Loose Lips

Certified Disaster

Sinclair Skinner and the Trout Report

Pick a scandal that involves District taxpayers getting screwed, and there’s a healthy chance you’ll find some form of abuse of the Certified Business Enterprise program.

The District, like many jurisdictions, has a well-intentioned and very politically popular law that gives certified small, local, and disadvantaged businesses (known as CBEs) preferential treatment when bidding on city contracts. The justification for the program, according to District code, is threefold: “(1) stimulate and expand the local District of Columbia tax base; (2) increase the number of viable opportunities for District residents; and (3) extend economic prosperity to local business owners, their employees, and the communities they serve.”

In plain English, the CBE program gives minority-owned small businesses in the District opportunities to get off the ground that they might not find in the private sector. But the local CBE program always seems to be in the news for the wrong reasons.

Last year, an independent investigation found that CBEs that won contracts with the city’s technology office “often do little more than find applicants to fill open jobs...and often win awards despite bidding up to 12 percent higher than other vendors,” the Washington Business Journal reported.

Trips to the archives show plenty of problems with bigger, non-minority contractors teaming up with minority contractors to win bids, only to stiff their partners once the contracts are signed. The messy fight over the District’s lottery contract was largely between connected CBEs and their political allies. The prevailing view among cynical long-time political watchers is that the CBE program lets a fortunate few, especially those with connections, enrich themselves at the city’s expense. Any time there’s a chance for a company to get preferential treatment from the city, after all, there’s a chance for someone to help out their friends.

The latest example: The D.C. Council’s investigation into whether former Mayor Adrian Fenty steered millions of dollars worth of park construction contracts to his fraternity brothers. The investigation, led by attorney Robert Trout (which is why everyone calls it the Trout report) found that Fenty, himself, did nothing wrong.

But the report was not so kind to Fenty’s fraternity brothers, Omar Karim and Sinclair Skinner. Trout recommends that the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which could grant immunity to reluctant witnesses, investigate, among other things, whether Karim and Skinner engaged in an illegal pay-to-play scheme.

Trout hasn’t been shy about saying he thinks Skinner, possibly with Karim’s help, ripped off taxpayers for more than $500,000 by adding an unnecessary and expensive layer of management to the contracting process.

And how did they get into position to commit said alleged rip-off? The CBE program.

The Trout report details how established Virginia-based developers, Sean and Thomas Regan, were looking to pair with a CBE to boost their chances of winning District construction contracts. The Regans “considered a number of different [CBE] firms, including firms on the D.C. Public Schools facilities division approved contractor list,” the report says. But they wound up with a CBE that wasn’t on that list, Karim’s Banneker Ventures, at the suggestion of Fenty’s former development director, David Jannarone. Jannarone has a long friendship with both Fenty and Skinner, who he’s gone on trips with to Brazil and the Dominican Republic.

When the Regans met with Karim, they said he told them he was a fraternity brother of the mayor, which the Regans “acknowledged that as businesspeople” was a relationship that “can’t hurt.” (Jannaroe and Karim had fuzzy memories of the meetings; Karim denied ever pimping his relationship with Fenty. The Trout report said the Regans’ “clear recollection” was more believable.)

The report says city officials wouldn’t have chosen Banneker for the contracts had it not teamed with the Regans. That’s not to say Karim wasn’t qualified, but the whole episode, particularly Jannarone’s involvement, shows how the CBE program can be used.

The report says Jannarone even helped Karim prepare a budget spreadsheet for the bid on the park contracts. “You modified them per our conversation? You had edits to make, the ones you sent at 4pm didn’t work. Come on dude, we talked about this,” Jannarone lamented in one email to Karim. Jannarone’s agency, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, awarded Banneker a contract for $148,800 more than what Karim requested. Neither Karim nor Jannarone responded to requests for comment.

Banneker, once it won the contracts, used the CBE program to help steer business to Skinner’s firm, Liberty Engineering and Design.

In summer 2009, Banneker put out requests for two bids: one for architectural work, and one for engineering work. On the architectural request, Banneker wrote that it “strongly encourages” that bidding design teams have a minimum 33 percent “CBE participation.” But in the request for engineering bids, Banneker wrote that the winning bid “requires” 51 percent “CBE participation.” City officials told investigators that Karim’s CBE requirement was unusual, and the Trout report concluded that Banneker’s “singular emphasis on CBE participation” helped give the impression that Banneker prepared a request that was “tailor-made” for Skinner’s firm.

Karim denies that—but you already know Skinner’s firm wound up winning the contract over three more established engineering firms. Why? Because its bid “addressed the CBE participation that we required,” Karim told investigators. “Since none of the other firms that responded to the [bid request] included any CBE participation, according to Karim, LEAD was the only contractor that was responsive.” (Trout found LEAD only met “few of the limited set of other criteria set out in” the Banneker request for bids.)

In case that’s not clear, Karim apparently used the CBE program to make sure Skinner’s firm won engineering bids for the park contracts, even though its qualifications were questionable. Skinner’s firm wound up billing close to $1 million for its work on the contracts.

Once it had those contracts, Skinner’s firm farmed the work out to firms that were actually capable of doing it, while charging “grossly inflated” rates that wound up ripping off taxpayers by about $540,000, according to Trout. Here’s but one example: LEAD paid two subcontractors $11,800 to do surveying on the Kenilworth Recreation Center project. It then billed Banneker $48,500. And Banneker added a 9 percent markup, worth $4,365, which it passed on to the city. America, what a country!

And Skinner contracted out to firms that weren’t CBEs—or even based in D.C.

So, according to the Trout report, Skinner used the District’s CBE program to get city contracts, farmed the work out to companies outside the District, then got rich inflating the price of their work. Again, LL has to ask, is this a great country, or what?

Of course Skinner doesn’t see it this way. Ever since the report came out exonerating Fenty, he’s been on a victory lap attacking the Gray administration (including in The Washington Post) and asserting that he’s been “vindicated.” Skinner tells LL the report’s findings (save for the part clearing Fenty, naturally) are suspect, because they stem from a two-year smear campaign against the former mayor.

“We did not misuse the program. What we did was make the CBE work in the best interest in the District,” says Skinner. “The quality of the work speaks for itself.”

Got a tip for LL? Send suggestions to lips@washingtoncitypaper.com. Or call (202) 650-6951, 24 hours a day.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • seDCdude

    GRACE JONES ain't shit, nappy headed AUNT JEMMIMA!

    Skinner, you and Fenty have set back BROTHAS in this city 100 years with absolutely nothing to show for it but your convertible Porsche on the taxpayer's dime!

    Hate to chime in on a brotha's roast, but you dudes had no conscious or regard for minorities in this city except for your frat brothers!!! You got big cahoonas showing face here....give that $$ back slim!

  • D

    Let's hope that Mr. Skinner is a better engineer than he is a writer because his butchering of the English language is atrocious. He and his firm should have been barred from receiving any government contracts solely based on his inability to speak and write English. Seriously, this city cannot find anybody better than the likes of Mr. Skinner?

  • Rick Mangus

    This guy is such a crook if he shook hands with you, you better check to see that all your fingers are still there!

  • GetASoul

    Why do we have so much time to tear each other down? Do any of you have a conscious? Get God in your hearts and lives and stop looking to pull down others. May God forgive such evil, vain talk. Indeed we should be ashamed for the turn these comments have taken. Remember, all of you, even if you don't think you are accountable behind the computer screen for what you say, you will ALWAYS be accountable to GOD. Get a soul! Go pray and focus on your own lives and uplifting family and society and stop this sinful gossip.

  • Southeast Ken

    @GetASoul; what have you been smoking, crack? What ever happened to freedom of speech in the United States? Should people remain silent and not speak what's on their minds? Did the people in Yemen, Eygpt, and Libya remain silent? Although I might not agree with what other say or share their opinions, but one of the freedoms in this country is being able to speak what's on your mind. Dam, liberals and left wing nuts want to censor our speech. Political correctness is not good.

  • Southeast Ken

    @Grace Jones; shit the man is ugly as hell. You don't have to be gay or straight to realize a person is not attractive. The guy in the photo look as if he's never put water on his body and took an interest in his personal grooming. This is not a black, white, Albino, Latino, gay, straight, Indian, Jewish, Muslim issue. Everybody should want to take pride in keeping themselves personally groomed.

  • Southeast Ken

    I am sick of hearing about Sinclair Skinner, Adrian Fenty, Kwame Brown, S. Brown, Vincent Gray, and Michelle Rhee. Let it go City Paper and move on to something else. The country is in turmoil and we could be a target by terrorist due to what's going on in Libya and other Middle Eastern countries.

    On another issue, Miss Catania, yes I used Miss because he wants to be a woman. Miss Catania is not supporting S. Biddle for the DC At-Large Council seat. This is a joke. Perhaps Miss Catania have been reading the comments on the City Paper in reference to her being a redneck racists.

  • Southeast Ken

    Correction:

    Miss Catania is now supporting and have endorsed S. Biddle for the At-Large City Council seat. What a joke! I am not voting for any of these clowns period. I will write in the name Marcus Garvey.

  • GetASoul

    And I guess moral correctness isn't good either, huh? God will judge all of our speech, including mine! Let us all be careful what we say. We will reap what we sow. Freedom of speech is fine, but it shouldn't be reduced to sinful banter that hurts people. You can't compare this tasteless gossip to the civil injustices in the Middle East.

    No smoking crack, just praising God. You should join me. May God forgive and bless you all my friends.

    I'll be moving on, spreading the message of God to other posts now. Stay prayerful and don't forget that we could all be one moment away from our own tsunami....Let us live and behave better than this.

  • Southeast Ken

    I.J. where do you think blacks learned about God? It was the white slave masters that taught Christianity to black African slaves. Africans had their own beliefs back in the motherland and it wasn't the God you now worship. People have a right to their beliefs. In Cuba, the black slaves worshiped the Yorùbá religion. Catholicism was forced on black slaves in Cuba. The Cuban black slaves hide their African Gods and intertwined them in with the Catholic Saints and practiced their religion secretly. Today the religion is known as Santeria. Don't knock Grace Jones and others for their religious beliefs. Gezz!!!!

  • Rake

    "Certified Disaster" is also an apt name for what these comments have become. Whoa.

  • Really

    Southeast Ken...I feel you. Allen doesn't even link to the interesting stuff at housing complex.

    Second...you did you see Today in D.C. History: MLK Delivers Final D.C. Address at Nat’l Cathedral?

    Great speech..

  • Rick Mangus

    'GetASoul', why wait for God to judge you, that's why man has Judeo-Christian laws based on God's Commandments for which was sent down to govern man on Earth!

  • sinclair skinner

    time out! this entire episode reminds me of samuel l jackson's character in "do the right thing." can we show a little more agape love and agree to disagree. furthermore, i will agree to return any money as soon as turner, forrester, clarke and any other out of town company gives the money they made back. my projects were on budget and on schedule we would have had several renovated and new rec centers so that the childeren could play and learn instead of more politics as usual.

  • http://citypaper Tony

    I.J, Grace Jones can only understand drivel. Does she smoke dope?

  • LOL

    Could Janerome help the company complete documents for the bid they were submitting? Is that legal?

  • Lovelace

    I think the Trout report says they can't PROVE that Fenty's camp did anything wrong, but given the number of people who got selective amnesia during the investigation, it can't be ruled out.

    The CBE program needs to be monitored like any other, and any source making funding and contracting decisions based on CBE participation should monitor the actual participation, but this particular problem seems to be about cronyism, not the CBE program.

    As an aside, perhaps there should be a cap on the total # of points any particular CBE can add to bids within a 2 year period. The primary contractor would have to prove that no other CBE could do the same work in order to use that CBE AND get the points after the CBE has maxed out. Might it encourage primary countractors to spread the wealth? Would have to decide whether work that doesn't get awarded would still count toward the CBEs max.

  • LOL

    Lovelace has a good point. I wonder why Omar is being so quiet. Omar got with Janerome to prepare the bids. Janerome's agency awarded the money to Omar [was Janerome in on the contract selection team?]. Omar then hired Sinclair and gave him money.

    U wanna see where the mess is? press omar.

  • Anothernative

    Talking about big businesses in this town, whats with the Monopoly (Fort Meyers) construction has going on. Nothing moves on the street unless it moves through the (Fort). I know the city owes them a dept of gratitude for past discressions, but oh brother. None of that money seems to stay local either, what's with that?

  • Southeast Ken
  • http://citypaper Tony

    Southeast Ken,Mr. Gray should be booed.If i were a crack smoker, that would be a BLAST.

  • Southeast Ken

    LOL

  • Cummins

    I.J. = Leroy Thorpe.

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    Skinner- This is all self-inflicted. You aren't a legitimate businessman. You profited because of a personal relationship, not a professional one. So until you can ever prove that you're a Clark, Turner, etc., you don't have a right to cry foul. You can't even pass your basic licensing exam. The projects you were associated with were never on budget, because the budgets were grossly inflated. They may have been completed on time, but did you do any of the actual work yourself? Sending in invoices does not count. So yeah, this agapean love that you want is sort of fucked up. You're a selfish, self-aggrandizing douche-bag, who spits as much venom as anyone else.
    Even with as many fuck ups as Gray has had these last few months, I am so grateful that he's mayor and not Fenty, if only for the reason that assholes like you aren't prospering off of my hard earned tax-paid dollars.

  • David

    If anyone believes that these two clowns ( who did not have 10 cents between them) got no contracts with the District prior to Fenty and had little to no credentials to do the work. But then after Fenty becomes Mayor got multi million dollar contracts and you still believe that Fenty had no imput. I have a Bridge for a few million I like to sell you. The Trout Report only vindicates Fenty for the purpose of the Trout Report. People stalled, did not cooperate and lied to Trout. Lying, avoiding, stalling and refusing to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney or to A Grand Jury is a whole different game. Lying and avoiding Trout had no consequeses.
    Fenty will be outed soon enough!

  • Get Real

    the CBE program is a joke - most of the contractors on the "CBE" list are crooked and don't have the slightest idea of how to bid construction projects.

  • sinclair skinner

    The real crooks are the large out of town companies that get most of the DC contracts year after year and their dc govt patrons that allow them to take our tax dollars and make maryland and virginia richer. You never would have DC businesses winning so many contracts in MD and VA year after year. This CBE program should be strengthen and improved not torn down. Sinclairskinner.com

  • Five To Go

    #52-Ditto!

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    Skinner- are you really just that stupid? The reason CBE is being so heavily criticized is because of the things that YOU did. YOU took advantage of the program and gave it a bad name. YOU scammed the city out of millions. YOU probably single-handedly damaged any credibility that program could have had. YOU did this. YOU can't blame anyone else for this. YOU fucking idiot.

  • sinclair skinner

    adrian bent-me, clever name. im sorry about whatever adrian did to you for you to feel like you have to use such a name. however, if you wish to resort to name calling why dont you use your really name. otherwise your comments or "attacks" cant be taken seriously. as an adult i think we can disagree without being disagreeable. it is obvious you think i did something wrong but the name calling is a mean distraction. i can be reached at sinclairskinner.com

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    Skinner- my handle was meant to be a play on Adrian Fenty and the feeling many of us who initially supported him felt after his true nature was revealed- screwed over. So yeah, if you want to know my actual name, that would be hard- there's almost 60k of us.

    The name calling might have been mean had it not been true. But what did I write that isn't true? You were awarded contracts routed to you by close personal friends. That's a fucking fact that your ass can't even deny. You charged crazy mark-ups on services that you yourself will never be able to provide (you don't have the proper certification to do the actual work). And to top all off, you are a pretty fucking stupid human being. Hey, but look on the bright side, at least you have your boyish good looks and charismatic personality to help you through these tough times until Adrian gets another job.

  • JarHead

    Having worked for the largest IT Services and Computer companies in the world as a Federal Government contractor, I do not know why you all are so surprised that profit margins are so large??? Do you really not know how business is done in this town and every where else?? Every President of the United States, hires/appoints, his buddies and people that He trusts to key positions within his administration/cabinet. They hire people/companies that they know and trust to get the job done for their respective agencies. These companies, mark up their goods and services to make a profit and sometimes those profit margins would make the average person on the streets cringe if they knew them! Clark Construction, Turner, Douglas, Walmart, Banneker Ventures (Mr. Karim), Liberty Investments (Mr. Skinner), are CAPITALISTS and in this country capitalism is not punished! Yet!!!??? If you think that Mr. Gray has not hired and awarded contracts or helped to facilitate contracts being awarded to companies/people that he knows and trusts to get the job done, you are a fool!

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