Loose Lips

Hard Charging

The District of Columbia Housing Finance Agency regularly hands millions of dollars to developers in exchange for housing commitments. But now Derek Ford, the agency’s new chairman, is taking a look at much smaller exchanges: how staffers use agency credit cards.

“Each and every expenditure, we’re going to review,” Ford tells LL.

Ford should start with Harry Sewell, DCHFA’s executive director. Sewell charged $47,982.40 to his DCHFA card from 2011 to April 2013, according to credit card records obtained by LL through the Freedom of Information Act.

The expenses make being executive director of the DCHFA look awfully appealing. Sewell rang up $1,927.23 at a Miami Beach steakhouse and $712.85 at a nearby seafood restaurant, and it didn’t cost him a penny.

It’s hard to tell how many of these meals were genuinely for business purposes. Real estate developers aren’t known for their frugal tastes, after all. But even if these lavish meals and hotel stays were necessary—and LL would love to hear how $5,689.22 for five nights at a Miami Beach hotel increased the District’s affordable housing supply—Sewell also used his agency credit card for expenses that were strictly personal.

$13.89 at Miami liquor store I Love Liquor? Charge it! $2,300.87 at a Pennsylvania hotel? Put it on the plastic! Ditto for extra baggage charges for his two children and a woman he describes as his “companion.” In less than three years, Sewell spent $2,631.18 on the agency’s credit card for expenses he was eventually required to reimburse.

Sewell says he isn’t prepared to explain two-year-old expenses. But he tells LL that his use of the card for personal reasons is kosher, since he reimbursed DCHFA for the charges.

It’s good to be the boss. What other public employee could use an agency as their personal AmEx, then pay the charges back at their convenience? Remember, in May, Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie fired one of his staffers for allegedly paying off bar tabs with McDuffie’s constituent service fund—and that guy tried to pay it back, too.

That also doesn’t explain Sewell’s charges that look personal, but aren’t listed as being paid back to DCHFA. There’s $60 spent to upgrade Sewell’s “companion” to a better seat on a flight, $970.75 spent in a Pennsylvania muffler shop, and $746.52 spent on a four-day car rental in D.C. Sewell didn’t respond to a request to give reasons for the charges.

In April, Sewell issued a memo on the agency’s credit cards procedures at Ford’s request. Ford says he’s aware of Sewell’s charges but wouldn’t talk about them, saying it’s a personnel issue.

Ford, who used to work in the District’s Office of the Inspector General, is promising a credit card policy with more stringent spending controls. He’s using the fate of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s board—beset by scandals over spending and nepotism—as an example of the risk unrestricted spending poses for DCHFA. In the meantime, he’s not going to ignore previous charges.

“Just because we don’t have a policy and procedure doesn’t mean you can do any damn thing with the credit card,” Ford says.

Got a tip for LL? Send suggestions to lips@washingtoncitypaper.com. Or call (202) 650-6925.

Credit card photo by Shutterstock

  • DCrez

    Very good reporting, City Paper. Thank you.

    Please send a coy to the Inspector General.

  • drez

    Sewell says he isn’t prepared to explain two-year-old expenses. But he tells LL that his use of the card for personal reasons is kosher, since he reimbursed DCHFA for the charges.
    HA! I bet.

  • sticktoyourguns

    what in the hell...who was he feeding all of miami

  • DCShadyBoots

    I've known government officials refuse to take a credit card. Too easy to pull it out and use it.

  • Mr.Remember

    Well, this is just DC Gov't. We all know how the federal government rolls when it comes to credit card spending and bill paying.

  • Pingback: No elected attorney general for you

  • Bob loblaw

    Am I misreading when it says he's paid back only about $3000 of the nearly $50k he's put on the company card? That would be worse then what happens with McDuffie. I'd love to see of full list of credit card expenses to see exactly how business related they are.

  • http://www.welovedc.com Don

    If you just called Joe's Stone Crabs "a nearby seafood restaurant" their PR firm is going to have an aneurysm :)

  • Barrie Daneker

    Fire him! And I'll take that job. WTF this guy is a total loser!

  • chatter

    Someone needs to investigate this retarded crook. I have never heard of a government worker being able to use a city credit card for personal use. It doesn't matter if he paid back every penny. Who is going to investigate Harry "AmEx" Sewell and make sure the charges are legitimate and reasonable business expenses?

  • Omar Skinner Sewell

    This is the same guy who gave the $400k "loan" from DCHFA to Fenty Frat Bro Omar Karim at Banneker Ventures to pay for his bidding costs on public property. I wonder if he put that on the city credit card too? He's also a contributor to Fenty Frat Bro Sinclair Skinner's 1911 United "Super PAC." Somebody who is this corrupt in one way is probably corrupt in a lot of ways -- keep digging!

  • RealDC

    LOL. This bama charged the "upgrade" of his boo's airline ticket to his city credit card. SMH.

    Sewell spent $1900.00+ at a Miami steakhouse??.... Fire this clown and get the city's money back.

    I am out of patience with this egregious behavior from all city officials. Whether you are elected, appointed or hired, the dumb monkey shenanigans have to stop. We need to arrest, fire and sue these low rent bamas into destitution. Who the f*** do these bamas think they are? Capone?

    We need a new political party in the city, No More Self -Serving Bamas In Office party!

    For Real!

  • doug

    Excellent FOIAing! Well done LL.

  • Wrack

    Why can't we just fire these fucks for being complete fucks? Why the fuck do we let so many of these stupid fucks get away with whatever the fuck unethical idiocy they want?

    RRrrr. Fucks.

  • http://citypaper sly

    NOTHING but a THUG!

  • Omar Skinner Sewell

    A google search shows that he also resigned "very abruptly" and without notice after a short time on his previous job running the housing authority for Maryland. I wonder why?