Jimmy Carter had beer-guzzling brother Billy; Bill Clinton has opportunistic singing brother Roger; Cora Masters Lady MacBarry has itinerant, mystery brother Walter. So far, he’s played only a bit part in an unfolding production, “How to Divert Campaign Funds Without Really Trying,” with Lady MacBarry in her first leading role. The production opened on Day 93 of her husband’s fourth administration. Judging from early reviews, the run could be a long one.
But back to Walter Masters, in the back row of the cast. His roles have been brief, and mostly offstage. When former Barry housekeeper Barbara Mouring, Lady MacBarry’s leading antagonist, took center stage last week, she described how Walter Masters sat in a car outside a Riggs National Bank in October and waited for Mouring and her 17-year-old son, Darin, to cash a $2,000 check made out in Darin’s name. According to Mouring, she then gave the money to Masters. The day before, the check had been picked up from the Washington Business PAC, a not-so-independent political action committee that spent more than $500,000 to once again make Marion S. Barry Jr. mayor-for-life.
To LL, he will always be mayor-for-life, whether in or out of office. But back to the show.
Walter Masters then claimed the stage momentarily, denying that Mouring’s story took place. Since then, he has had no more speaking parts. But it was already abundantly clear that Lady MacBarry had her hands full trying to take care of brother Walter.
Walter Masters left his family behind in Florida last summer and came to Washington to help his sister return her new husband to power. But apparently he couldn’t survive in this big city on just the $3,174 he was paid by the business PAC for voter registration work between June and November. Since the PAC had previously paid Masters, it’s not clear why the check described by Mouring couldn’t have been written directly to Masters. LL hopes the matter will be cleared up before the show’s end.
After Barry’s November election, Masters’ future seemed set. Barry, no doubt with prodding from Lady MacBarry, immediately named Masters as his new Ward 8 constituent-services director, at a Grade 11 salary of at least $32,577. But that plan soon ran afoul of residents in Barry’s home ward, including Robert Yeldell. They pointed out that Barry’s whole campaign was about respect, and the first thing he did was dis them by picking someone who’d never lived in the ward to look out for their needs. At the time, Masters was still living in his sister’s house in Ward 7.
In the face of such stinging objections, Barry and Lady MacBarry had no choice but to back down and name Katie Shepard, a Ward 8 resident and loyal campaign worker, to the post. Barry can now claim, rightfully, that he saved the city considerable money with this move. Shepard is being paid only a Grade 4 salary, somewhere around $16,400. But she proved in last year’s mayoral campaign that she’ll work hard for Hizzoner, even without pay.
A rumor spread that Walter Masters would claim another well-paying job elsewhere in the administration. But the ever-vigilant Ward 8 crew, which blamed Lady MacBarry and not Hizzoner for the Masters mess, kept close watch over government payrolls. They were prepared to lodge a nepotism complaint if Masters’ name showed up.
Masters next found work on the campaign of Ward 8 council candidate Eydie Whittington. That campaign, you’ll remember, is being managed by Lady MacBarry and funded by Barry’s network. If campaign reports can be believed, Masters is drawing a salary of $100 a week. Should Whittington prevail, Masters can presumably count on a council staff job.
But even that prospect is running into trouble, as opposition against Whittington mounts. Last week, Whittington supporters led by Brenda Jones pressed the Frederick Douglass Center to name Whittington as president of its advisory board before the May 2 special election. Jones is a member of the board, and is regarded as one of Lady McBarry’s ladies-in-waiting. Whittington’s campaign literature claims the candidate is already the board’s president.
But rival candidate Sandy Allen claims the same distinction. Allen is considered the main obstacle to the plans of Whittington, Barry, Lady MacBarry, and Masters. And other board members have sided with Allen against Whittington. The center’s director, Evans Moore, is trying to avoid the dispute altogether. Minutes from the board’s April 14, 1994, meeting state that when the chairmanship was offered to Whittington, then first vice president, she “left the meeting after declining the position.” Allen, second vice president at the time, then accepted the post.
Meanwhile, back to the current drama over the alleged $2,000 check. LL cannot close our first review of this show without mentioning the poor performance turned in by Michael Hodge, chairman of the Washington Business PAC. When the Washington Post asked about the possible payment to Masters, Hodge said he had no intention of looking into allegations that money from his PAC had been used illegally. “My inclination is not to find out why we paid him,” Hodge said, with all the sincerity and integrity of a cornered, exposed businessman.
Last, Barry deserves an award for his brief but brilliant part in the production. On April 6, on WUSA-TV, Barry was asked about Korean businessman Yong Yun‘s denial that he had tried to buy Mouring’s silence with an offer of a job. “I believe him,” Barry said. “He’s been in business 20 years.”
When it comes to deadpan comic delivery, there’s none better than Hizzoner.
TAKEN FOR A RIDE
While D.C. commuters try to cope with cutbacks in bus service and higher fares for some riders, lawyers and the courts continue to haggle over $10.3 million in refunds due bus riders for illegal fare hikes that date back nearly 30 years. This money has already been collected and is sitting in two accounts at NationsBank, formerly Security Bank and Trust—but bus riders have yet to receive a penny of it in any form.
One of these refund cases started back in 1967, when dashiki-clad Marion Barry hadn’t yet been elected to anything and was still brawling with the cops on 14th Street NW. Barry was among those who brought suit over bus fare increases. His compadres included others destined to rise to local political prominence: the late Sammie Abbot, activist and future mayor of Takoma Park, Md.; Willie Hardy, who became the first elected councilmember from Ward 7; and Robert Nash, who became a prominent architect. (Hizzoner’s subsequent deeds are, of course, well known to all.)
The main plaintiff in the case was the D.C. Democratic Central Committee, the ruling arm of the city’s dominant political party. (After home rule arrived in 1974, the organization optimistically changed its name to the Democratic State Committee.) At the time, the city’s transit business was controlled by the privately owned D.C. Transit System Inc., run by the legendary O. Roy Chalk.
LL first wrote about the case back in 1990 (“D.C. Dems’ Cowardice and Greed,”2/9/90), when a $9.2-million settlement was finally reached. But five years later—and 28 years after the case was first filed—another legal battle has flared up over the failure of the court-appointed trustee to distribute any of this money to bus riders. Neither has the District been able to get its hands on the money to help pay its bill to the Metro system, or to prevent the recent hikes in fares for schoolchildren, the elderly, and Anacostia residents.
Last month, in a D.C. Superior Court filing, tenacious attorney Landon “Jack” Dowdey and 25 other plaintiffs decried the delay, charging that trustee Leonard Bebchick steadfastly opposes distribution of these funds. Bebchick continues to collect $250-an-hour legal fees, the lawsuit alleges, and in less than three years, those fees have totaled more than $500,000.
The complaint contends that Bebchick has thwarted efforts to collect money owed bus riders. Dowdey and Hahn previously argued that money from a scheduled 1993 foreclosure sale of Chalk’s $12-million Car Barn property in Georgetown must go to settle the bus riders’ judgment. The property was among those that Chalk used to secure his promise to pay the $9.2-million settlement awarded by the court. According to court records, Chalk and D.C. Transit defaulted on that promise in July 1992.
But Bebchick undercut Dowdey and Hahn’s position by arguing that the bus riders had no legal claim on the 3600 M St. NW property because of a complicated 1988 deal between D.C. Transit and Lutheran Brotherhood, which then held first trust on the land. Dowdey and Hahn argued that the mortgage amounted to illegal “self-dealing” on the part of D.C. Transit and Chalk to shield the property from creditors. But a U.S. District Court ruling in May 1993 said there was no evidence to support such a claim.
Prior to Bebchick’s appointment, Dowdey, Hahn, and company were able to collect $5.6 million owed by D.C. Transit through the foreclosure sale of its Navy Yard properties. That money has now dwindled to $4.2 million, the amount in the NationsBank account as of the end of January. (In addition to Bebchick’s haul, Dowdey and Hahn have each collected more than half a million in legal fees.)
Bebchick declined to comment publicly on the allegations against him in the latest lawsuit in this marathon legal battle.
In July 1992, the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. appointed Bebchick to serve as trustee over the $9.2-million settlement—a move not without merit. Bebchick had served as the attorney on several other lawsuits against Chalk and D.C. Transit, alleging unfair rate hikes. Those suits were settled in the early ’80s, and by 1988, $6.2 million had been collected for reimbursement to bus riders. That money, too, is sitting in an account at NationsBank, with Bebchick as its trustee. Bebchick in the past has opposed using money in these two accounts to help the city meet its obligations to Metro. He claims he wants the refunds to buy something tangible, like bus shelters or more efficient bus routing.
The lawsuit against Bebchick alleges that he illegally maneuvered in 1992 to get himself appointed as trustee of the $9.2-million fund, and to block the expected appointment of Dowdey and Hahn. Three days before Bebchick’s appointment as trustee, Security Trust Co. urged the court to appoint Dowdey and Hahn. Now, attorneys representing Dowdey, Hahn, and the D.C. Democratic Party have alleged in court that Bebchick used his power with Security Trust, bolstered by the $6.2 million deposited there from settlements in his own court cases, to pressure the bank to change its position.
“Right now, we have highly circumstantial evidence that the bank was intending to hire Mr. Hahn and Mr. Dowdey, and that the bank must have changed its mind due to actions on Mr. Bebchick’s part,” said Marya Young, the attorney who filed last month’s lawsuit.
Young said the lawsuit also seeks to force distribution of the money collected so far. “[Bebchick] has not made any proposal. He has not gotten any input from the community on making any proposal for this fund. He has just sat on the money.”
“And it’s not his money,” she added.
LL wishes to make two observations about this case. One: When the courts and the lawyers get tangled in a complex issue, the party that comes out on the short end is usually the one that was wronged in the first place—the bus riders who paid more than they should have been charged. Two: The best job in town is serving as a trustee in such a case. Your income and property holdings are bound to increase, sometimes substantially.