Sitting Out Adams Morgan Day
As usual, the Madam's Organ ad in this week's City Paper lists the bands playing at the Adams Morgan blues bar. But tucked between the notices for piano man David Maxwell and reggae band One Night Stand is this announcement: "No Adams Morgan Day for Madam's Organ."
That's not just a tongue twister, but a statement of anger, frustration and principle by the club's owner, Bill Duggan. When the annual street festival unfolds this Sunday, drawing 20,000-plus visitors to take in all manner of ethnic eats, music from around the world and one of the city's best days of people-watching, Duggan plans for the first time to shutter his business. He is protesting both the District's increasingly tough regulation of street vending--he was ticketed and fined $4,000 last Adams Morgan Day because fire marshals said they will no longer permit the sidewalk grill from which Duggan has sold food at the festival for many years--and the leadership of the festival.
The president of Adams Morgan Main Street, Lisa Duperier, is the cause of most of Duggan's objections. Duperier actually agrees with Duggan that, as she puts it, "the city's regulation is growing exponentially; it almost makes you want to stop doing the festival."
But that's about all the two agree on. Duggan and a number of other Adams Morgan residents have grown concerned that Duperier's past may make her an unsuitable person to run the neighborhood group, which organizes the street fair, promotes Adams Morgan businesses and seeks improvements to the streetscape.
Duggan's gripe about Duperier centers on a case that has led to a congressional investigation and a court action that is still unfolding in New York. A wealthy Texas chemicals entrepreneur, Virgil Waggoner, alleges in the New York state suit that a law partner of ex-New York mayor Rudy Giuliani schemed to steal $10 million from Waggoner in an investment scam.
The lawsuit stems from an offshore investment scandal that the Senate Investigations subcommittee called a prime example of money laundering. In papers filed in the lawsuit, Waggoner alleges that Duperier persuaded him to invest $10 million in something called a "High Yield Investment Program." But when Waggoner went ahead with the investment, he says, he lost every penny he'd put in. The Senate committee report's study of the Waggoner investment and similar cases concludes that "rogue foreign banks and their criminal clients" defrauded American investors and "undermined the U.S. financial system."
Duperier is not named in the Senate report, nor is she a party to the lawsuit in New York. Waggoner's court papers say Duperier originally "enticed" him into "the sham off-shore investment" in 1996.
Duperier, like Waggoner a longtime Republican party activist and donor, has generally been welcomed since she became active in Adams Morgan business circles. D.C. Council member Jim Graham, who represents the neighborhood, wrote to Duggan saying that he was aware of the dispute but "somehow I had concluded it was all settled and musty."
Duperier says it's unfortunate that Duggan's bar won't take part in the street festival. She attributes his departure to his unhappiness about being given a smaller role in selecting the performers in the music portion of the festival.
She denies any wrongdoing in the Texas matter and emphasizes that "I'm not involved in the lawsuit. I haven't been sued. I don't have time to get into that because I have multiple sclerosis and colon cancer and I'm involved in very difficult treatments. All I can tell you is any lawyer anywhere can file anything."
On the Adams Morgan neighborhood listserv, where the Duggan-Duperier matter has been discussed periodically, Duperier wrote that she was not involved in the financial arrangements in the Waggoner investment and notes that the New York lawsuit was filed only after it became apparent that Giuliani was running for president. Giuliani is not named in the suit and had nothing to do with the case.
"This is America," Duperier wrote. "Innocent until proven guilty. But gee whiz ---
no one has sued me for any wrongdoing!!"
Meanwhile, Duggan, a mainstay of the 18th Street nightclub scene for decades, will sit out Sunday's festival. Duperier says he's welcome to return anytime. And for the first time, the festival this year will include seminars on Adams Morgan as an incubator and catalyst of small businesses--a great place to invest in.
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