WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — D.C. Councilmember Marion Barry was censured and fined $13,600 by the city’s ethics board on Thursday for accepting cash gifts from two city contractors.
As part of a negotiated settlement with the ethics board, the former four-term mayor admitted that he violated the council’s code of conduct when he took a total of $6,800 from two construction companies that have done business with the city.
The owner of one of the companies, Keith Forney, has said he gave Barry the money in early 2012 after the councilmember approached him and asked for help paying his bills.
It was the latest example of questionable behavior by the colorful politician who was infamously videotaped smoking crack cocaine in an FBI sting operation in 1990, during his third term as mayor. Barry was convicted of a misdemeanor cocaine possession charge and served six months in federal prison. He was later elected to a fourth term.
Barry, a 77-year-old Democrat, returned to the council in 2005, representing the poorest of the city’s eight wards. In 2010, he was censured by the council for helping a former girlfriend get a $15,000 city contract.
The IRS has filed several liens against Barry for failure to pay income taxes. He makes $125,000 a year as a councilmember.
This spring, Barry reported a $2,800 gift from Forney’s firm, Forney Enterprises Inc., and a $4,000 gift from F&L Construction Inc. under the “prohibited gifts” section of his annual financial disclosure statement. Both companies have received contracts from the District of Columbia government worth more than $1 million.
The city’s Board of Ethics and Government Accountability said it found no evidence that Barry did anything on the companies’ behalf in exchange for the gifts. But he did not report them to the council chairman as required or recuse himself from votes involving the companies, according to the settlement.
The settlement signed by Barry this week and finalized Thursday concludes the board’s investigation into the matter. In agreeing to the settlement, Barry waived his right to a hearing.
Under D.C. Council rules, the censure by the ethics board triggers creation of an ad hoc committee that will investigate the matter and recommend possible punishment to the full council. The options for punishments include reprimand, censure and expulsion. The committee could also recommend no punishment.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said he would appoint members to a committee Friday. He declined to comment on the substance of the violations or what, if any, sanction Barry should face.
Barry initially declined to comment when reached by The Associated Press. He later issued a statement calling the settlement fair and saying he intended to follow all laws.
“During my 30-plus years in office, I have never been accused of stealing government money, accepting kickbacks or misreporting on public disclosure forms. My character and integrity remain intact,” Barry said.
About the gifts, Barry said: “I’m the one who disclosed this. … No one had to look under a rock for it.”
In addition to the censure and the fine, which represents twice the amount of the gifts Barry received, the board ordered Barry to undergo ethics training and not to engage in similar conduct in the future. He agreed to pay half of the fine within 14 days and the remainder in four quarterly installments.
After Barry disclosed the gifts, Forney told the AP that he did not hesitate to help the councilmember pay his bills, citing Barry’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 has not commented on the gift, but his attorney, A. Scott Bolden, said in a statement Thursday that Winston disputed the value of the gift that Barry reported.
F&L Construction, Bolden said, “disputes these gift figures and any substantial involvement in the entire affair.” Bolden added that the ethics board never interviewed his client, who considers the matter closed.
Barry’s attorney, Frederick Cooke, declined to comment on Winston’s characterization of the gift.