- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2012

He was the District’s top-earning lobbyist in 2010, with clients such as Wal-Mart, Anheuser-Busch and the Hotel Association of Washington. Paid up to $300,000 a year by a nonprofit that operates group homes for the developmentally disabled, his for-profit parking company co-owns “dozens of large-scale development projects” in the District.

And he lives in a $1.3 million house on a hill in a leafy part of Northwest, where he parks his Bentley, Range Rover and Mercedes.

But to hear renowned lobbyist and power broker David W. Wilmot tell it, he’s staring at a glass ceiling when competing in the free enterprise system he so thoroughly embraces.

“My personal net worth does not exceed $750,000. I am economically disadvantaged because my ability to compete has been impaired due to diminished capital and credit opportunities as compared to others,” Mr. Wilmot has declared for years “under penalty of perjury.” He received Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) certification to win multimillion-dollar parking contracts with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

Now a pair of reform bills before the D.C. Council’s Committee on Small and Local Business Development and the questionable certification of one of his proteges, a local vendor on the D.C. Lottery contract, have elevated the issue of how the District manages minority contracts, a pursuit perfected by the man some call “King David.”

“A good many people take advantage of the system,” said D.C. Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent and the author of one bill that would require 50 percent D.C. resident hiring in order to get contract procurement preference points and would tighten inspections of companies claiming disadvantaged status.

“The system has been used to privilege the old guard to receive contracts to the exclusion of others who could use a leg up,” he said. “We need to establish time limits and income limits. It isn’t intended to be perpetual training wheels.”

The D.C. Department of Small and Local Business Development oversees efforts “to extend the city’s economic prosperity to local business owners, their employees and the communities they serve.” But not all council members — or even businessmen — agree on how to do that.

“It doesn’t matter how successful you are,” countered council member Michael A. Brown, an at-large independent who led the recent failed effort to bring online poker to D.C. through the lottery, and who had a fundraiser hosted for him at Mr. Wilmot’s house this year. “You’ve got to look at the legal definition.”

Historically disadvantaged

Ward 8 Democrat Marion Barry, a longtime friend and client of Mr. Wilmot, says procurement preferences belong to any businessman associated with a group that has “historically been discriminated against.”

Mr. Barry says Mr. Wilmot fits into the class of historically disadvantaged businessmen because he is black. “It’s not based on income,” Mr. Barry said. “It’s easier to get a car loan than a business loan right now. Plus, the banks are run by white men, and it’s a well-known fact that we don’t have access to capital.”

Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown would not comment directly on Mr. Wilmot’s status as a disadvantaged businessman. “It’s a national debate,” he said, “and the standards are always changing. Mr. Wilmot has been around for a long time. He brings a certain level of sophistication and expertise. But I don’t know what his net worth is.”

When pressed, Mr. Brown offered: “You can’t say you are disadvantaged and not be.”

Florida-based businessman R. Donahue Peebles, a wealthy developer with a multibillion-dollar portfolio of luxury hotels and high-rise properties in the District, Las Vegas and Miami Beach who recently criticized the District’s “entrenched political community,” said he considers Mr. Wilmot a friend. But, Mr. Peebles said, “I do not consider him disadvantaged. Nor do I consider myself disadvantaged.”

Of local or minority business contracting in general, Mr. Peebles said the idea is to afford opportunities to those who are hindered from competing in their areas of expertise.

“That doesn’t mean an accountant gets to run a hospital, or a developer gets to run a tech company in the health care field,” he said.

“Minority business requirements sound good,” Mr. Peebles said. “But they too often end up being a gift to politically connected people. A victory at the election box becomes a victory for a connected friend.”

Some council members ducked The Washington Times’ questions about minority contracting or Mr. Wilmot this week, as the council convened at the Washington Convention Center for its annual retreat.

Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat who also had a fundraiser held for her at Mr. Wilmot’s house this year, refused to stop to answer a reporter’s questions.

Ward 7 Democrat Yvette M. Alexander, who receives fundraising support from Mr. Wilmot and has been represented by him in two separate ethics challenges in the past year, didn’t answer calls, emails or text messages seeking her input.

Old guard/new guard

The issue of local — or minority — contractors has faced new public scrutiny after controversy involving the D.C. Lottery. Although Mr. Wilmot has denied any “role or interest” in the lottery, numerous factors suggest he is far from disinterested.

Sources familiar with the matter say Mr. Wilmot surfaced as an interested party in 2008, when he escorted prominent local businessmen Robert Washington and Robert Johnson to see Ward 2 Democrat Jack Evans, chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, which oversees the lottery, as the contract went out for bid for the first time in decades.

An internal memo obtained by The Times that was distributed among advisers to Greek gaming firm Intralot, which along with a local partner won the 2008 lottery contract, shows the firm was convinced that Mr. Wilmot also was working behind the scenes trying to “influence” city officials to rebid the contract because of objections to Intralot’s local partner.

Among the Intralot team’s theories at the time, the memo states, is that Mr. Wilmot succeeded in brokering a deal calling for the rebid of the lottery contract. Then, after Intralot won a second lottery procurement, the firm was told that the council would not approve their contract without a new local minority partner.

The message was delivered by Mr. Barry, and the local firm Intralot selected, Veterans Services Corp. (VSC), was founded by Maryland businessman Emmanuel S. Bailey.

While it is unclear if Mr. Wilmot has any business agreements with Mr. Bailey, they are friends, occasional golf partners and frequent political contributors who often favor the same candidates and appear to employ similar business strategies.

Mr. Wilmot, when he is not lobbying for Fortune 500 companies or representing D.C. officials facing ethics challenges, pursues parking contracts and development deals as a disadvantaged local businessman with little staff, no parking lot license and no real business address other than his home or a sub-basement office in a residential condominium.

Mr. Bailey, who, according to the D.C. inspector general, had no lottery experience, operated out of his mother’s home in Southeast, and was appended to the deal after the lottery had been competitively awarded, pursues construction, high-tech and cleaning contracts subject to set-aside requirements at the federal and local levels — that is, when he is not controlling a 51 percent share of Intralot’s lottery contract.

Mr. Wilmot did not return calls or emails for this article. Mr. Bailey answered a call from The Times but promptly hung up.

Should not have been certified

VSC bills itself as a “professional services consulting and professional staff augmentation company that serves government and private sector clients” — though the inspector general found it should not have been certified as a local firm and misrepresented its experience on its website in 2010.

VSC derives “disadvantaged” status from the fact that Mr. Bailey’s father, Vernon, the firm’s chief executive officer, served in the U.S. Marines, though it is unclear what role if any, Vernon Bailey plays in the firm’s lottery operation. Although the firm appears to have come out of nowhere, it also appears to have Mr. Wilmot’s blessing.

Mr. Wilmot’s most prominent fundraising activities of late have tended to benefit three council members installed in key lottery oversight positions.

In the past year, he has hosted in his home or co-hosted fundraisers for Ms. Bowser, Michael A. Brown and Mr. Evans — all members of the finance committee — with Mr. Bailey attending at least one of the events and contributing to all three of the politicians, along with his friends, companies and family members.

Though the finance committee recently advanced a bill to repeal online gambling, it was in the face of Mr. Wilmot’s fundraising efforts. Yet Mr. Evans also confirmed that he heard from Mr. Wilmot on the eve of the full council vote.

“Not in a lobbying sense but in a passing sense,” he said, adding that Mr. Wilmot was simply counting votes.