Marion Barry Received Gifts From 2 D.C. Contractors

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Council Member Marion Barry (credit: TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Council Member Marion Barry (credit: TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON — D.C. Councilmember Marion Barry has reported receiving thousands of dollars in gifts from two construction firms that do business with the city, and the owner of one of the firms said Thursday he gave Barry the money to pay his bills because the former mayor was in a “tight crunch.”

On his recent financial disclosure forms, Barry reported receiving a $4,000 gift from F&L Construction and a $2,800 gift from Forney Enterprises Inc. The disclosure of the gifts was first reported by The Washington Post on its website.

The council’s code of conduct prohibits members from accepting gifts worth more than $20 from entities that do business with the city. The council has approval authority for city contracts worth more than $1 million.

Both firms have worked on various projects for the city, including modernizing schools.

Barry told The Post that the forms speak for themselves. Although he characterized the gifts as “loans,” they are referred to on the forms as gifts. He said he listed them at the recommendation of his attorney, Frederick Cooke, who declined to comment.

Reached by The Associated Press on his cellphone Thursday afternoon, Barry said “goodbye” and hung up. His spokeswoman declined to comment.

Barry, a 77-year-old Democrat, served as mayor of the District of Columbia from 1979-1991 and again from 1995-1999. In between his third and fourth terms, he served 6 months in federal prison after he was videotaped smoking crack in an FBI sting.

He has represented Ward 8 on the council since 2005 and was reelected last fall. In 2010, he was censured by the council for helping a former girlfriend get a $15,000 city contract.

Keith Forney, the owner of Forney Enterprises, told the AP on Thursday that Barry approached him in early 2012 and asked him for help paying his bills. Forney said the $2,800 was a gift, and he did not expect to be paid back.

“He might have just dropped a hint or whatever. I don’t remember the exact conversation,” Forney said.

Forney said neither he nor his company received anything in return for the gift to Barry. He said all the city business his company has received has come through competitive bidding, and he described council approval of large contracts as a rubber stamp.

He said he was eager to help Barry because of the former mayor’s longstanding advocacy for local, black-owned businesses.

“He had a couple things due, he had a tight crunch, and we just helped him out,” Forney said. “He doesn’t do anything for us in particular, but he’s a good man, and he’d just come on hard times. I get no benefit out of it directly or indirectly.”

F&L Construction owner Freddie Winston did not respond to a message left at his office.

Councilmembers make $125,000 a year, but Barry has made no secret of his lack of personal wealth. The IRS has filed several liens against him for failure to pay income taxes.

The district’s Board of Ethics and Government Accountability would investigate any potential ethics violations. Darrin Sobin, the board’s director of government ethics, said Thursday he could not confirm whether the board has launched an investigation because such probes are confidential at the outset.

Councilmembers who violate the code of conduct face penalties ranging from an informal admonition to fines of up to three times the amount of an unlawful gift of contribution.

The council approved two contract modifications this week that benefited Forney Enterprises, both for work on schools in Barry’s ward. Barry did not vote for or against the contracts, instead voting “present.” He declined to explain his vote.

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(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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