D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and the city's top police and fire officials yesterday acknowledged their investigation into accusations of sexual misconduct within the fire department that could lead to criminal charges.
However, they declined to say whether any misconduct included prostitution or whether it occurred inside the Northeast firehouse where the press conference was held.
"Obviously, sexual misconduct can mean a lot of things," said Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy L. Lanier. "It can mean administrative violations of policy, it can mean sexual harassment, and it can mean criminal violations. So now it is up to us to sort through those allegations and determine just how severe those sexual misconduct activities were."
The Washington Times first reported last week on the investigation into the prostitution claim. Sources say investigators are looking into whether female emergency medical technicians performed sex acts for money on men, including male fire department employees, in the bunkhouses of fire stations and at other locations since late last year.
Fire officials have already confirmed they are investigating whether department employees were asked to exchange sex for lucrative overtime assignments.
Mr. Fenty reiterated that the city's police and fire departments are conducting a joint investigation but would not elaborate on the purported sexual misconduct.
"People, in doing their jobs, have rightly asked, 'Well, what does that mean?' " he said. "Unfortunately for people who want more information ??? but, really, fortunately for the residents of the District of Columbia ??? you cannot comment more about anything until you have put somebody under arrest and finished an investigation."
However, Mr. Fenty acknowledged that the accusations are "serious enough that the District of Columbia fire chief, police chief and mayor are personally involved."
Sources close to the investigation told The Times that investigators are looking into whether as many as a dozen employees stationed with at least four fire companies citywide were involved in a prostitution ring referred to as "D.C. Fems" ??? a play on the acronym for the city's Fire and Emergency Medical Services department. No action has been taken against any employee in connection with the investigation.
The sources said the investigation was focused on Engine 27, at 4201 Minnesota Ave. NE. Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin said that was why he chose to hold the press conference in front of Engine 27.
"You can see this is not what's been characterized as a house of prostitution," he said. "This is a functioning Washington, D.C., fire station that has an extremely busy ambulance and an extremely busy firetruck inside."
Chief Lanier said the investigation is three-pronged, with the fire department looking into any administrative wrongdoing, the police investigating for possible criminal charges and the Office of the Inspector General deciding whether public corruption issues are involved.
She also said the investigation is in the early stages and has not advanced enough to know whether a prostitution ring was being operated out of the Minnesota Avenue firehouse.
"Right now, we do not have the information needed to file charges," she said. "We are investigating numerous allegations that may cross over into criminal charges. But until we start working a little bit more on those allegations, I cannot give you an idea one way or the other what charges may or may not be filed."
Sources said fire officials learned of the purported prostitution ring during a criminal investigation last month into accusations that a sergeant exposed himself to a female emergency medical technician. Chief Rubin put the sergeant on administrative leave, and the sergeant resigned from the department. Sources say an arrest is imminent in that case.