Who Do You Trust?
In the last few years, Danita Doleman has done pretty well winning city contracts. Her consulting business, Camille Consulting Group Inc., has gotten more than $1.2 million in District business since 2004, mostly from the city’s technology office. Her nonprofit, Youth Technology Institute, has pulled in another $125,000 from the city’s human services department.
Youth Technology Institute also won $175,000 in city money from the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation, tax records show. Except it didn’t get to hold on to that money for long. A statement of offense signed by disgraced former Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. tells how Youth Technology Institute spent $120,000 of the CYITC money in 2009: $5,000 went to Thomas as a kickback on a $10,000 grant, and more than $100,000 was wired to the D.C. Young Democrats to help pay for an inaugural party at the Wilson Building.
Sources confirmed to LL last week that Doleman and her group are among the people and organizations identified only by number in court records connected to Thomas’ case, filed earlier this month when he pleaded guilty to two federal felony charges for stealing more than $350,000 from the District and failing to report it on his income taxes.
Doleman did not respond to a request for comment. She was assigned a federal public defender in connection with the Thomas case in November, court records show. She hasn’t been charged with any crime, and her lawyer declined to comment.
What makes Doleman’s role in the Thomas scandal more interesting is that for a brief period about a year ago, she worked as a $125,000-a-year senior policy manager at the D.C. Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. That same department is headed by Millicent West, who previously ran the Children & Youth Investment Trust Corporation. West, court records show, approved the trust’s six-figure payment to Youth Technology Institute to cover the inaugural party costs. West has denied any wrongdoing in the Thomas affair; she declined to comment about Doleman’s tenure as a city employee.
But Wilson Building sources say West has a good explanation for how she got mixed up in the whole thing: It’s Adrian Fenty’s fault!
Sources say West has told Mayor Vince Gray’s aides that someone in the former mayor’s administration (LL didn’t get a name) forced West to place Doleman at the homeland security agency. After Gray took over, West’s story goes, she fired Doleman. Council records show that Doleman left the agency sometime in February or March of last year.
LL’s been unable to find anyone who can speak to Doleman’s connection to Fenty, who did not respond to a request for comment. Records show that Doleman was appointed early in the Fenty administration to serve as a member of the Small and Local Business Opportunity Commission. If West’s story is true, the links between Fenty and the Thomas fiasco don’t stop with Doleman. Fenty picked West to run the CYITC, and also appointed her to the homeland security job. And it was under Fenty’s watch, several observers say, that the CYITC became a de facto slush fund for city politicians to direct money to their favorite organizations.
Last year, the Washington Post detailed how Fenty’s former City Administrator Neil Albert made a call to West to secure a $400,000 grant for Peaceoholics, the anti-youth violence nonprofit founded by Fenty’s most vocal backer, Ron Moten. Just before the 2010 mayoral election, the Fenty administration tried, but failed, to get additional funding for Peaceoholics through the CYITC.
Fenty also appointed loyalists to the trust’s board who—as far as LL can tell—had no business being there, including Lisa Simpson, the former chair of the board. Simpson’s main qualification appears to have been being married to one of Fenty’s running buddies.
Moten, who is running for the Ward 7 council seat as a Republican, tells LL that the trust was a useful tool to get his organization money quickly when it needed to do emergency gang interventions, but that he still had to compete for most of the CYITC grants Peaceoholics received. Moten adds that unlike Thomas, he never stole the money.
A good point, but if Fenty was telling the CYITC who to fund, it’s easy to see why councilmembers, including Thomas, thought they should be able to do the same thing. The Post article detailing Albert’s call also reported that city politicians directed $15 million in earmarks or designated grants through the CYITC to their favorite groups in the past four years, much of it after the council banned earmarks in 2009.
That’s a far cry from how the CYITC should be operating. Founded during former Mayor Anthony Williams’ administration as a public/private partnership, the trust was supposed to operate independently, using city funds to leverage large charitable donations to fund the city’s most deserving youth-oriented nonprofits. But without any measure of independence, the trust hasn’t been able to find many private dollars of late; the most recent tax records show it receiving 97 percent of its funding from the city.
Max Skolnik, a Ward 4 council candidate who runs the nonprofit Kid Power Inc. and is a member of the D.C. Alliance of Youth Advocates, says he and others in the nonprofit world met and warned every councilmember, as well as CYITC officials, against all the political meddling.
“We all knew what was going on,” he says, adding that those warnings fell mostly on deaf ears.
Still, Skolnik says, the trust funds plenty of deserving organizations and is worth trying to save.
“The problem wasn’t the trust,” says Skolnik. “The problem was the political manipulation of the trust.”
Maybe. But it didn’t take long for LL to find plenty of eyebrow-raising issues with the trust besides what’s already been brought to light by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
For instance, the trust’s publicly available tax records include what’s supposed to be a list of all the organizations it funds each year. But there’s no mention of any payment to Langston 21st Century Foundation, the nonprofit Thomas used to do most of his stealing. (Langston 21 principals Marshall Banks and Jimmy Garvin both pleaded guilty in recent days to concealing Thomas’ thievery.)
There’s also the big money the trust has paid those working for it. In fiscal year 2008, the trust’s CEO made $266,404 in total compensation, the vice-president of finance made $180,676, and a Maryland-based consulting firm, The Hatcher Group was paid $188,000 for communications work, tax records show. Those payments decreased somewhat in subsequent years, but the current CEO, Ellen London, is still making well north of $150,000, according to the most recent tax records.
Then there’s the case of Thandor Miller, a senior trainer at the trust whose wife just happens to run a nonprofit that regularly wins grants from the CYITC. The Washington Enrichment and Cultural Arts Network, Inc., based in Ward 7, won a piece of an anti-gang grant for Ward 5 that Thomas directed the fund to send to his preferred organizations. Miller and his wife did not return multiple calls seeking comment.
The trust has also declined to respond to LL’s questions. But it won’t be able to stonewall the council, which is now trying to figure out how to fix things. Shortly after Thomas pleaded guilty, Council Chairman Kwame “Fully Loaded” Brown said he wanted to see the trust shut down. He backed down almost immediately when his colleagues protested. No need to close it, they said; the D.C. Council will find a way to save it.
And if the idea that same group of politicians who abused the trust now says they’re going to fix it strikes you as absurd, rest assured, you’re not the only the one.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery
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