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Three members of the D.C. Council were not amused to learn this weekend that the city had settled with Banneker Ventures, the construction firm owned by Mayor Adrian Fenty’s fraternity brother that is at the heart of a current investigation into alleged shady contracting practices.
The Post’s Nikita Stewart won the weekend with the big scoop that the District had agreed to pay Banneker, which is owned by Fenty buddy Omar Karim, $550,000 out of an original $2.3 million contract to renovate and build new parks and rec centers. The council canceled the contracts last year, amid an uproar that Fenty had bypassed them to give business to his fraternity brothers.
An outside investigator hired by the council to look into the contracts is set to release his findings shortly.
Attorney General Peter Nickles told the Post the city agreed to the settlement because Banneker “had threatened to sue” the architects and engineer subcontractors over “intellectual property” issues having to do with blueprints and designs.
Naturally, the fact that the outside investigation was imminent had nothing to do with the timing. Nickles tells Loose Lips the settlement was the result of months of work by a “team of experts” to try and get the city out of a legal mess the council had created when it killed the contracts.
But Councilmembers Phil Mendelson, Mary Cheh, and Harry Thomas Jr. said the settlement doesn’t pass the smell test and told Nickles in a letter Tuesday that his actions may be “motivated by something other than the best interests of the District of Columbia.”
“The decision to pay this vendor prior to the conclusion of an investigation, prior to all the facts being known, for contracts that were not properly approved, and for work that may have been overcharged, is contrary to your duty to place the interests of the District of Columbia paramount to all else,” the councilmembers wrote.
Cheh told LL the timing of the settlement was “quite peculiar,” given that she’d introduced legislation last Tuesday that would have prevented any payments while the matter was still under investigation.
Nickles had no time for such suggestions, calling them politically motivated “baloney” or “spanakopita.” (It’s a Greek spinach pie; don’t ask.) And if it makes any difference to the councilmembers, Nickles says he didn’t tell Fenty about the settlement either.