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A heretofore mystery man in the fishy fire truck affair has spoken: Vladimir Céspedes, mayor of the Dominican Republic city of Sosúa, told reporters today about the caper that has generated a great deal of political heat in this town.
Turns out it’s not just this town. Céspedes, through a translator, tells LL that he has his own political problems: His own city council wants to know what happened to the $11,000 in city money he paid expecting a fire truck and ambulance in return—-not a small amount in a city of 50,000 that has a municipal budget totaling $100,000 per month. There was no written contract, he says, just a receipt from the shipper.
“Not only they, but I want the money back,” Céspedes says.
That money, he says, was paid in cash to Sinclair Skinner, friend and political associate of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, in the expectation that the funds would finance transport of the rigs to Sosúa. Skinner, Céspedes explained, has presented himself as being very close to Fenty.
Skinner and David Jannarone, the mayoral director of development, Céspedes says, visited him in Sosúa “three or four times.” He’d welcome them at city hall, he says.
The trucks made it as far as Miami before political pressure led the Fenty administration to halt the transfer. Céspedes said he felt “very bad” when he heard that the deal blew up. “We need that equipment to save lives in our poor country,” he said.
What Céspedes explains jibes with testimony from Ronald Moten of Peaceoholics, the group serving as a middle man between D.C. and Sosúa. Moten testified in June that Skinner had handed him an $11,000 check drawn on Liberty Industries, a concern owned by Skinner, then had turned around and used those funds to pay for the trucks’ transport. But it was not clear from Moten’s testimony whether the funds were paid by the Dominicans or by the D.C. folks.
His account also aligns with that of William Walker, head of a local nonprofit who has presented himself as the mastermind of the donation. He appeared at the press conference today (on left in photo), saying that he remained hopeful that the transfer could be completed and that cultural exchange between the cities could continue.
Céspedes yesterday evening told his story to D.C. councilmembers investigating the equipment transfer. He is scheduled to speak to an investigator from the Office of the Inspector General this afternoon. Yesterday, Céspedes and Walker visited the city’s property yard in Northeast to view the trucks.
The revelations came after a press conference in the lobby of the Westin hotel off Thomas Circle, which had been organized by good-government advocate Dorothy Brizill. Brizill says she arranged the trip for Céspedes and his translator and counsel, Jorge Espaillat, going so far as working with Eleanor Holmes Norton‘s office to secure visas and soliciting donations for hotel and airfare. Brizill says she paid for their lodging but hopes to be reimbursed from D.C. Council funds meant for witness expenses.
Céspedes wasn’t the only player in this saga to be deposed by councilmembers yesterday. Jannarone sat for questioning, as did Walker.
Skinner has yet to be questioned. Council staff are still negotiating with his attorney, A. Scott Bolden, to set a date and terms.