- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2011

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray appointed a campaign supporter and Facebook friend, Cherita Whiting, as a $65,000-a-year “special assistant” in the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) in January after being warned months earlier that she had not disclosed a prior felony conviction when she applied for previous city council employment, according to an e-mail obtained by The Washington Times.

The e-mail’s author, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the subject, confirmed bringing the matter to candidate Gray’s attention because of concerns that undisclosed criminal convictions involving one of Mr. Gray’s most ardent supporters and vocal opponents of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty could harm the campaign.

“Vince was shocked to hear about the convictions, he is going to pull the paperwork from her employment application to confirm that she did not include the felonies,” the Gray supporter wrote in an e-mail to a friend in July. “He was quite upset when I spoke with him about this, like he felt duped by her.”

The source said he warned Mr. Gray so he could avoid controversy, and that Mr. Gray indicated he would address the matter with Ms. Whiting’s employer at the time.

On Tuesday, Council member Phil Mendelson, an at-large Democrat who hired Ms. Whiting earlier last year as an administrative assistant, confirmed that he spoke last summer with Mr. Gray, then the council chairman, about Ms. Whiting’s criminal past, but he declined to elaborate.

Despite being handed a packet of information that purported to document Ms. Whiting’s criminal record, Mr. Mendelson said he never verified the information or spoke with Ms. Whiting about it and never inquired whether she lied on her job application. He could not say whether Mr. Gray inquired further about the application.

“She was already on board,” Mr. Mendelson said. “Most of the people I interview come in with a resume. I did not think about extraneous documents that might have been filed with human resources.”

In January, Ms. Whiting left Mr. Mendelson’s office after Mr. Gray tapped her as a political appointee for the DPR job, where she reports solely to the agency’s chief of staff, John Stokes. The Times has requested copies of Ms. Whiting’s job applications, but Council Secretary Nyasha Smith said the personnel file has been transferred to the Department of Human Resources. The file was transferred a day after The Times first reported on Ms. Whiting.

Human Resources officials have referred all inquiries to Mr. Gray’s office, which has not disclosed the employment applications.

Ms. Whiting confirmed in an interview last month that she did not disclose her most recent felony conviction to her employers, saying, “Those who know, know, and those who didn’t, I felt didn’t need to.”

Neither Mr. Gray nor Ms. Whiting returned calls for this report.

Employment with the D.C. Council or any city agency requires applicants to complete a DC2000 form, which asks, “During the past 10 years have you been: 1) convicted of or forfeited collateral for any felony; or 2) convicted by a court martial?”

Ms. Whiting told The Times she never disclosed a July 3, 2001, guilty plea she entered in federal court in Virginia to wire-fraud charges that stemmed from her diversion of funds from a private company where she worked as a payroll manager. She was sentenced to 22 months in federal prison and was ordered to pay more than $100,000 in restitution, according to federal court records.

In the 1990s, Ms. Whiting was charged multiple times with fraud, forgery, passing bad checks and theft, according to Maryland court records. In 1994, she pleaded guilty to theft, was placed on home detention and probation and was ordered to pay back $50,000 to a homeowners association, the records show. In 2000, she had a $14,000 federal tax lien assessed against her.

The DC2000 form instructs applicants to disclose details of criminal convictions within the previous 10 years and requires applicants to sign the form where it reads: “I understand that a false statement on any part of my application may be grounds for not hiring me, or for firing me after I begin work. I understand that the making of a false statement on this form or materials submitted with this form is punishable by criminal penalties.”

Ms. Whiting’s name surfaced last month when The Times reported on her hiring by the Gray administration in the wake of a bruising campaign in which she played a key role attacking Mr. Fenty and praising Mr. Gray. After the election, she received the political appointment to DPR.

Though neither Mr. Gray nor Ms. Whiting has elaborated on their relationship, Ms. Whiting testified in a police personnel matter last year that she has socialized with Mr. Gray. She referred to him as a friend.

The e-mail’s author, who described himself as a Gray supporter who valued his relationship with the mayor, said he tried to protect Mr. Gray by warning him of Ms. Whiting’s prior felony conviction. The e-mail from the supporter to a friend at the time said Mr. Gray claimed that Ms. Whiting no longer worked for his campaign.

Yet in August, a month after Mr. Gray learned of Ms. Whiting’s criminal record, Ms. Whiting penned an endorsement for him in The Washington Post. Campaign finance records show the Gray campaign made a $2,000 payment to Ms. Whiting on Nov. 16. She was listed as a “consultant,” the records show.

Ms. Whiting’s withering criticism of Mr. Fenty and her public statements in support of Mr. Gray continued for the duration of the campaign.

After the report of Ms. Whiting’s hiring in The Times, articles in The Post exposed the hiring and subsequent firing of another Gray supporter and Fenty basher. Former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown was fired from a special assistant job with the Department of Health Care Finance recently when issues about his past surfaced. He has publicly accused the Gray campaign of making cash payments and promising him a job in exchange for attacking Mr. Fenty during the campaign.

Controversies surrounding Mr. Gray’s campaign and his political hires have since prompted investigations by the campaign finance and inspector general’s offices to be guided by acting D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan.

Gray spokeswoman Linda Wharton-Boyd told The Times in an e-mail last month that the Human Resources Department “conducts criminal background checks on all applicants.” Asked whether Ms. Whiting disclosed her federal felony conviction on her DC2000 form, Ms. Wharton-Boyd said in the e-mail, “a check by DHR of Ms. Whiting’s file indicates that her response to this question was yes.” But she declined to make the document public.

The assertion by the mayor’s top representative is at odds with Ms. Whiting’s account, and calls to a private firm where Ms. Whiting worked prior to joining Mr. Mendelson’s staff indicated she never disclosed her felony record when she applied for that job either.

“Nothing out of the ordinary was disclosed,” said Patrick R. Riccards, a spokesman for the American Institutes for Research, where Ms. Whiting worked as a payroll manager from 2005 to 2010.

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