“No one in our office would have insight into that,” Mr. Sousa said at the time, noting that the deputy mayor was not involved with the project until earlier this year.
Deron Lehman, chief operating officer for the Department of Real Estate Services, which previously administered the lease, was more blunt: “No one here knows the history on that property,” he said. “There’s no documentation of the business developments at that site.”
When first asked how much rent the District collected from the Bennett Group during the first decade of its two-decade control of the property, Mr. Lehman replied, “That’s a good question.”
The deputy mayor’s office later confirmed that since 1990, the District has collected about $5.5 million in ground rent and a “possessory interest tax” enacted in 2000 as a means of raising revenue on otherwise tax-exempt commercial property.
In the meantime, the Bennett Group received more than $5 million in parking-lot rent in the past decade alone - collecting unspecified amounts of tax-free rent from the U.S. Government Printing Office for much of the 1990s.
Now D.C. officials are preparing to make way for a sublease to Wal-Mart, possibly for as long as 30 years. Officials say that depending on the modifications to the ground lease, a new arrangement could require approval of the D.C. Council.
“I believe the Bennett Group got the property during the Anthony Williams administration,” Mr. Wells said of the Marion Barry-era land disposition. “Someone told me a federal agency was moving in there but it fell through.”
Asked of Mr. Wilmot’s role, Mr. Wells said, “I have held four meetings with council offices where Wal-Mart is coming in and I’ve never seen him attend. I’m generally very aware of him, though. I generally don’t deal with Mr. Wilmot.”