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Gray confidante denies allegations of wrongdoing

- The Washington Times - Friday, May 13, 2011

Vincent C. Gray's campaign chairman testified Friday that she did not give payments or the promise a job to a minor mayoral candidate who says he got both those perks to furtively act as a Gray campaign operative last year.

Lorraine A. Green, a former Amtrak executive and Gray confidante who also served as chairman of the mayor's transition team, told the D.C. Committee on Government Operations and the Environment that she remained on the periphery of the process that resulted in Sulaimon Brown's landing a government job.

Mr. Brown has claimed that Ms. Green and another campaign worker, Howard Brooks, paid him to remain in the race in order to attack incumbent Adrian M. Fenty. But Ms. Green said she found Mr. Brown's behavior distasteful and called his request for a job last summer "premature."

Given that, it seemed odd that Mr. Brown was among a batch of employees who received background checks before major Cabinet members were appointed, council member David A. Catania said.

"It does suggest that you had it in your mind already to hire him," said Mr. Catania, at-large independent.

Mr. Gray promised Mr. Brown a job interview, but nothing more, if he ended up winning the election, Ms. Green said.

Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat and committee chairman, still seemed skeptical.

"I find it implausible that all we were talking about in terms of promises to Mr. Brown was an interview," she said.

Mr. Catania said other people who offered strong support to the campaign could not get an interview, yet Mr. Brown got "a rocket docket" and the "friends and family treatment" to secure a $110,000-a-year job at the Department of Healthcare Finance without an interview. Mr. Brown was fired after questions arose about his background and behavior on the job, prompting him to hit back with the accusations against the mayor's campaign staff.

In addition to denying paying Mr. Brown, Ms. Green also said she did not know of any payments he received from Mr. Brooks, who has invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and will not appear before the committee.

His son, Peyton Brooks, was one of several children of well-connected people who received a city job and later resigned. The committee voted to challenge the younger Mr. Brooks' invocation of the Fifth Amendment, because he has not been accused of anything criminal and the privilege does not extend to protecting someone else, namely his father, Mrs. Cheh said.

Ms. Green said she has a "closer personal relationship" with the elder Mr. Brooks and speaks to him almost every day. Through her attorney she declined to discuss conversations she had with Mr. Brooks about Mr. Brown's accusations, citing an ongoing investigation into the matter by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Mrs. Cheh said the question will stand until the federal prosecutor is finished with his investigation.

Members of the committee expressed frustration with the state of their fact-finding mission, saying hours of testimony from four hearings on the mayor's personnel practices did not always ring true and at least one prior witness likely perjured herself.

Mr. Brown, despite his central role, has refused to testify.

The committee voted to ask for a court order that compels Mr. Brown and another reluctant witness, Cherita Whiting, to appear or risk contempt. Their motion must go before the full council on Tuesday before it is forwarded to D.C. Superior Court.

Although a final committee report could be weeks away, Mrs. Cheh said the excepted service — political hires who serve at the will of the mayor — has allowed for "a good deal of mischief."

Mr. Catania noted that during the hiring process "bad judgement was exercised with appalling frequency."

Mrs. Cheh said there seemed to be a "comfortable nest" within the transition team, which included Ms. Green, former interim personnel director Judy Banks and chief of staff Gerri Mason Hall, who was fired in March amid the hiring controversy.

She said Ms. Banks' testimony appeared to be "shot-through" with perjury, considering it conflicted with three other witnesses and a string of emails about the hiring of a Cabinet member's son to D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services.

Ms. Green distanced herself from the controversy, saying she only facilitated background checks with a contracted company.

"I made no hiring decisions, nor did I set or influence the salary of anyone hired into the Gray administration," Ms. Green said.

She said she only screened candidates for suitability and that subject-matter experts, search firms, or investigative firms vetted personnel.

Ms. Green said she encountered Mr. Brown twice last June, first on the phone and then in person. Mr. Brown brought up the prospect of a job for himself and his brother, she said.

According to Ms. Green's testimony, she told him that "was very premature."

"We had a campaign to run," she said, "and that wasn't a discussion I was willing to have at that particular point in time."

Ms. Green testified she told Mr. Brown he was "delusional" after he requested to be deputy mayor for finance at a salary of $185,000 per year.

"That job doesn't exist," she told him, noting Natwar M. Gandhi serves as chief financial officer.

Council Member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, praised Ms. Green's prior work for the District, where she ran the city's Office of Personnel in the early 1990s, and noted it is not unusual for volunteers to obtain jobs under the excepted service.

"Very few people work on a campaign without expecting something," Mr. Barry said.

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