Two City Council leaders have called for a review of contracts that Baltimore government has entered into with businessman J.P. Grant, with one calling the procurement system “wide open to bribery.”
In a letter sent this evening, Council President Brandon M. Scott asked the Inspector General to conduct “a formal review of the awarding of all city contracts to James Preston (J.P.) Grant from 2014 to 2019, with findings shared with the public.”
IG Isabel Mercedes Cumming confirmed tonight that she received Scott’s request and is taking it under review. She declined further comment.
Scott said he took the action because “cleaning up city government and restoring public trust is my top priority.” He said that he has returned $4,500 that Grant Capital Management contributed to his campaign committee in previous years.
His action comes a day after The Brew wrote a detailed story about Grant’s financial relationship with ex-Mayor Catherine Pugh, who admitted in her federal guilty plea that the businessman handed her a $100,000 check to help her buy a second house.
The check was made out to Healthy Holly LLC, the private entity that Pugh used to sell her self-published children’s books to individuals and nonprofits doing business with the city or state.
The Brew also reported that Grant had financial interests in a company that renovated Pugh’s new house at a heavily discounted price.
The same company, Commercial Construction, was part of a joint venture awarded a re-upped $24 million conduit contract by Mayor Pugh and the Board of Estimates last December.
Councilman Kristerfer Burnett, who chairs the Legislative Investigations Committee, cited these disclosures as a reason why he is concerned about the lease financing agreements awarded to Grant’s firm by the Board of Estimates.
“The Brew’s reporting on Mr. Grant’s donation patterns and subsequently receiving millions of dollars in seemingly uncompetitive BOE contracts are disturbing,” Burnett noted in a statement today. “Our contracting and purchasing system appears to be wide open to bribery in large part because of our broke campaign finance system.”
“Our contracting and purchasing system appears to be wide open to bribery” – Councilman Kris Burnett.
Burnett said he plans to meet with Cumming and others “to see what avenues are available to the City Council, including the potential involvement of the Legislative Investigations Committee to investigate whether any impropriety took place in the awarding of these contracts to Mr. Grant.”
Councilwoman Shannon Sneed, a member of the committee, said she favors an IG probe into Grant’s contracts.
“We don’t have the bandwidth as a Council to look into these complex transactions,” she said today. “We need to get the right people in place, such as the IG. Anything that brings transparency to City Hall is definitely needed.”
Other members of the committee, who were asked about their views of Grant’s transactions and whether they favored a probe of his contracts, have not yet commented.
They are vice chair Danielle McCray and Councilman Ryan Dorsey and Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer.
Young: No Comment
Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, the former Council president who became mayor when Pugh resigned last May, has largely avoided talking about Pugh’s criminal case.
When she was indicted on November 20 on conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion charges, Young did not address the issue before the Board of Estimates and, later in the day, read this statement to reporters:
“As elected officials, we have a duty to the people we represent to conduct ourselves to the highest standards of the law. I am heartbroken and disappointed by today’s news. I pray for Mayor Pugh. I am focused on helping our city to heal.”
His spokesman, Lester Davis, said today that “it would be premature for Mayor Young to offer comment” about J.P. Grant because the investigation of Healthy Holly by the U.S. attorney’s office “has not concluded.”
In fact, the U.S. Attorney has declined to say whether the investigation is ongoing or if further indictments are expected.
A “Stipulation of Facts,” read as part of Pugh’s guilty plea, was worded in such a way that it seemed to exculpate the actions of Grant, including his $100,000 payment to Pugh in October 2016 after she told him she needed a new house to entertain as incoming mayor.
Replenishing Campaign Coffers
A member of the Board of Estimates since 2010, Young was one of the panel’s three elected members who approved more than $150 million of leasing agreements – for fire trucks, computers, communications gear and police helicopters – handled by Grant Capital Management, often as the sole-source contractor.
The Brew reported that Young’s campaign committee received $7,000 in contributions from the financier during the years he was City Council president.
Grant gave much more lavishly to former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, often through relatives and limited liability companies (LLCs) to get around the $6,000 limit on donations in a four-year election cycle.
Another recipient of Grant’s largess is Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, a member of the BOE who says she has known the businessman since she was a teenager.
Asked if she would support an independent review of Grant contracts, Pratt said that she would have to review the agreements she earlier approved before commenting.