Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Federal law enforcement authorities have begun a preliminary investigation into whether D.C. Council member Marion Barry broke any laws when he awarded a city contract to a former girlfriend and arranged for city grant money to go to nonprofit organizations controlled by people close to him.

The investigation, involving the FBI and Department of Justice, comes on the heels of Mr. Barry’s July 4 arrest by U.S. Park Police, who charged him with misdemeanor stalking. The charge, involving Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, a former girlfriend to whom Mr. Barry awarded city contracts worth $5,000 a month, was later dropped.

The investigation into the contract also led to revelations that Mr. Barry had arranged for as much as $1 million in grant money to go to Ward 8 nonprofit organizations that appear to be run by people who work for him or who have worked on his campaigns.

A federal law enforcement official confirmed the investigation on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.

Asked about the investigation, Barry attorney Frederick D. Cooke Jr. said, “I have not been contacted and I don’t have any comment.”

Brenda Richardson, Mr. Barry’s deputy chief of staff for community engagement, hired attorney A. Scott Bolden after reports that she dealt with several of the nonprofits in question.

Mr. Bolden said Monday that neither he nor his client had been contacted by federal authorities.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District also would not comment on any investigation.

D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles declined to discuss the federal investigation, which first was reported Monday in the Washington Examiner.

“The legalities will play themselves out. I think there is a larger issue here: the perception of the community of what is acceptable in D.C. government,” he said. “What I have said is that I reject the notion that hiring your girlfriend is an accepted practice in D.C. government. From my perspective, it cannot and should not stand, completely aside from the legality. It is what is right.”

The D.C. inspector general also is investigating Mr. Barry’s actions, and the D.C. Council has asked lawyer Robert S. Bennett to conduct an independent investigation into Mr. Barry and the council’s grant and contract process.

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