- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 20, 2010

An investigation by the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) that “exonerated” Council Chairman and mayoral contender Vincent C. Gray in his use of a mega-developer to repair his home was based on a misrepresentation by the developer’s attorneys and a questionable timeline of events, records show.

An extensive review by The Washington Times of the OCF investigative file shows the agency accepted a series of invoices and payments, plus a written statement by the developer’s attorneys, that are contradicted by telephone records and documented conversations.

Meantime, Mr. Gray, who skirted D.C. building laws for months, racked up $1,800 in fines before applying for a permit on Monday for a fence and retaining wall that a separate company built around his Southeast home in 2008, city officials said.

On April 7, OCF ruled there was “no evidence to suggest that [Gray‘s] official actions would be influenced by” services and repairs performed last summer at his home by WCS Construction, a firm owned by major city developer W. Christopher Smith Jr., a friend and associate of Mr. Gray for 15 years.

The OCF investigation, prompted by Mr. Gray’s public statements after The Times exposed the repairs in November, focused on whether he paid market rate for the company’s services, according to the OCF report and attached documents.

The Times reported on Nov. 18 that Mr. Smith’s firm oversaw repairs at Mr. Gray’s $667,000 home in the Hillcrest area. The firm also oversaw a proposed $89,000 home renovation plan that included a tankless water heater, a marble-walled bathroom and a Jacuzzi, documents show. The renovation, sketched out by an architect in July and August, never transpired.

Mr. Gray denied receiving any favors or that there was any quid pro quo for his council votes approving developments run by WCS‘ affiliated company, William C. Smith Co. His attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., told investigators that “none of the services provided by Smith were provided with any understanding that those services would affect Mr. Gray’s official action, vote or judgment in any way.”

Mr. Gray did not receive any financial gain from Smith. Mr. Gray paid market rate for services provided to him by Smith,” Mr. Cooke wrote to investigators on Dec. 8.

Likewise, WCS insisted that it billed Mr. Gray “consistent with [the company’s] billing practices on other projects,” according to the firm’s attorney, Caroline Petro Gately.

She wrote that WCS was unaware that anyone was questioning the repairs until The Times’ story was published Nov. 18.

“Before that date, my client was unaware of any allegation that Chairman Gray’s use of WCS’s services was improper,” she said.

But telephone records, calls and notes of conversations contradict that statement. On Nov. 4, The Times called William C. Smith Co.’s project manager, Erik C. Johnson, to ask about the company’s work for Mr. Gray, telephone records show. The Times called Mr. Johnson after multiple sources said they heard him brag about the company helping Mr. Gray renovate his home.

The next day, The Times also called company Vice President Bradley J. Fennell, records show. In both cases, voice messages were left that described the nature of the inquiry. According to telephone records, from Nov. 4 to Nov. 17, The Times either called, left voice messages for Mr. Johnson and Mr. Fennell, sent text messages, or talked on the telephone to Mr. Johnson a total of 31 times.

Though he confirmed his company had done work for Mr. Gray, Mr. Johnson declined to offer specifics. But during a call by Mr. Johnson to a reporter on Nov. 10, he could be heard telling a company representative about the Times’ inquiries. According to notes of the call, he said the newspaper was “looking for an angle.”

A week before the story ran, William C. Smith Co. spokeswoman Carol Chatham left a message for a reporter that insisted The Times go through her to confirm information for the then-pending story.

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