- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

An advisory neighborhood commissioner was fined the maximum $4,000 yesterday by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics for accepting round-trip airfare from a company seeking a zoning permit in her jurisdiction.

Charging documents state that in June 2002 Commissioner Rhonda Chappelle of ANC 5B accepted coach airfare to Orlando, Fla., from Bannum Inc. to inspect one of its facilities.

In early 2000, the Florida-based Bannum sought a permit from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to put a corrections center in a warehouse in the 2200 block of Adams Place NE.

The D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment upheld an appeal this September by the ANC 5B, which represents some Ward 5 residents, to stop the construction of the halfway house.

Miss Chappelle was ordered by board Director Cecily E. Collier-Montgomery to pay the penalty, saying that accepting the plane ticket violated the District’s Campaign Finance Reform and Conflict of Interest Act of 1974. Miss Chappelle failed to disclose her personal interest with Bannum at public ANC meetings, documents also stated.

Miss Chappelle conceded that she visited Bannum’s Clearwater, Fla., facility and that Bannum paid the air fare, but she denied that it was a gift.

The board decided that the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs improperly certified Bannum’s proposal to house up to 150 ex-offenders in the building.

Board members said plans for the warehouse violated city zoning laws, which prohibit a halfway house with more than 20 ex-offenders in a commercial manufacturing district without zoning approval. The area, near Bladensburg Road and New York Avenue, is zoned for commercial and light manufacturing.

Residents filed suit in June against the D.C. government, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and Bannum to stop the company, which had a contract with the Bureau of Prisons to provide supervised residential programs for ex-offenders.