- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2011

By day, Regina James makes $68,000 a year detecting fraud for the D.C. government. By night, she stood by in a low-level elected position as tens of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds under her watch disappeared in a few months. She trampled on regulations to protect the secrecy of the fund’s expenditures while District authorities did nothing.

And on Tuesday, District officials considered paying out even more cash, as much as $16,000, to replace some of what was lost — without replacing those who oversaw the loss.

In June, the D.C. auditor determined that William Shelton withdrew $30,000 from an Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5B account, spending it on payments for a Lexus and purchases at Bloomingdale’s. Mr. Shelton was chairman of the ANC in Ward 5, one of 37 little-scrutinized boards of elected officials each with budgets in the tens of thousands.

In the few weeks since replacing Mr. Shelton as the top official at the bottom of the city’s political hierarchy, Ms. James has punished colleagues who called for accountability, refused to give elected officials access to records, flouted legal judgments by city agencies, closed meetings to public comment, moved to hire a highly paid staffer and acted so suspiciously that she was evicted from a room in a drug-treatment facility where she had set up an office.

In the process, she illuminated systemic failings in the way that nearly $1 million in public money is expended yearly across a tangle of D.C. agencies, each employing full-time staff devoted to overseeing the commissions.

In the aftermath of the Shelton revelations, internal deliberations reviewed by The Washington Times detail not outrage, but protection.

“Like it or not, Commissioner Shelton is still one of us, and Commissioner Daniels is still one of us. We have all made mistakes. He who is without sin cast the first stone,” Ms. James wrote to colleagues.

The board’s treasurer, Patricia Brown-Daniels, said she had never looked at a bank statement. One commissioner, Vaughn Bennett, called for Ms. Brown-Daniels to be stripped of financial oversight, and the 10-member board quickly fell in line — and voted to strip Mr. Bennett of his position as secretary. At a brief meeting at which no public comment was allowed, Ms. James declined to give any reason for the removal.

D.C. overseers said they exist to support the elected officials, not police them.

The office

There is no indication that ANC 5B has spent money on the community in recent years. Instead, it has purchased high-end BlackBerry service for every part-time, volunteer commissioner, recorded in auditor’s reports as a landline expense. The commission currently owes $8,000 to AT&T.

And it maintained office space inside a Salvation Army facility, where without any discussion or contract drawn up by the commission, Mr. Shelton began paying a friend, Patsy Staten, $25 an hour to answer phones about 25 hours a week. Ms. Staten signed her own timesheets. In repeated calls to the ANC office during those hours, no one ever picked up the phone.

Asked what she did at the office on a typical day, Ms. Staten said: “Twiddle my thumbs.”

Ms. Staten held at least three such jobs simultaneously and regularly mingled their accounts, billing supplies to one account and having them delivered to another, invoices obtained by The Times show.

In one, she worked for Mr. Shelton at a charity called the Young Adults Corporation of Washington, D.C., where Mr. Shelton oversaw $100,000 in D.C. funds intended for troubled children.

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