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Barry Denies Personal Use of Drugs : Questions Remain on Washington Mayor’s Visit With Suspect

Times Staff Writer

Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr., breaking a weeklong silence, denied Thursday that he had engaged in any personal drug use. The denial was in response to a controversy surrounding his unexplained visit last week to the hotel room of a friend and former city employee who is suspected of selling cocaine.

But Barry, no stranger to questions about drugs or corruption investigations during his 10 years as head of the District of Columbia government, left unanswered a host of questions about the episode, which has spiced the talk of Washington cocktail parties this holiday season.

At what was billed as a press conference that attracted scores of reporters to the District Building, the 52-year-old chief executive read a prepared statement, then walked away without responding to questions.

Does Not Explain Visits

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Barry, denying any knowledge of drug use and blaming the media for his latest troubles, did not explain his repeated visits to the downtown hotel room of Charles (Chuck) Lewis, who is under police investigation for allegedly trying to sell cocaine to a maid in the hotel.

Meanwhile, U.S. Atty. Jay B. Stephens announced Thursday that his office had decided to conduct “a full investigation” of “all aspects” of the Ramada Inn episode involving Barry and Lewis.

Federal law enforcement officials said they expected the investigation to include a grand jury review and involve the FBI.

“The U.S. attorney’s office is conducting a full investigation of this entire matter,” Stephens said. “We will continue to pursue aggressively all aspects of it to determine whether there has been any criminal conduct.”

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Claims System Reversed

In his press session, Barry complained that, in a reverse application of the American system of justice, he was being “presumed guilty until proven innocent.” He said he would never use narcotics himself and would continue to fight for “a drug-free society” in Washington, which has been racked by more than 200 drug-related murders this last year.

While Barry was visiting Lewis, who is a Florida resident, on the night of Dec. 22, two district police detectives headed for Lewis’ hotel room to attempt an undercover purchase of drugs. But the officers encountered Barry’s security guard in the hotel and subsequently were ordered to return to police headquarters without visiting the room.

Who called the officers back from their assignment, or for what reason, has not been explained. But, after Lewis checked out of the hotel the next day, police found traces of cocaine in the room. Authorities cautioned that the drug could have been present before Lewis’ monthlong stay.

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Despite repeated investigations over the years by federal authorities and the news media, no charges have ever been brought against Barry and no direct evidence of wrongdoing has been presented. Now serving an unprecedented third term as mayor, he apparently continues to enjoy overwhelming support in Washington’s black community.

Singling out the Washington Post for raising questions about his conduct, Barry said he already had been “tried, convicted, sentenced and doing time” by some critics in the media and the community.

He said he had hesitated to speak out earlier in hopes that an ongoing District of Columbia police investigation of Lewis might be completed first. He promised “a complete investigation” by Police Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr., whom he appointed in 1981, and “a complete disclosure of this investigation to the public.”

Turner said earlier this week that he had given the U.S. attorney’s office the preliminary results of his department’s investigation, a move that has raised the inquiry to the federal level.

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After leaving the district government post, Lewis got a job with the U.S. Virgin Islands government. But he was fired last April after questions were raised about his use of government funds in a joint Virgin Islands-district government project.

The U.S. attorney’s office that is reviewing the present case has given Barry plenty of headaches in recent years. Several of his top aides have been convicted of misusing city funds or have resigned while under scrutiny. Allegations that Barry has used drugs have been probed in the past.

Barry, who is married, acknowledged last year that he once had a “personal” relationship with Karen K. Johnson, a convicted cocaine dealer. But he denied he had ever purchased drugs from her.

Johnson served an eight-month jail sentence on contempt charges three years ago because she refused to answer questions by a grand jury about her relationship with Barry. Allegations that friends of Barry paid her to remain silent were looked into by the grand jury but never were corroborated.

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Corruption rumors aside, Barry has stirred controversy with his often flamboyant life style. He spent the Thanksgiving holiday in the Bahamas last year with a longtime female friend who formerly worked in his office. He was also accused by an exotic dancer of harassment when he tried to visit her at home.

In another incident last spring, Barry’s official car was involved in a pre-dawn traffic accident in a neighborhood far from his home. The mayor said he was returning home from a private party and was reading in the back seat when his driver collided with another automobile.

“I’m a night owl,” Barry said. “I work 14, 16 hours a day.”


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