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By Yolanda Woodlee and Carol D. Leonnig

Washington Post Staff Writers

Tuesday, January 10, 2006; Page A01


D.C. Council member Marion Barry tested positive for cocaine use in the fall in a drug test ordered by a court after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor tax charges, according to two sources familiar with Barry's case.


Barry, who served four terms as mayor and was elected to the Ward 8 council seat in 2004, has since begun treatment for drug use, the sources said, but Barry's failure to pass the mandatory drug test puts him in legal jeopardy.



Because he violated the terms of his release, Barry, 69, faces an increased risk of serving the maximum 18 months behind bars -- rather than probation -- for his failure to file tax returns for six years. He is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 8, but a federal judge could jail him or sanction him at any time.


Interviewed last night in his Howard University Hospital room, where he's being treated for hypertension, Barry (D) did not deny accounts of his drug test and treatment. But he declined to discuss his case.


"Write what you want to write," he told a Washington Post reporter. "That's my official quote. No more, no less."


Barry pleaded guilty Oct. 28 to the misdemeanor tax charges, and as a condition of being released on his own recognizance, he was required to undergo drug testing soon after, court records show. But, according to two sources close to Barry and an official familiar with his case, the court's probation office notified U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson and prosecutors in or around November that Barry's test result was positive for drug use. Two of the three sources said the drug was cocaine. The sources asked not to be identified because a court case is pending.


Robinson has not revoked Barry's bond or ordered him jailed pending sentencing, as she could have because of the drug infraction, according to court records. Nor did prosecutors seek to cancel their plea agreement with Barry, in which they had said they would not oppose his effort to seek probation at sentencing.


It's not unusual for defendants to fail drug tests and remain free while awaiting sentencing, court officials said. Judges sometimes will order them to undergo treatment or submit to increased testing.


Barry's attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., sought for Barry to undergo drug treatment to show in the weeks before sentencing that his failed drug test was a relatively minor, one-time infraction of his release terms, according to a law enforcement source. The goal would be to avoid having Barry arrested for failing to comply with his release terms and to avoid tougher sentencing for the tax crimes.


The tax case involves Barry's failure to pay most of his federal and D.C. income taxes for six years after his fourth term as mayor ended in January 1999. Prosecutors said he received more than $530,000 in income over the next six years but did not document most of it. Barry's plea agreement also calls for him to make arrangements to resolve his tax debts.


Cooke declined to comment yesterday evening on Barry's status. Channing Phillips, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in the District, said yesterday that he would neither confirm nor deny that Barry had violated a condition of his release.


"We will decline to comment until we are back before the court since it is pending sentencing," Phillips said.



Barry was in the news last week when he held a news conference to describe an incident in which he was robbed in his kitchen Jan. 2 by two assailants who had helped him carry groceries from his car to his third-floor apartment in Southeast Washington. They pointed a gun at Barry's face and stole his wallet, which police said contained more than $200, his driver's license and two credit cards.


Drug problems and speculation about drug use have plagued Barry through much of the latter part of his three-decades-long political career. In 1990, during his third term as mayor, Barry was arrested at the Vista Hotel after being videotaped smoking crack, an image that for years has haunted him and the city he led.



Barry's arrest was followed by seven weeks in treatment centers in Florida and South Carolina. He repeatedly invoked God upon his return, in keeping, a spokesman said at the time with his 12-step, faith-based treatment program. At the time, in an apology to a group of 900 seniors, Barry said: "I thought I could drown this hurt, this pain with some alcohol and some chemicals."


After serving six months for cocaine possession in the Vista incident, Barry led a political comeback in 1992, winning a D.C. Council seat and then a fourth term as mayor two years later.


While preparing to run in 2002 for an at-large council seat, U.S. Park Police reported that they found a trace of marijuana and $5 worth of crack cocaine in Barry's Jaguar while he was parked at Buzzard Point in Southwest Washington. Police never charged Barry, but his wife, Cora Masters Barry, filed for separation soon after, and Barry scrapped his campaign plans. He ultimately campaigned for a Ward 8 seat in 2004, and claimed in interviews that the Park Police had planted the drugs in his car, and won the election.


After he was reelected to a fourth term as mayor, Barry said in an interview with Post reporters and editors that he'd made "a remarkable recovery," responding to the criticism by some that he had returned to the rigorous job of mayor too soon. Two years later, in 1996, when he took a sudden retreat, Barry said he felt control of his life slipping away, and he had begun smoking cigarettes again, something he had not done in years.


But he denied having a relapse with drugs and alcohol.


Barry has recently had numerous health troubles. A cancer survivor, Barry has diabetes and high blood pressure and was hospitalized at least three times last year. That included when, soon after he was inaugurated to the council exactly one year ago, he was treated in the intensive-care unit at Howard University for a bacterial infection with flu-like symptoms.


Staff writer Robert E. Pierre contributed to this report.

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