- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 11, 2013

The District’s ethics board censured and fined D.C. Council member Marion Barry on Thursday for failing to disclose gifts he received from city contractors.

The Board of Ethics and Government Accountability imposed a $13,600 penalty on Mr. Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, for accepting gifts from prohibited sources.

Mr. Barry, 77, acknowledged in financial disclosure forms this year receiving $2,800 from Forney Enterprises Inc. and $4,000 from the owner of F&L Construction. Council members, who are tasked with approving contracts worth more than $1 million, are prohibited from accepting gifts worth more than $20 from businesses with city contracts.

As part of a negotiated settlement between Mr. Barry and the ethics board, the council member will also be required to attend ethics training within six months. He is expected to pay $6,800 of the fine within 14 days and the rest in quarterly installments, which would be due within a year.

Mr. Barry’s office issued a statement late Thursday emphasizing that the council member has “never been accused of stealing government money, accepting kickbacks or misreporting on public disclosure forms.

“My character and integrity remain intact,” Mr. Barry said in the statement. “I’m the one who disclosed this. I reported it on my 2012 Public Financial Disclosure Form. No one had to look under a rock for it. I disclosed it.”

The board was within its authority to fine Mr. Barry up to three times the amount of the gift, or $20,400. But Darrin P. Sobin, director of government ethics, said a fine that doubled the dollar amount Mr. Barry received “sent the appropriate message” that accepting gifts from prohibited sources is not allowed.

According to the board’s report, Mr. Barry said there was “no agreement or understanding” that his votes or actions would be influenced in exchange for the gifts. But the board noted that the companies had business before the city and that Mr. Barry would have participated in discussions about that business and voted on it.

The report says Mr. Barry was required to file a written statement to the council chairman describing the potential conflict of interest and that the chairman would read the statement into the record and excuse Mr. Barry from deliberations or votes involving the companies.

“Mr. Barry neither disclosed to the Council Chairman that he accepted these gifts, provided written statements about the nature of his conflicts of interest, nor recused himself from votes, deliberations, and other actions on the matters before the Council relating to these two companies,” the report states.

The board noted that Forney Enterprises had a $1.8 million construction contract for work at a D.C. elementary school that came to a council vote this year and that F&L Construction had a $3.4 million contract with the Department of Public Works beginning in July 2012. Mr. Barry recused himself from two votes involving modifications to a contract held by F&L Construction during a legislative session Wednesday.

Keith Forney, the owner of Forney Enterprises Inc., has told AP that he gave the money to Mr. Barry, who has a history of financial troubles, to help the council member pay his bills.

The ethics board will not take any further action as long as Mr. Barry complies with the stipulations of the agreement. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment on whether prosecutors would pursue criminal charges as a result of the investigation.

Mr. Barry, a former four-term mayor who spent six months in jail in the 1990s after he was convicted of a misdemeanor cocaine possession charge while in office, was censured by his council colleagues in 2010 after a report said he violated conflict-of-interest rules in handing a contract to a former girlfriend.

The board also announced Thursday that it had resolved a violation involving former D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown, who faced discipline after he “respectfully declined” to file his 2012 financial disclosure statement this year.

The board said Brown, who pleaded guilty last month to accepting $55,000 in bribes and faces a 37-month prison term when he is sentenced in October, was unable to file the forms because of the bribery investigation but that the matter has since been taken care of.

However, in light of Brown’s guilty plea the board voted Thursday to issue a notice of violation against Brown in reference to the bribery charge. For that violation, the former at-large independent will now face a possible $165,000 fine — three times the amount of the bribes he accepted. That sum is in addition to $35,000 he was ordered by the court to pay as part of his plea deal.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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