Thomas Taps Trout to Investigate District Contracts

James Wright | 3/10/2010, 12:27 p.m.

D.C. Council member Harry Thomas secures renowned attorney to look into friends of D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty who have received lucrative government contracts without Council approval.

Fenty€s Friends Awarded Millions without Council Approval

Through one of its members, the District of Columbia City Council has appointed a special counsel to look into whether the awarding of $86 million in city construction contracts involving the Department of Parks and Recreation were given to friends of District Mayor Adrian Fenty illegally.

D.C. Council member Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) announced, Fri., March 5 that the Council asked noted criminal defense lawyer Robert Trout to lead the investigation into whether Banneker Ventures, owned by Omar Karim and Liberty Engineer and Design owner Sinclair Skinner, received the lucrative parks and recreation contracts because of their personal relationship with Fenty and did it violate D.C. law, which requires contracts over $1 million or multi-year contracts to be reviewed by the Council.

"I am pleased that Mr. Trout has agreed to serve as the Special Counsel to the Council in this matter," Thomas said during the press conference. Thomas was flanked by D.C. Council Chair Vincent Gray (D) and D.C. Council members Kwame Brown (D-At-Large) and Michael Brown (I-At-Large).

"I look forward to receiving Mr. Trout's report and recommendation," Thomas said.

Trout is a member of the D.C. firm Trout Cacheris PLLC in Northwest. Trout's most recent publicized case was the defense of former Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) in which the former Congressional Black Caucus member was convicted of bribery on November 13, 2009 and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

Like the recent Bennett investigation and report which led to the censure of D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), the process is pro bono or is donated to the Council for no charge.

The investigation into the contracts started in October 2009 when it was discovered that a number of lucrative contracts to build recreation centers throughout the city were awarded to Banneker Ventures, in association with Regan Associates and Liberty Engineering as a subcontractor through the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and the D.C. Housing Authority. In November and December, hearing were held by Thomas, in his capacity as the chairman of the Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation and attended by D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), chair of the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment and Kwame Brown, who leads the Committee on Economic Development.

Barry attended the hearings as the chairman of the Committee on Housing and Workforce Development but now that role has been passed onto Michael Brown.
Karim and Skinner are represented by A. Scott Bolden, the managing partner of the D.C. office of Reed Smith LLP in Northwest. With the assistance of Bolden, Karim testified before Thomas's special hearing on the D.C. parks matter while Skinner has not done so.

Bolden has argued that Skinner has not been served properly by the Council.

Recently, D.C. Superior Court Judge Stephen Eilperin ordered Skinner to testify before the Council on the D.C. parks contracts controversy on March 24. Skinner faces a $5,000 fine if he does not appear on the 24th and an additional fine of $1,000 per day that he fails to appear without arranging an alternate date.

Efforts to reach Bolden and Skinner were not successful by Informer press time.

The hearings have had dramatic moments in some cases. Thomas appeared upset over Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Valerie Santos's inability to get her subordinates to attend a hearing to answer questions; Barry questioning Santos's ability to testify truthfully and professionally before the Council and Cheh aggressively probing Fenty administration officials in the deputy mayor's office and the D.C. Housing Authority over whether the law was violated and what the administration will do to ensure that it does not happen again.

When Karim testified in December, Bolden and Thomas got into a shouting match over procedures governing the hearing.

Just as the case was with the Bennett report, Thomas wants to know -- through recommendations made by Trout -- if there were violations of D.C. law and if so, should the matter be referred to the U.S. Attorney's Office for review.