Scandal continues to plague Washington's Mayor Barry. FBI probe results in new charges of corruption in letting contracts

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

New evidence of corruption in the contracting process of the District of Columbia government has again put the heat on Washington Mayor Marion Barry Jr. Now in his third term, the capital city's mayor has been beset by scandals in his administration since shortly after taking office. Federal investigators are looking into what Mayor Barry terms a ``few'' contracts out of ``the thousands the city government lets each year.''

United States Attorney Joseph E. diGenova has confirmed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted a 17-month undercover operation into the city's contracting process. But he declines to be more specific. Mr. diGenova says the investigation was helped ``immeasurably'' by some concerned, civic-minded contractors.

The US attorney said that a Washington, D.C., ``contracting firm'' contacted his office, alleging that an attempt had been made to extort from them payoffs to middlemen, and possibly government officials, in return for awarding of two ``multimillion-dollar contracts.''

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According to Mayor Barry, the contracts in question were for two energy audits - one of $24,000 for an audit at the Forest Haven institution for the mentally disabled, and an $108,000 contract for an audit at St. Elizabeth's mental hospital.

``We are merely custodian of the documents being sought by the US attorney's office, and we are fully cooperating to the extent of making these documents available,'' the mayor says. ``I am concerned that the recent news stories about the federal investigation of contracts mistakenly gives the impression that the entire district government is under investigation, and not a few individuals or companies.''

According to reports in the Washington Post, a 17-month FBI ``sting'' operation produced evidence that a top adviser of Barry, David E. Rivers, received gifts in return for help in obtaining contracts. Mr. Rivers, who could not be reached for comment, is the former head of the district's Department of Human Services.

The Post also reported that federal prosecutors are examining whether convicted cocaine dealer Karen K. Johnson was paid off by city contractors not to talk in a probe three years ago of drug use by city officials. In a Monitor interview last year Barry attributed some of his government's troubles to the inexperience of blacks in positions of power. ``I'm not giving excuses, but rather reasons,'' he said. ``We didn't grow up around a lot of people who were managers - with briefcases, and titles by their names. There were no opportunities for us.''

Although the local Washington government is charged with most of the responsibilities of a state or municipality, Congress retains final approval over its budget and veto power over its legislation.

Barry says, ``No specific charges have been placed. This is only an investigation. I would like to caution the public not to jump to any conclusions about these matters. The investigation is narrow in scope.''

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