Barry Involved in Suspect Nonprofit Dealings D.C. Council sent $450,000 to nonexistent organizations.

Darrow Montgomery

EDITOR'S NOTE: Washington City Paper has published an extended version of this article, containing additional detail and a response from Marion Barry.

Like all of his colleagues on the D.C. Council, Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry has made ample use of the city's legislative earmarks—grants that politicians can steer toward their favorite nonprofit groups.

Yet few have shown Barry's mastery in funneling those earmark monies to organizations that share his agenda. City records show that Barry has directed nearly $1 million in city funds to six groups under the apparent control of his own staff. What's more striking about the arrangements is how they came about:

  • Barry secured council funding for the groups in June 2008. That was five months before the groups even existed—that is, before they were properly registered with the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA).
  • The corporation documents appear to be marred by highly irregular representations. Two supposed incorporators of multiple organizations say their signatures were forged onto the papers, and one alleged director is a person who doesn't exist.
  • The documents were drawn up by paid Barry staffers and notarized by a close political ally of Barry. The incorporation papers for each group were virtually identical, with only the group names and the names of the incorporators and corporate directors changing. A Barry associate closely oversees the operations of all the groups.

The groups have just the sort of names you'd expect from do-gooder associations: the Ward 8 Education Council [PDF], the Ward 8 Workforce Development Council [PDF], the Ward 8 Health Council [PDF], the Ward 8 Youth Leadership Council [PDF], Clean and Sober [PDF], and Clean and Green [PDF]. They were registered with the city on the same day, Oct. 29, 2008.

Each of them received $75,000—$450,000 total—in District funds.


After revelations that Barry directed $15,000 in council money to former girlfriend Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, the creation and management of the nonprofits raises additional questions about Barry's use of public funds. Under this nonprofit arrangement, he has been able to use the council's earmark allotment to effectively expand his council offices, furthering the reach of his legendary patronage.

Take, for example, how the councilmember approached Sharon Wise, a 20-year friend. They ran into each other last summer at Barry's ward office in Anacostia, where Wise had been volunteering. "He said, 'Could you use a few thousand a month?'" Wise recalls. "I said, 'Sure!'" Barry mentioned that he had "some grants coming through."

Soon enough, Wise had become project director of both Clean and Sober and the Youth Leadership Council, groups with self-explanatory missions for Barry's home turf.

Running two nonprofits was plenty of work for Wise, who has never done any work for the other nonprofits orchestrated by Barry's people. Funny thing, though: Her name and a signature are affixed to incorporation documents for three of those groups. Those signatures don't match her genuine signature.

"That's a forgery," says Wise, referring to the signature that purports to represent her on one group's incorporation papers. [See below for a comparison of the forged signatures.]

Wise says she was unaware she had been listed on the documents until DCRA mailed certified copies to her months later.

Wise also says that a name that appears on the Youth Leadership Council documents is fraudulent: A "Ms. Mercedes Wise" is listed as an incorporator of the group, residing at the same address as Sharon Wise. But there is no Mercedes Wise, she says—the name of her son, who has also done work for the group, is Theodore Mercedez Wesby. He has never used the name "Mercedes Wise."

"That's somebody that don't exist," Wise says. Says Wesby: "I've never signed anything by that name."

Who created the incorporation documents and who collected the signatures?

According to e-mails provided by Wise, paid Barry staffers and a close personal associate were in charge of the process. In an e-mail drafted Feb. 18, Drew Hubbard, Barry's committee director, told Wise that he and Barry aide Essita Holmes drafted the incorporation articles, and that Brenda Richardson was "responsible for gathering the signatures."

In addition, all of the signatures on the incorporation documents were notarized by James Bunn, a close Barry associate and chair of the Ward 8 Business Council, which is another earmark recipient, but not one directly associated with the other groups. Bunn, in an interview, says that "all the people that I notarized—they were there when the papers were signed."

On the question of discrepancies between the signature of Wise on one group to the next: "That's an issue that somebody's going to have to take over. That's the extent that I'm going to comment." And who is Mercedes Wise? "That would be her son."

Pamela Thomas, listed as an incorporator for Clean and Sober, Clean and Green, and the Youth Leadership Council, had no idea she had played such a role until a reporter informed her Friday evening.

The group names rang few bells for Thomas. "I'm kind of puzzled on all this," she says.

But Thomas is a civic-minded type; she says she's regularly participated in community meetings at Barry's ward office. And Thomas says she knows Richardson. "I used to work for her," Thomas says. "She was like the supervisor. I was a volunteer helping them out."

Her signature appears on three forms notarized by Bunn—two of the signatures are similar; the third is different. "I never signed my name or anything like that. I’d remember that," she says. "Someone’s using my name? Oh, my Jesus."

Another irregularity: The Rev. Hattie McDuffie says she joined the board of Clean and Sober "a few months ago." Yet according to DCRA documents, she was one of the founding board members appearing on the October 2008 papers.

McDuffie says there's no doubt who's in charge of Clean and Sober: Richardson. "She's the head of the whole thing," she says.

Richardson's work in setting up the groups has segued into a supervisory role. While she is not currently on the D.C. Council payroll, she is listed on Barry's council Web site as his deputy chief of staff for community engagement. She works out of Barry's ward office, at 2100 Martin Luther King Ave. SE, Suite 307—which is the same address listed on stationery for Clean and Sober and the Youth Leadership Council.

An extensive electronic trail documents Richardson's big foot in the operation of the nonprofits. On Dec. 8, Richardson sent an e-mail to the executive directors of several of the groups, saying that "all reports and other documentation must go through me" before funds are released. On Dec. 17, Richardson writes Wise to tell her that "CM Barry has required all fiscal agents and consultants to attend all monthly meetings that I have scheduled on Fridays." Her micromanagement extended to directing the councils exactly how their funds could be spent. In a Jan. 27 e-mail, Richardson says "[p]ursuant to our recent conversation with CM Barry" that she would order office supplies through Staples and that all catering would be provided by an outfit called Tasty Treats.

Contracts provided by Wise show that she was to be paid $40,000 yearly for leading Clean and Sober and an additional $25,000 to lead the Youth Leadership Council. Then, in November, she says Richardson had some news for her: Darryl Colbert, another Barry associate, would be getting $15,000 from Clean and Sober, and it would be coming out of Wise's end.

Wise said no way. Colbert would later explain in an e-mail that his role was to bring "my experience with substance abuse to the different committees." Whatever that meant to the nonprofits' mission, it meant a reduced salary for Wise: By January, her check had been cut to accommodate payments to Colbert. (Colbert could not be reached for comment.)

Unwilling to just play along with the breach of contract, Wise first appealed to Richardson, who responded, "Well, the councilmember told me to do it." So Wise called the man himself on his cell phone. His message: "If you don't like it, you can resign." A few days later, Richardson sent an e-mail to Wise that read, "The CM shared that you have resigned from both you Councils. He asked you to drop everything off at the office tomorrow."

Wise called Barry and got reinstated.

The whole situation, nonetheless, caused strains in Wise's working relationship with Richardson. She took her concerns to D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, who dispatched his budget director, Eric Goulet, to clean up the mess. (Gray declined to comment.)

Goulet convened a massive meeting that included a number of Barry staffers and loyalists. Wise recorded the meeting on her cell phone—accidentally, she says.

Toward the end of the meeting, Richardson brought up Wise's troubles with Colbert.

To that, Wise said, "Any time you...take $15,000 out of my salary that I have a contract for, hire somebody without my knowledge, and give it to them and say now they're hired, then you should tell them what their assignment is..."

"The councilmember did that," Richardson says, according to the tape recording. "The councilmember did that!"

Goulet reacted immediately: "OK, I'm not hearing that." His deputy, Justin Constantino, chimed in: "I do not want to hear that." The council officials were wincing because it's improper for a councilmember to direct the spending of a nonprofit.

Said Goulet: "We've moved beyond the ideal of how this should work. I'm glad this is not on tape right now...but the councilmember should not be directly making decisions about these grant agreements."

The meeting did nothing for Wise. By late April, she had been fired from both groups under disputed circumstances. Richardson and others allege that she has kept a computer meant for the nonprofits' use; Wise says she's owed more than $10,000 and is keeping the computer toward that balance. On Monday, Wise plans to testify at a council hearing held by Councilmember David A. Catania on nonprofit funding.

How the groups are funded is one thing. Another is: What do they do?

Documentary evidence on that front right now is thin. Since the groups haven't even completed one year of operations, they are months away from having to file disclosure forms with the IRS, which would provide a window on their expenditures and activities.

Nor are the nonprofits' executives much help. Lysandra Lawrence, who is on the board of directors of the Ward 8 Education Council, says, "We have a lot of missions. We have bylaws. We do have a mission and purpose. We have our initial goals to work with parents in the wards and schools." Anthony Motley, on the board of the Workforce Development Council, says, "I know that we are a collaboration of organizations working to identify work opportunities and training for Ward 8 residents. We don't train as far as I know. What we do is work with other organizations to do the training. I know that we've helped hundreds."

Millicent Williams, an official who oversees monies that flow to youth-oriented nonprofits, says the Youth Leadership Council and the Workforce Development Council had to submit extensive documentation before getting funds and that the trust has done "extensive monitoring," including a financial audit of the Youth Leadership Council. "They are, in fact, quite in compliance," she says.

Those words should please defenders of the council's earmark program, which continues to roll the pork barrel out to the District's hinterlands. In the budget year starting this October, Barry-created groups Clean and Green, Clean and Sober, the Youth Leadership Council, and the Education Council each will receive another $75,000; the Workforce Development Council will get $200,000.

In all, the D.C. council has voted to give $950,000 to these groups.

Barry spokesperson Natalie Williams declined to comment on the councilmember's handling of the nonprofits.

Additional reporting by Jason Cherkis and Erik Wemple

A comparison of the forged signatures

Back to story

Our Readers Say

This is not entirely about personalities. Use this opportunity to abolish DC Counsel earmarks. Period. The entire poisonous practice is only about 7 or 8 years old but it is a cesspool.It undercuts legitimate competitive grant programs and bidding processes.
Barry has been a low llife POS for most of his life. I think that the Washington City paper is doing a great job. The Post and the Times have forgotten how to report the news.
If Marion Barry goes down for this it'll be like Al Capone being convicted for tax evasion. When he was Mayor this sort of graft was child's play. He is such an absolute embarrassment for city he needs to go ... quickly. BTW I'm Black !!
Speechless but not surprised.
Goulet and his staff should be investigated for aiding and abetting financial fraud. Isn't he a lawyer? Shouldn't his activities be referred to the DC Bar for investigation?

There should be an immediate criminal investigation. The Council needs to be investigated for how many other shady earmark deals they've been a part of.
Very, very sad. Lot of names I know in this piece; good people who were put in terrible/criminal positions due to one man. Marion Barry needs to go, or at the very least the Council (aka Chairman Gray) needs to strip Barry of all committee memberships, thereby making him unable to wield so much control.
David Catania plans to hold a hearing on Monday? What a joke. Bottom line is every member of the council and each dc agency practices awarding contracts. Anything under a million dollars does not have to be approved by the DC Council. They are called Human Care Agreements. David Catania especially allegedly has used his chairmanship of the Health Committee to do what Barry is alleged to have done. The entire process of awarding and review should be examined fully, because all an agency has to do is award the contract as long as it comes in at $999,000…..
My gut feeling is that this is the tip of the iceberg. My gut tells me that there will be more shadiness and not just by Barry on the DC Council. Way to go, City Paper, the Post has been asleep at the wheel.
I'm sure that there are other members of the council that are making questionable deals with non for profits, developers, and donors to their election campaigns that should be investigated as well as Mr. Barry. Case in point, Kwame Brown made a deal with developer PM Hoffman to lease 16 acres of public property for 99 years at the cost of $ 1 a year. Chris Donnatelli, a personal friend and donor of the Mayor is awarded contracts with the city due to their friendship. Jack Evans wants to spend 72 million tax payer dollars for a hotel for the convention center, which is losing vendors due to a lack of business. We need an independent investigation of the entire council, as I sure this issue with Barry is just the tip of the iceberg.....
This entire administration Fenty, Gray, Graham on down are corrupt; Barry just got caught and exposed everyone, that’s what the apology was all about, i'm so sorry guys for bring the heat on us all. Continue kicking ass and printing names- WCP EXCELLENT JOB…
Way to go Mike D and CP!
Why am I not surprised. This why still read the City Paper after 15 years of living in DC.
Great reporting. There may be additional documents available on these organizations: Tax-exempt organizations must file a Form 1023 with the IRS for recognition of their tax-exempt status. Thus, even before they are required to file the Form 990, there is a Form 1023 on file. They are required to provide the 1023 to anyone who asks for it.
This stuff would make Clay Davis blush!

Nice to see that while the Washington Post re-arranges deck chairs on their sinking ship and whines about technological change, your outfit continues to top notch old fashion investigative journalism. Keep up the good work, WCP!
Great reporting Mike way to scoop the rest of the media City Paper continues to perform top notch investigative journalism, please keep up the good work, it is time to shine the light on these shady deals with Marion Barry and his side kicks, by the way who the hell would give Marion Barry access to almost a million dollars of tax payers money in the first place.
Good job City Paper, If you want to find out whats happening in city government you have to read the City Paper. Voters its time to clean house Barry, Gray etc.
Yes, I am lost for words and yet the DC Councilmembers are finding money to throw to friends/honies of the night. Can we just be honest and rid the system of earmarks this week forever and save the taxpayers some funds for worthwhile causes.
We are being duped and in need of the Federal Control Board once again in DC.
I personally have worked and directed many non profits that recieved earmarks and to my knowledge none of our staff or board members were in bed with any councilmember, but we did do good work. If we didnt recieve the earmarks we never would have survived. Non profits cant make it in DC without a little assistance and these earmarks provide that assistance. Whats needed is more goverance over the process.
This is an absolute continuing disgrace that a convicted non-tax paying citizen and council member, is using the tax dollars of not just DC residents, but of the whole US, as his personal bank account. When such arrogance and mismanagement goes on in third-world countries, our society has been known to refer to this as Despot leadership. Welcome to DC Government.
I smell a RICO charge, Marion call the tailor and see if you can get a new orange jumpsuit for your stay at a Federal prison. This doesn't look good for you.
Wow...unemployment, violent crime, and homelessness are up, but you can never keep good con artists down in DC. I have an idea for a referendum, DC voters:

If your elected officials don't do the job you voted them in office to do, they should refund their salaries--and the salaries of their staffers--to the DC government for their time in office.

You would either have more honest, efficient officials or you would have to drag people kicking and screaming into political office...
Barry is untouchable. He is good enough for DC. White politician get away with corruption and scandal everyday. Let a black man do it and he is vilified and crucified. Leave the man alone and let him do his thang.
Seems like Barry got more than one honey in the stable.
Well I'm not sure the CP should claim forgery because the alleged fake signatures of Sharon Wise are followed by a "/" along with what appears to be initials (MTC?). As most of us know, that is a clear indicator that the signature is applied on BEHALF of someone, usually because the named signator is unavailable. That's my two cents...
Good job, City Paper.
Time to get rid of all fact, and to stop the earmarks already approved but not distributed.
The Washington City Paper is all over this correct liberal disgrace. It is baffling to me that the Post has completely ignored this scandal. Go Wash City Paper!
Mike D., thanks for mentioning the fact that Carol Schwartz was the only council member to vote against watering down the rules. But, it also bears mentioning that she was the only council member to consistently speak out against the practice. She was also the only council member to never put a single earmark in the budget. However, no one listened and now the chickens are coming home to roost.
Or "bares" mentioning.
@Art - Others listened
The problem with getting rid of earmarks is that you're just redirecting that pool of money to the executive agencies for a *supposedly* more rational/ethical/process-oriented distribution. But come on -- you don't think agency directors steer contracts and grants? You don't think the Mayor and his surrogates make the occasional phone call to funnel money in certain directions? Earmarks are shady, yes, but so is most of the DC Govt's procurement and grant-making system. We need a culture shift.
Nice work LL. Time for Barry to get out.

But, this article really doesn't have that much beef. Could've been condensed into a page. I hope you're doing some investigation on how fucked up it is that the Council passed this exception. Why the hell do we need to see a transcript from some meeting about changes in pay? Who cares?

And I would also like to add that $1 million might seem like a lot to us schlubs, but there are really far more shady things going on with developers in this city. You think a guy like Jack Evans is pro business out of the kindness of his heart? Come on. This is really small potatoes.
I would expect such a comment from Ward 8. Crime is crime, no matter who does it. This is the problem with our society, lack of morals. Marion Barry need to go. He is a demigod who has always profitted off the ignorance of his Ward 8 voters. You would think at his advanced age he would be making amends for his transgressions. Marion, hold on to your pride because that's all you will have left before your fall. Oh, and by the way, as an African American, you're an embarrassment for the city of Washington..
Thank you City Paper and keep up the pressure - maybe Gray and Fenty need to stop fighting over Nats tickets long enough to write a Code of Ethics (really?) for the council and abolish such practices wrought with clear fraud and largess.

Calling Barry a disgrace and a joke is like calling me Black...Duh! Wake up Ward 8, we can have real representation without playing into stereotypes.
The minute i saw the name Sharon Wise in this article my first thought was bull shit in some form. It brought me back to my eleventh grade year at Young America Works PCS. Sharon volunteered to oversee the schools Modeling Team and with this position she betrayed us (because of a personal issue with a student) by convincing administration to cancel our show, and making off with the money we raised via bake sales.Not to mention the clothes she told us she'd bought were obviously out of her closet-- they smelled of cigarette smoke. Ms. Wise is such a pathological liar and master deceptionist I am sure there are many holes and/or fabrications from her part concerning this article. And in closing Washington City Paper should have made sure she was clean and sober before even considering her a credible source.
Barry needs to go. He's a crook and has been robbing Ward 8 for years. I can't believe some in my own ward defend this guy.
Clay Davis lives!
I'm not surprise! I personally know of other Council members that, not only awarded no bid contracts, but have influence D.C. Gov't agencies to award contracts to family members. D.C. City Coucil is the epitome of a "friends and family network."
D. Thomas from Young America Works PCS. I believe you are very angry because of what happened with the Modeling club at the school. It is okay if you feel that you were wronged but I know it was Mr. Dukes and Mrs. Williams that shut down the modeling group. I could not help where Mrs. Williams stored the clothing other than a small space in the then warehouse. There is no telling what was stored with it. I do not know who the student is you are referencing that I had a problem with. Remember who called my home repeatedly and who I had to have the police speak with Danielle. Also, the threats you made to me and I still forgive you for that. Go in Peace and try to focus on your education and aspiration.

Love, Ms. Wise
Great reporting! Keep it up and take this crook down. Your reporting reminds me of what the Post did back in the 80's when they had real reporters.
I agree with others, D.C. Ward 8 Councilmember Barry isn't the only corrupt D.C. Councilmember. Fenty, Catania, Kwame Brown all have given contracts to their friends and possible male lovers in Catania's case. This city is in a mess and most D.C. residents feel helpless. Many in Congress is corrupt too, therefore Congress don't need to take over D.C. We are screwed in this city and country as I see it.
Once again Barry out smarts them all! Nearly one million dollars gets passed out to his cronies before any red flags go up. Who's on first, what's on second?
This may be the big one that finally brind Barry down. This could land him in prison for 10-20 years. Or maybe get him re-elected as Mayor!
You guys are pathetic, everyone on the attack now, I guess when you smell blood you go in for the kill huh? Leave Barry alone, until you muster up the balls to go after the other (white) politicians in DC who have been stealing from citizens for years now. Fucking cowards
Community Bullying should be against the law. Every since my story, and it is true, came out, I have received threats and taunted by people in the community.

This will be played out in court not the media.

The least thing CM Barry could do is ask the community to remain peaceful until this is all settled before someone, like me gets hurt physically. I had a woman come up to me and spit at me because I opened this case. I am proud of what I did, and encourage others to stand for what is right.

That does not mean people should say negative things to me or try to hurt me physically because I am standing up. This is not about CM Barry, this is about corruption, lies, fraud, forgery, contempt, disrespect and deceit. ALL OF THOSE THAT HAVE DONE WRONG WILL BE JUDGED BEFORE GOD AND THE COURT, NOT ME.
The man got caught smoking crack with a prositute, right? and the list goes on and on...I am not surprised by the accusations in this article. What surprises me are the native Washingtonians that will "CUT" you for talking bad about that man...and there favorite line is...When Mayor Barry was in office ALL the teenagers had jobs...Sigh!
As the Old saying goes "what goes around comes around"! "What a man sow, so shall a man reap". Folk who are supporting even the appearance of wrong doing by Barry and those involved with him, or anyone else who clearly has done wrong demonstrates what a fool he or she is. It is this kind of foolishness that contiues to vote people in office providing them a venue to practice their trade of corruption. Wake up people.

And for people to threaten Ms. Wise out of shear ignorance, is both a shame and very wrong. Whatever Ms. Wise's issues or short coming might be, regarding Barry we must admit there is a inquestionable record of igorance, dependance, corruption and the like. With that said "wake up people"

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