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House Panel Hires Ex-Member as Restaurant Consultant

March 5, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The House Administration Committee is paying former Rep. Larry J. Smith $18,624 for a 10-week study comparing the House’s food system with private caterers.

Smith’s contract was approved Jan. 26 by committee Chairman Charlie Rose, D-N.C., and ranking Republican William Thomas of California, committee special counsel Heidi Pender said Thursday.

Pender said the House needs the expertise of Smith, who ″at age eight ... began working in his grandfather’s catering business″ and continued in the food industry for many years.

The House took control of its restaurant from a private contractor in 1991 after it was revealed that lawmakers stiffed the company with thousands of dollars in unpaid bills. The money eventually was collected, Rose has said.

Smith’s hiring was revealed Thursday in a Capitol Hill newspaper, Roll Call. After the story appeared Thomas sent committee Republicans a memo calling the contract ″not wise″ - because, he said, such contracts should be handled ″in a non-political atmosphere″ by the House’s new administrator for non-legislative services.

″Not to have signed this contract would have invited the Democrats’ refusal to sign contracts of qualified minority consultants, to the obvious detriment of Republicans,″ Thomas said, explaining why he signed it.

He said that Democrats and Republicans on the panel have an arrangement that allows each party to hire its own staff and consultants.

Pender denied Thomas’ accusation about possible retaliation, saying, ″I don’t think that necessarily to be true.″

She said the Smith contract and four others - including three Republican consulting contracts - all were approved by the same margin in a poll of the committee. She refused to reveal the results of the poll.

Also among the five consultants working for the committee is a former Republican House member, John Napier of South Carolina. Napier was hired by the Democrats for $5,000 over the same period as Smith, to assist Rose on a number of committee matters.

House committees hire consultants routinely. Ironically, the Smith contract came to light on the day Congress approved a freeze on members’ pay at $133,600. Leaders trumpeted Congress’ willingness to do its part to sacrifice at a time the Clinton administration is proposing deep spending cuts.

The Smith contract began Jan. 26 and runs through March 31. The former lawmaker could not be reached for comment at his Fort Lauderdale law office.

Smith served in the House from 1983 through last year when he retired after writing 161 bad checks at the House bank. Smith also has been reprimanded by the Florida Supreme Court for allowing his name to remain associated with a law firm after leaving it.

He also is under criminal investigation for his role in using his former law firm to allegedly convert $10,000 in campaign funds into money for his own use - including $4,000 that went to pay a gambling debt.

Smith’s contract calls for him to conduct a ″survey and review of the food industry for the purpose of comparing the House restaurant catering operations with the industry.″

Pender said Smith was an expert in the restaurant and catering business.

″At 13, he was running snack bars for his father. He also was a waiter during college and law school. He was a bartender, supervisor, manager and catering manager in his father’s business,″ Pender said, reading from Smith’s resume.

″He leased snack bar and catering facilities at a large hotel in North Miami Beach and ran them 2 1/2 years, and ran a vending route at the same time. He served as a consultant to other restaurant owners.

″He was very important and instrumental in helping the committee negotiate″ the end of the House contract with Service America Corp., the former House food contractor, Pender said.

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