- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A Florida company facing new legal setbacks in its bid to keep open a halfway house for felons in Ward 5 has retained the services of an influential D.C. government lobbyist.

Bannum Inc. during the past year has paid Kerry S. Pearson $65,000 to lobby D.C. officials. Mr. Pearson is a prominent local political fundraiser and runs Kerry S. Pearson LLC.

Bannum’s new lobbying push comes as it faces increasing difficulty in its efforts to continue operating a halfway house at 2210 Adams Place NE under a federal Bureau of Prisons contract.

Last week, the D.C. Court of Appeals denied Bannum’s attempt to overturn a city zoning decision against the company, which could require the halfway house to close within months.

The company also came under criticism last year when a D.C. Office of Campaign Finance investigation found that Bannum gave two local advisory neighborhood commissioners free trips to Florida.

Neither Mr. Pearson nor officials from Bannum’s Florida headquarters returned phone calls yesterday. A woman who answered the phone at the halfway house declined to comment for this article yesterday.

Donald Temple, an attorney for neighborhood residents opposing Bannum, said yesterday he was surprised by the amount of money Bannum has spent on lobbying.

“I think it’s shocking,” Mr. Temple said. “I knew he was doing some work for them, but I didn’t know it was $65,000 in work.”

Bannum has numerous contracts to operate halfway houses in several states, but its D.C.-based facility has proved troublesome. The facility has sparked community opposition, zoning challenges and D.C. Superior and federal court lawsuits.

The D.C. Court of Appeals rejected Bannum’s argument that it had properly applied for and received permits from the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs in 2002 and 2003.

Bannum had argued to reverse an earlier zoning board decision, saying officials failed to properly interpret city regulations in revoking its building permits.

But the appeals court stated in a 28-page opinion that it was “unpersuaded by any of Bannum’s arguments.”

Mr. Temple said D.C. Superior and federal court cases involving the Bannum facility remain active. But he said the appeals court decision bodes well for community groups trying to shut down the facility.

“This is a place that is clearly zoned illegally,” he said.

In federal court documents, Bannum officials have argued that the zoning decision against the company was “patently erroneous.”

The company said it benefits the community by “placing deserving felons in a correctional environment during the last 10 percent of their sentences so that they may productively re-enter D.C. society.”

Mr. Pearson’s lobbying-disclosure report states only that his firm provides “general government affairs consulting” for Bannum. It also reports he has had contact with numerous city officials on behalf of the company, including several D.C. Council members.

Over the years, Mr. Pearson has been a major donor for D.C. elected officials.

Since 2003, Kerry S. Pearson LLC has given $7,000 to city politicians, and individually Mr. Pearson has given more than $6,000, campaign-finance filings show.

In addition, A-1 Construction and Consulting LLC, which Mr. Pearson also runs, has given at least $12,000 to D.C. political campaigns, campaign-finance reports indicate.

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