her well-publicized visit to the D.C. inspector general’s office.
When most people enroll in an outpatient drug-treatment program, the routine is fairly predictable: They get a healthy dose of counseling, go to a lot of meetings, talk about all the stupid things they’ve done while high or trying to get high. They work on coping skills, get into a 12-step program. But when addicts in D.C. check into the SYMBAS program on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, it’s their nutritional—rather than mental—health, that seems to get the most attention.
At the only APRA-funded co-ed adult treatment center in Ward 8, clients get a full introduction to “holistic” drug-treatment services, including herbs, colonic irrigation, light therapy, vitamin supplements, biofeedback, and acupuncture. And, if they’re lucky, they can also spend a few hours in a sauna the SYMBAS program has on hand.
Program Director Roger Asterilla says when he came to SYMBAS in January 1999—fresh off a job managing a vitamin store in Springfield, Va.—he revamped the program’s holistic component and installed new equipment, including the sauna and a water ionizer, which Asterilla claims helps “neutralize metabolic waste.” When asked whether the clients enjoy the saunas, Asterilla notes sadly that most of the clients can’t really use the sauna because they haven’t had physicals before coming to the program. Nonetheless, he adds, “We’re trying to add a naturopathic approach to drug treatment.”
Asterilla admits that the relative merits of the sauna and other holistic drug treatments aren’t immediately obvious to laypeople. He says his system is so cutting-edge that most people don’t really get it. “We may be a little bit more orientated towards science,” he says, suggesting that his remarkable approach has a foundation in complicated physiological issues that ordinary folks wouldn’t understand.
Asterilla can’t say for sure whether the program actually keeps anyone clean—he has no outcome data and doesn’t track his clients—a problem he blames on the city. But he says his unique approach to drug treatment is based on extensive research he undertook while obtaining degrees from the American Holistic College of Nutrition—a Birmingham, Ala., correspondence school, through which Asterilla says he is now working on his Ph.D.
SYMBAS first contracted with APRA in 1994 to provide abstinence treatment to 360 clients a year for $521,000 annually. Its performance has been shoddy, even by APRA standards. In the fall of 1998, APRA did a routine inspection of the SYMBAS program and found that it could not document how many patients it was actually treating. After reviewing 25 client files, program monitor L. Darnell Lee found that SYMBAS “offers little or no clinical treatment to patients,” and that “little or no improvements had been made since the first program review [in 1995],” according to the report.
Lee told SYMBAS managers she was uncomfortable signing off on their invoices because “the quality of services offered were substandard,” according to her report. Yet when the D.C. Council increased APRA’s budget by $3 million in 1998, one of APRA’s first moves was to begin negotiating with SYMBAS to take over the youth program run by Sasha Bruce Youthworks.
Long before Sasha Bruce’s contract expired, APRA officials starting telling Sasha Bruce staffers that they would lose their contract to SYMBAS, according to Sasha Bruce’s contract protest. In November 1998, APRA’s contract specialist, Jean Wright told Walton, the Sasha Bruce program director, “Sasha Bruce’s time there is up,” according to Walton’s affidavit in the protest.
At one point, when Walton gave Wright an inventory of the government-owned property Sasha Bruce had purchased under its contract, Wright said, “You all bought a lot of stuff. When we get you all out of there, we’re going to have lots of nice things,” according to Walton’s affidavit. Wright did not return a call for comment.
APRA temporarily extended Sasha Bruce’s contract several times past its February 1999 expiration date, because no new program had been set up to take the kids. But in June, the agency abruptly pulled the plug anyway. A few months later, Sasha Bruce alleged in its protest that APRA had steered the contract to SYMBAS. The group also claimed to have discovered a motive: Wright, they alleged in protest filings, had been having a long-standing affair with SYMBAS Program Director Asterilla.
According to protest documents, a woman who used to work with both Wright and Asterilla at a drug-treatment program at St. E’s told a Sasha Bruce social worker that Wright had lived at her house for six months. The woman said she helped facilitate liaisons between Wright and Asterilla so that Asterilla’s wife would not discover the relationship. (Sasha Bruce did not reveal the name of the woman, saying that she held a senior position with a major nonprofit service provider and feared retaliation from APRA. In its protest, Sasha Bruce said it would reveal the name of the woman under a protective order, but no order has been issued.)
Asterilla admits that he knew Wright from the other program, but he refuses to comment on his relationship, calling the allegations “slanderous.” Asterilla notes that Wright was not the only decision maker on the contract. Ultimately, he says, the SYMBAS proposal was superior to Sasha Bruce’s. “We offered something that these people couldn’t touch,” he says.
Indeed, SYMBAS did have one thing going for it that Sasha Bruce couldn’t touch: its ownership. CapitolCare is one of a half-dozen companies founded by the late Carthur Drake, a longtime friend of former Mayor Barry’s. Over the past 15 years, Drake’s companies have received millions of dollars’ worth of District contracts, ranging from food services at the prison to security contracts—many of which were found by everyone from the D.C. auditor to the control board to be improperly awarded and overpriced.
Drake also gained some notoriety during Barry’s drug trial, when witnesses noted that a yacht owned by one of his companies was allegedly a favorite spot of Barry’s to get high. Drake died five years ago, and daughter Necia Drake now owns the company. (CapitolCare officials did not return repeated calls for comment.)
The building at 24th Place NE where the Sasha Bruce program was headquartered is actually owned by another one of Drake’s companies, DAC Development Ltd., and CapitolCare is the janitorial firm that cleans it. The city is leasing the building for more than $1 million a year, a fee that city auditors now view as exorbitant given the quality of the building and the neighborhood, according to a recent Washington Times report.
Ron Lewis, the senior deputy director at the Department of Health who is currently running APRA, says he was unaware of the allegations surrounding the youth contract, but he notes that the agency will be opening a new program soon. In the meantime, APRA has very little to offer city kids. “Through APRA, there are really no comprehensive services for youth in this city, and we need them,” says Daryl Poston, director of the Consortium of Youth Services, an umbrella group for most of the city’s nonprofit youth groups.
The youth program isn’t the only APRA program that seems to have died since APRA’s budget was increased. APEX was designed to help addicts get jobs by paying them minimum wage to travel around the city sweeping streets and cleaning up empty lots. The program, which made TV news, had 110 regular participants at its peak.
But last year, APRA Director Roach decided to move APEX out of headquarters near Union Station and into the Drake building. The move caused a ruckus among the staff, according to court files—and probably for good reason. When a job-training program for welfare recipients moved there in 1995, attendance dropped by more than half because the building was so inaccessible, according to a Washington Post story.
Today, APEX doesn’t have a single participant, yet it still has a full-time program director. Robert McMillan, a former co-director of the program, says APEX’s death is tragic. “It was a phenomenal effort,” he says. McMillan still stays in touch with some of his former clients, and he says, “So many of them right now are at a stage where they feel they have nowhere to go.” Ironically, McMillan says the program ran on only about $300,000—about the same amount of money APRA allegedly spent on its coterie of cronies.
In September, the D.C. Council finally started to get wise to some of the more obvious troubles at APRA. At-Large Councilmember David Catania sent staffers posing as drug addicts to various APRA intake sites. Their shoddy reception by APRA staff—and failure to get any help—sent the routinely hot-tempered councilmember into a rage. After discovering that 1,000 people were on the waiting list for treatment services—even as a third of APRA’s residential slots and half of its outpatient slots were empty—Catania started calling for heads to roll.
None did until January, when Health Department Director Walks found out that APRA’s detox unit administrator, David Hailes, had allegedly had sex with a detox client. In response to the woman’s allegations, Vance and Roach had merely transferred Hailes back to the criminal-justice division at APRA headquarters, apparently making no effort to contact law enforcement officials, according to Catania. After Walks investigated the allegations, he apparently decided APRA needed a full housecleaning. On Jan. 3, Roach resigned, and Vance and Hailes both retired.
Walks is now in the process of finding a full-time APRA director and is hoping to rebuild the agency into more of an oversight agency. “We’re looking at getting out of direct services as much as possible,” says Lewis.
But Catania is tired of waiting for APRA to shape up. “I have not seen any evidence of improvement over the past two years. It is an institution that is broken. They’ve been pumping ether into that building for years,” he says. Catania recently introduced a bill that would allow District residents to go outside of APRA to seek treatment services. With that measure, he says, “Hopefully we will be putting a nice epitaph on APRA in its current form.” CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Illustration by Jonathan Weiner.