Removal of committee chairmanship also recommended for accepting cash gifts

WASHINGTON — A special D.C. Council committee recommended Monday that Councilmember Marion Barry be censured and stripped of his committee chairmanship for accepting $6,800 in cash from two city contractors.

The committee also voted Monday that Barry should be barred from chairing another committee for the rest of the council period, which runs through the end of next year. Barry chairs the Committee on Workforce and Community Affairs.

The recommendations now go to the full council for a vote Tuesday. Nine of the council’s 13 members must vote in favor of the censure for it to be implemented.

Barry admitted that he took $4,000 in cash from the owner of one construction company and $2,800 from another. Both firms do business with the city. He told the committee that he considered the cash personal gifts from friends at a time when he needed help paying his bills. He has already been censured and fined $13,600 by the city’s ethics board.

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 District of Columbia 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, and he is now serving his third consecutive term representing the poorest of the city’s wards on the council.

The committee said in its report that it found no evidence that Barry took any action on behalf of the two contractors in exchange for the gifts. However, he did not recuse himself as required from matters involving the companies that came before the council.

Barry, a 77-year-old Democrat, declined to comment through a spokeswoman. After he was disciplined by the ethics board, he said his “character and integrity remain intact.”

“The recommendations are appropriate sanctions given the behavior of Councilmember Barry,” said Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, a former prosecutor who chaired the five-person committee.

If a censure were to be approved by the council, it would be Barry’s second such sanction in less than four years. In March 2010, all 12 of his colleagues voted to censure him and strip him of his committee chairmanship for helping a former girlfriend get a $15,000 city contract.

“The Committee finds it compelling that now twice in his service on the Council, Councilmember Barry’s actions have promoted his personal gain at the expense of the public trust,” the committee report reads.

McDuffie said the committee considered recommending expulsion from the council, but he said Barry’s forthrightness was a mitigating factor.

“Councilmember Barry admitted that he violated the rules,” McDuffie said. “He cooperated fully with the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability investigation as well as the ad hoc committee’s inquiry. We interviewed Councilmember Barry. He came in and spoke to us.”

This spring, Barry reported a $2,800 gift from Forney Enterprises Inc. and a $4,000 gift from F&L Construction Inc. under the “prohibited gifts” section of his annual financial disclosure statement. The owner of Forney Enterprises, Keith Forney, told The Associated Press that he gave Barry the money in early 2012 after the councilmember approached him and asked for help with his bills.

F&L Construction owner Freddie Winston has not commented on the matter and did not cooperate with the committee’s inquiry, but his attorney has said Winston disputes the value of the gift that Barry reported.

Barry told the committee that he has asked for money from other personal friends but that he did not disclose the gifts because they were not prohibited under council rules. The committee found no need to investigate the prospect that Barry received prohibited gifts from other people.

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. Forney told the committee that Barry mentioned the IRS lien during their conversation about his financial struggles.

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


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