Fenty's Venture Brothers

Fenty's frat brothers get a $550,000 settlement

By P.J. Orvetti
|  Monday, Jul 5, 2010  |  Updated 9:30 AM EDT
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Fenty's Venture Brothers

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Association dinner on April 26, 2008 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Nancy Ostertag/Getty Images) fenty

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The District of Columbia will pay $550,000 to settle a claim by Banneker Ventures, the firm owned by Friend Of Fenty Omar Karim.

The city terminated a contract with Banneker last year as the D.C. Council probed the deal. Banneker had been hired to oversee the building of new ball fields and rec centers, but the Council stepped in last fall after learning that Mayor Adrian Fenty’s administration had moved money through the D.C. Housing Authority for the projects in order to get around a law requiring Council approval on any contracts exceeding $1 million.

Banneker said drawings and designs that had been produced were its intellectual property, and filed a $2.3 million claim. Attorney General Peter Nickles said Friday that the settlement will prevent costly lawsuits.

Karim, who was in a fraternity with Fenty, has been a big donor to the mayor’s campaign. Banneker subcontractor Sinclair Skinner is another Fenty frat brother. Skinner admitted to the Council in April that he has no certification to perform the work for which his firm was paid about $900,000. During that testimony, Skinner failed to recall numerous specifics about his own business or his weekly talks with Karim. Councilmember Mary Cheh called it a “most remarkable loss of memory and failure to recollect.”

Skinner did say that he does not have to mention Fenty’s name to get contracts. “I don’t have to tell anyone that I know the mayor,” he said. “It’s been pretty well covered.”

Indeed it has: Four years ago, Fenty had to explain why the Lower Georgia Avenue Business Association, of which Skinner was president, was distributing literature featuring a homophobic cartoon of Jim Graham that also showed the white councilmember as the boss of a “plantation” where a black man was being lynched. Skinner took “full responsibility,” though claimed he “did not have an editorial role in the publication.”  This was just one of many race-charged incidents involving Skinner that were documented by Washington City Paper in 2006.

When D.C. Housing Authority Board Chairman Bill Slover started questioning the Banneker Ventures arrangement last year, he was removed from his post -- and replaced by LaRuby May, who continued the parks project. Fenty had appointed Slover just seven months before. Slover said he was given no reason for the dismissal, adding, “I didn’t ask. I knew.” The Washington Post editorial page, usually Fenty-friendly, said in April that Fenty chose to “retaliate against an official who dared to question the arrangement.”

Fenty rival Vincent Gray said at a June debate, “What happened with these contracts is one of the worst examples of cronyism I have ever seen in the District of Columbia.” It seems Slover agrees. The past Fenty donor is now backing Gray.

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