Sinclair Skinner , the owner of the small, new engineering firm Liberty Engineering & Design, and Skinner's lawyer Scott Bolden began hours of testimony before a D.C. Council investigative committee Thursday, with Skinner extolling his community and civil rights work in the deep South and along Georgia Avenue in Washington, where for a while Skinner ran a dry cleaners and laundry.
But after Skinner was sworn-in as a witness -- and after attorney Bolden unloaded piles of engineering documents on the Council -- Skinner seemed to have memory problems. He couldn't remember exactly how his new engineering business got started, who he had talked with, or exactly what was done to get it legally in place or circumstances under which he became a subcontractor to another firm and reaped more than $4 million from city taxpayers.
"I don't recall," he said more than a dozen times. Sometimes it was "not that I can recall" or other variations.
"When I knew him, Sinclair seemed to have a better memory," said Ward 1 Council member Jim Graham, who clashed with Skinner during a Graham reelection campaign.
Skinner, who Mayoy Adrian Fenty confirms is a friend, is being probed as part of a D.C. Council investigation into almost $100 million worth of recreation center construction contracts. Although the winning firm, which also has ties to Fenty, hired Skinner's new engineering firm to do site surveys, Skinner admitted he didn't have a license and his company couldn't do it.
So Skinner, according to testimony and media reports, contracted out the survey work. But then Skinner's firm nearly doubled the cost of the surveys and submitted the higher number to city officials, who paid what council members called inflated invoices and prices.
At one point in Thursday's hearing, Skinner acknowledged that he had twice failed the engineering testing license and had only a 1990s training certificate.
Ward 5 Council member Harry Thomas, who is co-chairing the council probe, said the taxpayers were taken for millions of dollars in high or unnecessary fees. The council was originally angry that Fenty's administration bypassed the council in awarding the contracts. Normally, the council by law must review any contract worth $1 million or more. The council said it may cut that threshold to $500,000.