Why Is Marion Barry Driving a Car Registered to His Crony?
Anyone who carries on personal and political dealings with Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry lives under something of a cloud: Sooner or later, you're going to be interrogated or investigated by authorities. Girlfriend Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, key aide Brenda Richardson, other staffers—they all come in for some prime-time analysis in the report issued earlier this week by attorney Bob Bennett.
The light of scrutiny shines hard on the Rev. Anthony Motley, one of Barry's closest confidants and a 2010 independent candidate for an at-large D.C. Council seat.
Motley's name surfaces in Bennett's report in connection with those various Ward 8 "councils," shorthand for the nonprofits that Barry helped create and to which he steered city funds. Motley told investigators that he launched the groups in order to be Barry's "eyes and ears and legs on the ground."
Besides eyes and ears and legs, Motley's also had a key role regarding Barry's wheels.
Unlike most other councilmembers, Barry's ride doesn't sport special council plates, but rather a plain-old District tag, CU-5768. Marion Barry without vanity tags is a puzzling thing, because if there's one thing the career pol loves, it's the perks of public office.
And if the councilmember drove a car registered in his own name, it's a good bet that he'd have "Ward 8 Councilmember" emblazoned on those red-white-and-blue tags. But his ride, a 1997 Mercedes E320, isn't registered to the councilmember. It's registered to Motley, according to public records available through Lexis-Nexis.
The car has been in Motley's name since May 2007, and Barry has been driving the car at least since June 2008, when it was found inconsiderately parked on Washington City Paper's parking deck. It's regularly parked in front of the John A. Wilson Building—where it was parked yesterday.
So why would Barry drive a car not registered in his name?
Actually, a better question: Why not?
Like tardiness and nasty quips and the press, Barry has trademarked the art of tying his fortune to that of his cronies. To wit, the Bennett report finds that Barry ordered girlfriend Donna Watts-Brighthaupt to give him cash paid to her via a city contract he awarded.
The report doesn't discuss the councilmember's odd automobile arrangement, but it does outline what Motley has received through his association with Barry: He "personally received at least $54,000 from [fiscal 2009] earmark grant recipients"—earmarks all requested by Barry.Motley's ties to Barry go deep. He played a key role in Barry's 2008 council campaign. Last year, he married a member of Barry's council staff. He waited outside a Park Police lockup late into the night of July 4, 2009, waiting for Barry to be released after his stalking arrest. And according to the Bennett Report, Motley's been Barry's "medical attorney in fact" since February 2009—meaning Motley's empowered to make medical decisions for Barry in case he's incapable of making them himself.
However, there's another reason why Barry might not want to have a late-model Mercedes registered in his name. Under the terms of a settlement agreement with federal prosecutors in his long-running federal tax-fraud case, Barry has to fully report his income and spending to authorities on a monthly basis in order to determine how much of his income is seized in order to pay back taxes. If Barry were to include payments on a luxury vehicle, they could demand an adjustment to Barry's repayment schedule.
If prosecutors determine that Barry has been shrouding income—say by driving a car registered in someone else's name—it could lead them to seek yet another contempt finding against Barry.
Motley did not return numerous calls for comment.
LL reached Barry this afternoon and asked him why his car is registered to Motley. His reply: "Goodbye." Dial tone.
The automobile arrangement isn't the only affair raising questions about Motley's fitness for public office. The Bennett Report is rife with instances of bad behavior involving Motley.
When the Ward 8 "councils" were first incorporated, it was Motley who paid for the corporate registration process—by withdrawing money from the Marion Barry Scholarship Fund, money meant for needy kids. Motley told investigators he did so of his own volition, but a Barry aide, according to the report, said it was done under Barry's orders—raising the prospect that Motley was covering for Barry.
As noted above, Barry-directed earmarks were a key source of income for Motley.
Of the $54,000 that Motley received from the "councils," $39,000 reimbursed the Barry associate for serving as executive director of nonprofits named Inner Thoughts and Jobs Coalition.
Motley got another $14,500 through another earmark recipient, a group called the National Association of Former Foster Care Children of America. Motley had no direct connection to the group, but because the NAFFCCA didn't meet the council's minimal rules for receiving earmarked funds, they needed a "fiscal agent"—a third-party group to oversee the group's spending. That group was Inner Thoughts—and the money that the NAFFCCA paid as fees for serving as a fiscal agent went directly into Motley's personal bank account.
Here's what Motley gave by way of explanation: "Rev. Motley said that he believed that the fiscal agent fees received from NAFFCCA were compensation for services he personally provided; therefore, he deposited the funds into his personal account. Rev. Motley said the fee went towards his administrative efforts, and he estimated he spent between four and six hours each month on matters related to NAFFCCA." That works out to at least $202 per hour—not a bad rate.
Investigators also "identified numerous irregularities with regard to the earmark grantees with which Rev. Motley was associated." For one, there's "substantial evidence that Rev. Motley treated earmark funds from all three grantees, including those of the bankrupt NAFFCCA, as one pool of money." That means, for instance, that NAFFCCA earmark checks went into the Inner Thoughts bank account. The funds were then used to pay NAFFCCA expenses to both Jobs Coalition and Inner Thoughts—$48,000 worth. Some of those expenses were paid without the approval of the NAFFCCA board.
The report calls this an "apparent breach of fiduciary duty and self-dealing."
Motley explained to investigators that he thought "Inner Thoughts was entitled to retain grant funds awarded to NAFFCCA so long as Inner Thoughts performed work that was related to the purpose of the NAFFCCA grant."
And here's another gem: "Motley admitted that he manufactured supporting documentation for certain grantee expenses—in some instances, after receiving [the Bennett team's] document subpoena"—including backdated employee timecards and a lease with a fictitious landlord.
In an interview aired yesterday, Motley told WJLA-TV: "These are legitimate entities that were established to provide services to the citizens of Ward 8."