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Auditor seeks D.C. inspector general’s probe of Citizens’ Advisory Council chair
Question of the Day
The city auditor has asked the D.C. inspector general to investigate allegations of financial irregularities by the head of the Metropolitan Police Department Fifth District Citizens Advisory Council (5DCAC), who is a political appointee of Mayor Vincent C. Gray and an ally of Ward 5 Democrat Harry Thomas Jr.
Acting D.C. Auditor Yolanda Branche referred the matter to Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby for an investigation last month after reviewing a complaint by former 5DCAC Treasurer Debbie Smith-Steiner, according to an Aug. 1 letter. Ms. Smith-Steiner accused Mr. Brannum of using 5DCAC’s checking account with a debit card in violation of the group’s bylaws and with obstructing efforts to account for the funds, according to the documents.
Mr. Brannum, tapped by the Gray administration for a temporary job with the Office of Veterans Affairs in July, also serves as president of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations and as vice chairman of the Ward 5 Democrats. He currently is running for chairman of the latter group.
A Gray campaign supporter, he is the second Ward 5 political figure and Thomas ally in recent months to have been referred to the inspector general for investigation. In June, William Shelton, chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B, resigned after the D.C. auditor referred allegations that he misappropriated $30,000 to the inspector general and the D.C. attorney general.
Mr. Thomas also was accused earlier this year of diverting some $300,000 in funds intended for youth sports initiatives. In a settlement with the District, he recently agreed to refund the money. A criminal investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office is ongoing.
But while the Team Thomas scandal was a high-profile affair for which Mr. Thomas is being held accountable, the Brannum matter arises from the nebulous world of unregulated advisory councils that possess fundraising ability while undergoing little or no oversight or government scrutiny.
The Brannum matter bears some resemblance to the Team Thomas scandal in that both 5DCAC and Team Thomas held themselves out as tax-exempt charities registered with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) under Section 501(c)(3). However, Team Thomas was exposed as not having attained that status and a search of the IRS website and the nonprofit reporting agency GuideStar’s website yielded no information to confirm 5DCAC as an allowable 501(c)(3) charity.
Asked to comment on her office’s referral of the Brannum matter, Ms. Branch said she is required to refer possible fraud and illegal activities to an outside agency but declined to comment further.
The inspector general did not respond to requests for comment.
5DCAC is a nonprofit group that works with the MPD and the Fifth District police headquarters to implement programs aimed at community involvement in assisting police crime-solving and prevention, according to its website.
In addition to the CAC in each police district, the Chief of Police’s Citizens Advisory Council provides input on matters affecting the entire MPD. The Chief’s CAC consists of the elected chairpersons of each district CAC, as well as at-large members, appointed by the chief, who represent communities of interest in the District.
James D. Berry Jr., chairman of the Chief’s CAC, did not return a call and email requesting comment.
5DCAC also has raised tens of thousands of dollars, Ms. Smith-Steiner said, and lists as “Business Sponsors and Partners” on its website such corporations as BET Networks, Coca-Cola, Comcast, Fort Myer Construction, M.C. Dean, Target and Verizon. Few of those companies would return calls for comment, much less confirm any donations to the group.
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