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Developer Douglas Jemal—-he of the bald head and cowboy boots who we can thank for bringing H&M to the District—-was sentenced today for his recent federal wire-fraud conviction. Prosecutors wanted the judge to send Jemal away for several years. Instead, he got five years of probation. The D.C. developer was acquitted last October on charges of bribery, conspiracy, and tax evasion.
The crowd of sniffling bankers, developers (I saw one wiping his eyes with his tie), and other Jemal friends sent up a huge, whooping cheer of relief when the judge announced his decision. Judge Ricardo Urbina based his lenient sentence on the outpouring of support for Jemal expressed in 200-plus letters written by his friends, family, bankers, developers, politicians, clergy, et al. Urbina said it was “inconceivable to me that I should impose a sentence of” prison time for a man like Jemal, who, he said, had “dedicated the better part of his adult life” to D.C. Missing from the courtroom were the people who don’t love Jemal to pieces, namely, the contractors who say he often refused to pay them. I talked to several of them for last week’s cover story.
In addition to the various strictures of probation—-no guns, submitting a DNA sample—-Jemal will have to fork over a $175,000 fine and implement an ethics and business management plan designed by the accountants at KPMG.
Jemal was humble, if not exactly contrite, when he stood to speak for himself before the judge’s ruling. “I know that I’m not perfect,” he said, struggling to steady his voice. “The hardest thing I had to endure was to put my son on trial.” (Norman Jemal was acquitted of all charges.) Douglas Jemal made reference the prosecution’s insistence that all his acts of charity served monetary ends. “I’ve never helped anyone for a selfish reason,” he said. Earlier, Jemal’s lawyers introduced several witnesses who attested to the developers unending generosity—-a young black businessman who got his start when Jemal gave him a chance, retail tenants who survived hard times because he lowered their rent, a single mom for whom Jemal footed the bill for extra child care.
Jemal played hard to get with reporters but his lawyers Reid Weingarten and Michele Roberts chatted a little outside. Mostly, they were thrilled with the verdict—-even though they’d originally thought the wire fraud charge would be the easiest to beat. Weingarten, who did not love our story but restrained himself from actually throttling me, said his client won’t have any trouble forking over the $175,000.