As Bowser launches reelection bid, her high-profile appointee is under fire – The Washington Post

Four years ago, when she needed to name a new commissioner to the board overseeing D.C.’s public housing agency, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) nominated a well-known ally whose high-powered résumé made him seem ideal for the role.
Neil O. Albert’s swift confirmation by the D.C. Council was no surprise to those who had followed his career, which has included top posts under two previous mayors, a senior position at a respected law firm and, most recently, a job running the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District at an annual salary of $325,000.
What surprised Washington’s political and business establishments were the circumstances surrounding Albert’s abrupt resignation last month as chair of the D.C. Housing Authority Board of Commissioners. His exit followed a published report that he had failed to reveal he was in a relationship with Paola Moya before approving her architectural firm for lucrative Housing Authority contracts.
Last week, the U.S. attorney’s office served the Housing Authority with a criminal subpoena, seeking documents related to Albert, Moya and her firm, Moya Design Partners, according to an internal agency email obtained by The Washington Post. In addition, members of the D.C. Council have asked the Office of the Inspector General to conduct a broad investigation into what they called “a pattern of misconduct” at the agency.
Albert declined requests to comment about his relationship with Moya and her firm.
Jim Abdo, a longtime D.C. developer who has known Albert over the course of the past two decades, said the suggestion that Albert did not to disclose a potential conflict of interest is “completely out of character from my perspective.”
“I’ve always known Neil to be an individual of extreme ethical character,” Abdo said. “The way he conducts himself — he’s just the consummate gentleman. It just doesn’t sound like him.”
Albert’s resignation set off a new round of turmoil at the Housing Authority, which has dealt with, among other things, the departure in May of executive director Tyrone Garrett, a more than $2 billion backlog in repairs, and a D.C. Auditor’s report that the agency did not abide by federal deadlines to repair lead paint hazards.
Albert’s departure also provides Bowser’s rivals with new ammunition as she launches her campaign for a third term as mayor, in a field that already includes two council members.
As recently as September, the mayor had praised Albert at the reopening of Franklin Square, a downtown Washington park that the BID helped renovate. “He has committed a very good part of his professional life to making D.C. a better place to live, work and do business,” Bowser told the crowd after Albert introduced her. “I dare say, this is a crowning achievement for you. Give a big round for Neil Albert!”
Following his resignation, Bowser asked the city’s ethics board to review whether Albert had violated conflict-of-interest regulations. On Friday, after reports of the subpoenas surfaced, Bowser’s office issued a statement saying that the mayor “holds every employee to the highest ethics standards,” and noted she had “referred the matters raised to the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability.”
“Mr. Albert has not served Mayor Bowser well,” said Terry Lynch, a Bowser supporter who heads the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, a nonprofit that focuses on community services citywide. “He has embarrassed himself, the city and the mayor, and he is someone who should have known better. It’s shameful.”
Albert, 61, has retained attorney Frederick D. Cooke Jr., whose clients have included former mayor Marion Barry and Harry “Tommy” Thomas Jr., the former council member who surrendered his seat when he was charged with embezzling taxpayer funds.
Moya, 41, who did not respond to a list of emailed questions, is represented by attorney Mark Touhey, whose clients have included former council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2). Evans resigned last year as his council colleagues planned to vote to expel him over ethics violations.
Bowser, herself, is familiar with Moya, nominating her in 2019 to the city’s Combat Sports Commission. When Bowser sent Moya’s name to the council, the mayor’s package of documents included a biography of Moya that described her as a “visionary leader.”
Her firm’s website recently touted a meeting Moya attended with a group of Latina business owners that was hosted by Vice President Harris.
Jeffrey Anderson, a reporter who writes for the website District Dig, first revealed Albert’s failure to recuse himself from decisions at the Housing Authority involving Moya’s firm. Among the details Anderson reported was that Moya, when she submitted documents to the authority in 2018 as part of a contract proposal, listed her firm’s address as the same office used by the Downtown D.C. BID, where Albert was president and executive director.
Emily Mooney, a BID spokesperson, declined to comment, writing in an email that information pertaining to Moya’s work with the BID “is confidential.” Gregory O’Dell, chair of the BID’s board, said in an email that board members are “aware of the recent developments” related to Albert and are “committed to reviewing any issues related to the BID, as appropriate.”
Albert became head of the BID in 2015, taking over the private nonprofit that provides capital resources for and advocates on behalf of the city’s downtown business district. In 2017, the year Bowser appointed him to the Housing Authority board, Albert’s BID compensation package amounted to $396,000, including a $40,000 bonus and other benefits, according to the organization’s tax returns.
Albert and Moya became romantically involved in July 2017 while he was married to Lilian Shepherd, his wife of 24 years who filed for divorce the following year, according to an account attributed to Moya included in the judicial opinion rendered in the divorce case. Superior Court Judge Michael K. O’Keefe’s opinion also states that Albert had testified that his relationship with Moya began in “early 2018.”
Moya, who had been a partner in another architectural firm, started Moya Design Partners in September 2017, D.C. records show. While with her former firm, she started work on a project to redesign the BID’s office, a project she continued when she branched out on her own, according to her firm’s website.
The BID, with Albert at the helm, also hired Moya’s firm to produce several of its glossy annual reports. Her firm designed the interior of Downtown Day Services, a city homeless outreach center that the BID operates and which opened in 2019. That same year, Bowser posed for a photo with Albert, Moya and others at an “Art After Dark” event co-hosted by the BID and Moya Design Partners, according to her firm’s Instagram account.
Since their relationship began, property records show, Albert and Moya have become the owners of two properties together: a $1 million home in Northwest Washington and an $849,000 beach cottage in Nags Head, N.C.
Albert’s investments over the years, according to the judicial opinion in his divorce, also included minority ownership of AF Ventures, a holding company started in 2011 that eventually purchased Highway and Safety Services, a civil construction firm, and invested in a condominium project in Costa Rica.
According to the judicial opinion, Albert’s business partner at AF Ventures was Keith Forney, the former owner of the Stadium Club, a Northeast Washington strip club. Forney, who owns a construction company that has been the recipient of numerous D.C. government contracts, has been a reliable campaign donor to the likes of Barry, Bowser and former mayor Adrian M. Fenty.
Forney has faced extensive scrutiny from law enforcement authorities, including the U.S. attorney’s office and D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine. Since 2017, he has been convicted of contracting and tax fraud, and for making illegal campaign contributions. In 2020, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison, a term he completed over the summer.
Forney, when reached on his cellphone, declined to discuss his relationship with Albert. In a text message, Albert said he has “no business association with Forney” and declined to elaborate.
Albert, who was born in Guyana and grew up in Brooklyn, moved to D.C. in the late 1990s to become deputy director of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, an agency he ended up running for then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who eventually promoted him to deputy mayor for social services.
Under Fenty, Albert became deputy mayor for planning and economic development, presiding during a time when builders were transforming the city. As part of his duties, he was on the board of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Albert also served as an ex officio member of the Housing Authority board, which became a target of scrutiny when the Fenty administration, sidestepping council approval, used the agency to issue millions of dollars in contracts to renovate recreation centers.
A recipient of the contracts was a firm owned by a Fenty fraternity brother, which assigned work to others with connections to the mayor, prompting council members to allege cronyism. At one point, it was Albert, by then city administrator, who testified before the council that the administration had gone through the Housing Authority to expedite construction.
Nevertheless, the cronyism charges dogged Fenty as he lost his 2010 campaign for a second term.
Seven years later, after Albert had left government and had served as a policy adviser at the Holland & Knight law firm, Bowser nominated him for the 11-member Housing Authority board as one of her five appointees. The board also includes ex officio member John Falcicchio, Bowser’s chief of staff, deputy mayor for planning and economic development, and political adviser.
Over the years, a couple of Bowser’s board nominees have been criticized for lacking experience in affordable housing. In 2018, for example, the council approved Josh Lopez, a Bowser campaign consultant, who resigned three months later after organizing a rally at which a speaker made antisemitic remarks.
Albert faced no such skepticism when he was nominated in 2017. Listing his past job titles, council member Anita Bonds (D-At Large) described him as “over qualified” before the council unanimously approved his appointment.
But there was opposition when Bowser nominated Albert for another term as board chair in 2019.
Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), one of two lawmakers who voted against Albert’s appointment, criticized his management of a deal to redevelop the Housing Authority’s headquarters on North Capitol Street.
According to the agency, the project’s team is led by MRP Realty, a development firm, the executives of which had donated heavily to Bowser’s two mayoral campaigns. A co-developer on the project is Taylor Adams Associates, the managing partner of which is David Jannarone, a longtime Bowser ally who worked for Albert when he was deputy mayor for planning and economic development.
Moya Design Partners is listed in a construction trade journal as the project’s architect and planner.
In particular, Silverman objected that, on Albert’s watch, the Housing Authority had changed the terms of the deal with the development team to lower the number of apartments required to be reserved for the city’s poorest families.
Albert, at a hearing in 2019, countered that the overall project would create more than 1,000 units of housing, including 200 affordable units for varying income levels, some of them the lowest.
Silverman was not mollified.
“My perception was that it was a giveaway to the developers,” Silverman recalled in an interview. “I felt that Neil wasn’t fulfilling the mission of the Housing Authority, which was to provide housing for our poorest and most vulnerable families.”
In early January 2020, the council confirmed Albert’s reappointment by a 10-to-2 vote.
By then, he had signed a resolution authorizing the Housing Authority to execute a $305,000 contract with Moya’s firm to draw up a master plan for redeveloping the Capper-Carrollsburg public housing site. The contract was later raised to $350,000.
Then, in June, Albert voted in favor of a Housing Authority board resolution that qualified Moya Design Partners as among a group of 11 firms eligible for a pool of $27 million in architectural and engineering contracts.
Before the final vote, William Slover, one of the Housing Authority commissioners, asked if any of the firms applying for the contracts had disclosed a conflict of interest.
“No, not to my knowledge,” Lorry Bonds, a Housing Authority administrator, replied.
Moments later, Albert called the vote.

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