- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 11, 2013

A three-bedroom Colonial on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast that houses a dozen businesses and received $3.5 million from the District government since 2010 also serves as a home base for a longtime Ward 8 politico with a history of debt and dubious financial dealings with the city, records show.

The house at 3215 MLK Jr. Ave., the site of the nonprofit Congress Heights Community Training & Development Corp., lists Phinis Jones as registered agent. It also is a haven for 12 small and minority-owned for-profit businesses known as Certified Business Enterprises, or CBEs, several of which have ties to Mr. Jones.

And despite personal and business judgments in excess of $155,000 in D.C. and Maryland since 2000, according to court records, Mr. Jones and his various companies, along with other small businesses at that address, have managed $62,000 in contributions to D.C. politicians in the past seven years.

Monica Ray, owner of the house, receives $125,000 a year to run the Congress Heights nonprofit, in addition to roughly $7,200 per month in rent from her CBE “tenants.” She said Mr. Jones operates out of 3200 MLK Jr. Ave., but city records show that Capitol Services Management Inc., a for-profit CBE set up to receive D.C. contracts, is located at 3215 MLK Jr. Ave., with Mr. Jones listed as registered agent.

The Congress Heights nonprofit and the for-profit CBE share goals to promote economic development in a disadvantaged neighborhood. A review of city records shows both firms receive District funding on some of the same projects. D.C. property records also show that the Independent Holding Corp. owns 3200 MLK Jr. Ave., with a business address at 3215 MLK Jr. Avenue with Mr. Jones as its registered agent. That property, as of March 23, owed the city $2,712 in taxes.

Mr. Jones did not return calls. But on a recent visit to 3215 MLK Jr. Ave., Ms. Ray objected to questions about her arrangement with Mr. Jones after an employee of the Congress Heights nonprofit told The Washington Times that the 12 for-profit CBEs listed at the address three of which have ties to Mr. Jones simply rent mailboxes.

Ms. Ray later described the house as an “incubator” where CBEs rent office space for their fledgling businesses. One of the 12 business owners listed at that address told The Times the rent is $600 per month.

For-profit CBEs and the Congress Heights nonprofit are not the only companies that use that business address.

District Development Group and P & M Development Corp. both of which list Mr. Jones as their registered agent call 3215 MLK Jr. Ave. their home. As do firms called 3132 MLK Jr. Avenue Corp. and The Mitchell Company Inc.

A call to the Mitchell Co. was returned by a man who said he was the owner. He hung up at the mention of Mr. Jones. Campaign finance records show the five non-CBEs at that address contributed $24,500 to local campaigns since 2005.

The various groups’ political moves are clearly coordinated. On March 20, 2008, for example, eight entities associated with Mr. Jones and Ms. Ray gave 12 donations to D.C. Council members Yvette M. Alexander and Marion Barry, a process commonly known as “bundling.”

Designed Services Inc., a CBE controlled by Ms. Ray with Mr. Jones as registered agent, also lists 3215 MLK Jr. Ave. as a business address, and gave $5,100 to local politicians since 2006.

Mr. Jones, who has campaigned for Mr. Barry, has been investigated for fraud and breach of contract for allegedly offering ineffective job training services through the Congress Heights nonprofit, according to a 1997 report in Washington City Paper. But he has maintained a complex network of ties to the city over the decades, with his hands in numerous nonprofit and for-profit entities, including the United Black Fund.

In 2007, former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty asked Mr. Jones to do “community outreach” on an initiative to build a soccer stadium at Poplar Point in Ward 8, and to be his Ward 8 campaign coordinator, The Washington Post reported at the time.