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Last week, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans released an opinion from the D.C. Council’s general counsel, which gave Evans a pass for not filing a written statement as to why he’d recused himself during votes in the summer of 2009 on public financing for a new convention center hotel. Turns out that pass may have been premature.

Critics of Evans started a website last year calling on him to file a written explanation for his recusals, as is generally required by city law when councilmembers have potential conflicts of interests. At issue was whether Marriott International Inc., which will be operating the hotel once it’s built, was represented by Patton Boggs, the influential lobbying firm that employs Evans. The District has put $272 million in public funds towards the 1,167-room hotel.

Evans said last week that Patton Boggs did not represent Marriott, but that he had recused himself out of an “abundance of caution.” Patton Boggs is a giant firm, and Evans said it would have been his “bad luck” for there to be some previously undiscovered connection between the two firms. With no connection between Marriott and Patton Boggs, the council’s attorney said Evans didn’t need to file a written statement because there was no potential conflict of interest. Evans also told LL last week that there was no connection between the two developers building the hotel, Quadrangle Development and Capstone Development.

Turns out there may have been a potential conflict, after all.

After LL blogged about the general counsel’s opinion last week, he got a copy of a 2009 email from Evans’ office showing there was more to the story. The email says Evans recused himself because Patton Boggs represented ING, which calls itself a “global real estate investment manager.” (The email was presumably written by Evans’ former aide Jeff Coudriet; it was sent from Evans’ council address, but is signed “Jeff.” Coudriet recently passed away.)

When the financing for the deal stalled, and a plan to fund the entire project with public funding went nowhere, the developers turned to ING for help increasing their share of the project’s financing. According to Washington Business Journal, ING’s involvement allowed the developers to increase their investment from $135 million to $320 million.

From a Post report on the deal:

Evans said the prospect of full public financing appears to have motivated the developers into putting up the equity so they could gain more of the profits. “It caused everyone to focus, step up and get it done,” said Evans, who added that he hopes the council will vote on the proposal next month so construction can begin in the fall.

Evans told LL today that Patton Boggs represented ING in the convention center deal, but their involvement doesn’t change anything. “There’s no connection between ING and the city,” says Evans, noting that ING’s connections were with the developers, not the District, and therefore the opinion of the council’s general counsel still applies and no written statement from Evans was necessary.

LL’s no lawyer, but when the city and developers go in on a deal together like the convention center, and Evans has ties to parties on both sides, that seems at the very least like a potential conflict of interest.

But Evans didn’t want to debate the issue: “I’m giving you my statement, and that’s it.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery