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Here’s a novel idea: Maybe three of the most prominent lawyers in D.C. politics shouldn’t be in charge of group homes that care for the developmentally disabled.

That modest suggestion comes after LL learned of the latest sad chapter in the story of Individual Development Inc., a non-profit whose board includes super lobbyist David Wilmot as president and chairman; longtime Marion Barry attorney Fred Cooke Jr. as vice-president; and A. Scott Bolden, the attorney who represents various friends of Still Mayor Adrian Fenty when they get crosswise with the D.C. Council, as secretary and treasurer.

IDI’s latest round of trouble includes $241,089.60 in fines for 10 violations of a settlement agreement with the city to improve services, as well as a federal complaint that alleges the unfair firing of an employee who was trying to start a union. (The non-profit, according to published accounts and the most recently available tax records, receives roughly $14 million a year in Medicaid funding to run 11 group homes and look after about 75 developmentally disabled patients.)

That IDI is in hot water again probably shouldn’t be a surprise. Mental health advocates have been asking the city for years to take action against IDI’s homes. Last year, Attorney General Peter Nickles finally did, suing IDI and citing “systematic” problems with how the nonprofit was caring for the city’s most vulnerable citizens.

Nickles originally sought to have two of IDI’s homes placed in receivership, then settled with IDI after they promised to make improvements.

But IDI has not lived up to all of its part of the bargain, according to an independent monitor. According to a letter from Nickles to Wilmot, the monitor reported 25 separate violations of the settlement in March, but said that IDI was making “substantial” improvements in its care. Based on that opinion, the city decided not to impose a fine at that time. But in September, the monitor reported 10 more violations, which led to the hefty fines. (The letter does not detail what the specific violations are.)

IDI appealed the fine, to no avail. In his letter, Nickles wrote that the “recurring violations” at IDI were “disconcerting.”

Wilmot did not return calls for comment for this story, Cooke declined to comment, and Bolden has a long-standing practice of refusing to speak with LL.

Adding to IDI’s problems: 150 or so employees of IDI voted to unionize last month, against Wilmot’s wishes.

Avril Smith, a spokeswoman for the Service Employees International Union, says IDI’s employees voted to join SEIU’s Local 500 because IDI pays its lower-level employees poorly and its management is deaf to its workers concerns. Smith says many IDI employees can barely live off the low wages, and some have to rely on Medicaid for their own health care needs. The average salary for IDI employees is $31,826 a year, according to a city report.

The low pay might explain why IDI doesn’t attract the best workers. Two former employees have been found guilty of criminal abuse of a vulnerable adult in the last three years. One hit a client; another dragged a client across the floor.

IDI active treatment specialist Gerard Bradley says most employees are conscientious and enjoy being able to help the disabled. But he says his hourly rate of $10 an hour, $11 on weekends, hasn’t changed in the three years since he started. He says employees are treated like children by management—which is to say they’re mostly ignored until they start acting up.

The SEIU filed a grievance with National Labor Relations Board on behalf of a former IDI shift supervisor, Toni Odoms, saying IDI “discriminated and retaliated” against Odoms for her pro-union activity.

Odoms was fired this summer, she says, because she used a work van for “personal use” against company rules. The problem, Odoms says, is that everyone used the work van for personal use, like going to buy lunch, and IDI was only looking for a pretext to fire her because management got wind that she was working with the union.

“That’s the only thing I can come up with, I mean really,” she says. (IDI’s CEO did not return LL’s call for comment.)

Before the union vote, Wilmot sent a letter to employees telling them it would be a mistake to vote to unionize.

“All of your wages, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment are subject to the uncertain process of collective bargaining with the union,” Wilmot wrote. “While of course we would bargain in good faith, I can tell you that IDI cannot and would not agree to anything that is not in the best interest of our business, our employees, and our residents.”

Odoms also complained to LL about IDI’s low pay for lower-level workers. She says that whenever workers approached management about raises, “they said they didn’t have any money.”

IDI may not have enough money to boost the weekly take-home salaries of its grunts, but it does have enough to give “excessive” pay to Wilmot and IDI’s chief executive officer, Ronald Raghunandan, according to a report from the city’s Office of Inspector General.

This summer, an IG report found that Wilmot’s $261,000 2008 salary was about $80,000 over industry standards. Wilmot’s more current salary data isn’t known, but tax records unearthed by a previous LL show that Wilmot’s annual IDI pay has gone as high $346,743, which he earned in 2003.

Sandy Bernstein of University Legal Services, a nonprofit that advocates for the mentally disabled, says Wilmot’s salary wouldn’t be such a big issue if IDI’s clients were receiving excellent care. “The people aren’t getting the gold-star treatment, but [Wilmot] is getting the gold-star salary,” she says.

(In his letter to employees warning them against unionizing, Wilmot had the chutzpah to warn of the “sky-high salaries of union officials, including the president of the SEIU Local 500, who has been paid over $100,000 per year, and the senior officials of the SEIU, including the International President who was been paid over $300,000 per year.”)

The IG’s report also raised the question of whether Wilmot’s pay wasn’t breaking city regulations, which say Wilmot’s salary was acceptable as long as Wilmot documents his time performing managerial duties for IDI. “Not only did the IDI president not personally prepare or certify his time, but during the time that our audit team was on-site at the IDI officers, the president’s Chief Executive/Financial Officer appeared to perform the day-to-day management of the company,” the report said.

How much time Wilmot actually spends running IDI was a matter of some debate last year, when IDI was in the news after Nickles’ lawsuit. Tax records and previous stories indicate that Wilmot’s hours at IDI varied from five hours a week (in 2001 when he made $105,000) to 75 hours a week (in 2006 when he made $290,000.) The most recent tax filing puts Wilmot’s hours at 40 a week.

But Wilmot’s work as one of the city’s best-paid local lobbyist makes it hard to believe Wilmot’s giving IDI eight hours a day, 5 days a week.

For the first half of this year, lobbyist disclosure records show that Wilmot has been paid $203,250 from seven different corporations or organizations, including a monthly retainer of $13,125 from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Wilmot’s making the big bucks, presumably because he’s got valuable connections to the city’s elected officials. The type of connections, according to Wilmot himself, that take a lot of work.

“People just don’t realize we live and work in this place,” Wilmot told the Washington Business Journal’s Michael Neibauer in an interview this summer at the Wilson Building. “These relationships are built from working these halls. Part of it is just picking up intelligence. People ask, ‘Why are you here? It’s because you’re here.’”

Bradley and Odoms say Wilmot has virtually nothing to do with running the company. “He’s involved in the money, other than that, he’s not involved at all,” Bradley says.

In addition to the salary issues, the IG reported that IDI couldn’t provide supporting documentation for $48,000 in payments to its board members. The IG also noted that D.C. code prohibits non-profits from making loans to its directors or officers. But IDI has done exactly that. As a former LL noted last year, Wilmot took out a $300,000 loan from IDI in 2001, around the time of his costly divorce. Bolden received a $55,000 loan a year later. By the end of 2008, the IG report says, the loans were still outstanding. Wilmot and Bolden told The Washington Post last year that the loans were being repaid.

In a written response to the IG’s audit, Wilmot says the IG’s method for determining the industry standard for executive pay was wrong, and notes that his salary was the lowest of five group home providers IG said paid excessive executive salaries. Wilmot has also said that his high pay is fair given that he worked without salary for several years when he took over IDI’s bankrupt predecessor.

Wilmot also addressed the IG’s contention that the personal loans may have been illegal, saying the city law cited was outmoded and “does not contemplate” nonprofits like IDI, which receive all their funding from collecting fees for providing services. As for the $48,000 payments to board members, “IDI believes it can support the deliverables,” Wilmot wrote.

Wilmot’s letter does not address the questions raised about how much time he actually spends at IDI.

Perhaps the bigger question is how much time the next attorney general will spend going after IDI. Wilmot hosted a fundraiser for Almost Mayor Vincent Gray during the mayoral campaign, and the Post reported that Wilmot is something of a political adviser to the next mayor.

IDI’s latest troubles make that relationship somewhat complicated, for two pesky reasons: For one thing, Gray spent much of his non-profit career advocating for the developmentally disabled. For another, he won the election thanks in no small part to support from unions. When LL asked the mayor-elect about IDI, Gray said he was “not close enough to know the details.” He said the bottom line for him will be making sure the city’s disabled get the best care possible.

And Gray also quibbled with the description of Wilmot as a political adviser. “He’s somebody I respect for the work he’s done in the city,” Gray told LL, but added that Wilmot is more of a long-time acquaintance who didn’t have any active role in the campaign.

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Photo by Darrow Montgomery