- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2011

Documents showing the annual pay of a controversial campaign consultant turned political appointee of Mayor Vincent C. Gray and salary information posted on two D.C. government databases directly contradict information the mayor’s office provided to the D.C. Council last month as part of the 2012 budget process.

Based on documents obtained through a public information request, The Washington Times reported on Thursday that a Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) employee listing given to the council on April 10 said Ward 4 activist Cherita Whiting, a vocal critic of former D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, was being paid $98,000 a year - $123,676 with benefits.

On Friday, in response to a separate records request by The Times, the District’s independent Office of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) released payroll data for Ms. Whiting listing her annual salary at $65,000.

The Gray administration sought a retraction of Thursday’s article but provided no further information and declined to answer written questions submitted by The Times about the discrepancy. Mr. Gray’s representative and a DPR official said only that the $98,000 figure was the salary they had budgeted for Ms. Whiting’s position, but she actually had been paid the lower amount.

They did not respond to requests for pay stubs and offered no explanation for how or why the higher amount had been submitted to the council during its critical budget session, with the city facing a deficit - or how many other salaries were improperly listed.

Council members overseeing DPR were virtually silent on the matter.

Telephone calls and emails to council member Muriel Bowser, who chairs the Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation, were not returned. Likewise, committee member David Catania, at-large independent, did not respond to an email request for comment. Reached by telephone on Friday, council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said, “I don’t know enough about it to be able to say anything.”

When asked how DPR could have submitted in February a “Current Employees” list to the committee as part of a routine oversight hearing showing that Ms. Whiting was being paid $65,000 a year and then two months later say in a “Position Listing” given to the council that she was being paid $98,000, DPR Chief of Staff John Stokes - to whom Ms. Whiting reported directly - said, “I don’t know anything about this. I’m not familiar with two different documents.”

Ms. Whiting joined the Gray administration as a “special assistant” to Mr. Stokes on Jan. 31. She was hired without input from DPR Director Jesus Aguirre, according to council testimony by Mr. Aguirre.

In February, Ms. Whiting told The Times that she failed to disclose a 2001 felony conviction in federal court for wire fraud. Though the administration produced for a council committee a D.C. job application that purports to contradict Ms. Whiting’s statement to The Times, Ms. Whiting acknowledged that she would be leaving her job on April 4 - and she was “terminated with pay” on April 18, according to documents released by Mr. Gray’s office on Thursday.

The Gray administration would not confirm any details about whether Ms. Whiting received any severance pay.

On Friday, Ms. Whiting, who also has multiple fraud charges and a felony conviction from the 1990s, failed to comply with a subpoena to testify at a hearing before the Government Operations Committee chaired by council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, who has been investigating hiring irregularities by the Gray administration. The council is expected to vote Tuesday on whether to go to court to enforce the subpoena.

Though Ms. Cheh and her committee members have largely steered clear of asking questions about Ms. Whiting’s hiring during the prolonged oversight hearings, one of 800 or so emails released this week as part of the probe shows that Mr. Gray has assisted Ms. Whiting in the past.

Mr. Gray played a direct role in getting a council job for Ms. Whiting before she joined his administration, the email shows, and Ms. Whiting communicated directly with Mr. Gray and the chairwoman of his campaign and transition team, Lorraine Green, about a job in the administration.

On Jan. 13, less than two weeks after Mr. Gray was sworn in, Ms. Whiting emailed Mr. Gray’s chief of staff at the time, Gerri Mason Hall, to inquire about her chances of joining the Gray administration. “Vince helped me get my current position when he found out I was laid off,” she wrote.

“I am a worker and I am loyal!” Ms. Whiting added. “I am just trying to get back to my salary as I have expressed to Vince and Lorraine. I love Vince and my only interest is taking care of my son and helping this administration in any way I can.”

At the time of her email, Ms. Whiting was working for Mr. Mendelson. But an email from a friend of Mr. Gray’s six months earlier, as Ms. Whiting was campaigning vigorously for Mr. Gray, indicates that her failure to disclose her felony was brought to Mr. Gray’s attention during the campaign.

“I talked with Vince last night for 30 minutes about Cherita Whiting,” begins the email, dated July 24, 2010. “She is no longer working for Vince, and is now on the staff for Phil Mendelson. I don’t think she was doing a good job helping Vince and they got rid of her. But 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.

“He was quite upset when I spoke with him about this, like he felt duped by her.”

Ms. Whiting received a $2,000 payment from the Gray campaign in November, according to campaign finance records. The Gray administration hired her on Jan. 31. On Friday, Ms. Green testified that she didn’t know who decided to give Ms. Whiting a job, or how she was vetted.

“Cherita wasnt on my radar,” Ms. Green testified. “I didnt know that she was going to have a job.”

Earlier in her testimony, Ms. Green said she was “diligent on background investigations on people I knew about.”

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