Gray campaign worker got job despite felony past

Mayor’s office remains mum on details of her employment

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With Congress probing D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s newly elected administration about accusations it paid cash and promised a job to a mayoral candidate who bashed incumbent Adrian M. Fenty, and with the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI evaluating similar complaints, one District employee who also campaigned for Mr. Gray and received a city job has become somewhat of a mystery.

Cherita Whiting, a “special assistant” at the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), told The Washington Times last month that despite holding previous positions as an advisory neighborhood commissioner, administrative assistant to D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson and applying for numerous other D.C. government jobs, she never disclosed a 2001 felony conviction for wire fraud on her job applications.

On Thursday, Department of Human Resources (DHR) Director Judy Banks testified before a D.C. Council committee that her agency recently forwarded recommendations to Mr. Gray to terminate two employees for failing to disclose felonies within 10 years of their job applications, as the District requires. Later in the day, The Washington Examiner reported that Ms. Banks characterized Ms. Whiting’s placement at DPR as a mistake.

On Friday, DHR general counsel Erica McKinley told The Times, “No employee was mentioned by name at yesterday’s hearing.” Asked to clarify Ms. Banks’ remarks and to provide more information about the employees who her agency recommended for termination, Ms. McKinley said, “DHR has no comment.”

Gray administration spokesperson Doxie McCoy added: “Recommendations of terminations are personnel actions on which I cannot comment.”

Ms. Whiting’s Jan. 31 hiring first surfaced in February, when The Times learned of her criminal record. In addition to her 2001 federal wire fraud conviction, Ms. Whiting has multiple felony charges from the 1990s and a 1994 conviction for theft. Since that time, she has been ordered to pay more than $150,000 as restitution for her crimes.

After being released from federal prison in 2003, according to the Bureau of Prisons, Ms. Whiting served on myriad boards and commissions and became a vocal Gray supporter who criticized Mr. Fenty relentlessly beginning in 2007, when he took over the school system. She refers to Mr. Gray and Police Chief Cathy Lanier as friends, and her special assistant job places her in frequent contact with police and schools officials on sensitive matters.

Chief Lanier has denied any knowledge of Ms. Whiting’s convictions or that she even knew Ms. Whiting had secured a job at DPR that involved contact with assistant chiefs of police.

When reached at her office Thursday evening, Ms. Whiting declined to comment on her job status and referred questions to the mayor's office.

Earlier this month, an email surfaced showing that Mr. Gray was informed of Ms. Whiting’s felony conviction last July, and was upset to hear that she may not have disclosed it on her job application. His campaign paid her $2,000 in November as a “consultant.” In January, his administration appointed her to the DPR post.

Mr. Mendelson, her previous employer, said he was first informed of Ms. Whiting’s criminal past in July, and he confirmed talking with Mr. Gray about it. Mr. Mendelson said he never inquired whether Ms. Whiting lied on her job application, and D.C. Council’s general counsel, John Hoellen, said the personnel file had been transferred to DHR.

DHR has declined thus far to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request for redacted copies of Ms. Whiting’s various job applications. On Friday, the mayor's office said it is “not in a position to provide any documents” that relate to Ms. Whiting’s council job applications.

However, a Gray administration official told The Times recently that a DHR check of Ms. Whiting’s personnel file showed she checked yes on her most recent job application where it asks about felony convictions.

That statement is at odds with Ms. Whiting, who said in an in-person interview in February about her federal prison stint that resulted from her 2001 conviction: “Those who know, know, and those who didn’t, I felt didn’t need to.”

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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