A familiar name in D.C. political circles was missing from a D.C. Council committee hearing Wednesday to address concerns about a contract to salvage the money-losing, city-owned United Medical Center.
But the prospect of the involvement of Reuben O. Charles II, a key fundraiser and transition team leader to Mayor Vincent C. Gray, has competitors wary and officials acting defensively.
The hospital contract controversy centers around complaints that winning bidder Huron Healthcare was allowed to change partners after discovering its original subcontractor did not comply with small-business certification requirements.
Yet reports that Mr. Charles could be involved with the contract is a new source of anxiety for many — including Mr. Charles.
"I'm not involved here, I don't want my name passed around," he told The Washington Times, which reported on the concerns that led to Wednesday's council hearing. "Come on dude, what are you trying to do? Jesus."
However, Mr. Charles confirmed being contacted during the procurement process by a consultant named Ed Wertzberger, who was helping Huron locate a local firm to cure defects in its proposal. He said he recommended Compass Solutions, which is run by Anthony Onyewuchi, a friend with whom he has done business in the past.
Mr. Charles would not disclose the nature of those dealings, but he repeatedly referred to Mr. Onyewuchi by his first name and at times appeared to be speaking for him. Mr. Charles added that he later had discussions with Mr. Onyewuchi about potential project management work if Huron and Compass won the contract, which they did.
"There's nothing wrong with that," he said. "I've worked with Anthony before. But I don't want to be connected. I didn't say I intended to go after any piece of the work."
Mr. Onyewuchi referred questions to his attorney, John Quinn, who denied knowing anything about Mr. Charles and said there is nothing wrong with the contract award.
Mr. Charles also has had past dealings with Department of Health Care Finance Director Wayne Turnage, who Mr. Gray's office said has "driven" the hospital contract process.
Emails from early in the Gray administration, reported by The Washington Post, showed campaign leaders and top staff instructing Mr. Turnage to hire certain job candidates. "Reuben has the details," one Gray staffer wrote to another. After being told that one candidate was a "top priority appointment" for the mayor, Mr. Turnage replied, "On it," according to the news report.
Mr. Charles said he considers Mr. Turnage a "friend," but Mr. Turnage distanced himself both from the hospital contract process and from Mr. Charles, describing him as one of many "agents of providers who come to see me." Yet Mr. Turnage appeared sensitive to the appearance created by Mr. Charles' involvement in the hospital contract.
"He has not contacted me on UMC," he said. "I hear what people say, but I don't want to speculate," he added, declining to discuss details.
Mr. Charles has kept a low profile since Mr. Gray's 2010 campaign for mayor, but his name has surfaced frequently in connection with the multiple and overlapping investigations.
According to a report in The Washington Post last year, Mr. Charles brokered a 2010 meeting that helped convince Mr. Gray to have prolific political donor Jeffrey E. Thompson bankroll his campaign. And, according to Mr. Turnage, Mr. Charles in the past would call to set up meetings on behalf of Mr. Thompson's former firm, Chartered Healthcare.
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