SEMINOLE, Fla. — What happens when a member of Congress dies in office? There is no standard set procedure and the internecine melee that followed the death of Rep. C.W. Bill Young, perhaps best illustrated by the exhaustive search for a handful of pictures and one Pentagon-approved memento, has ruined decades-old friendships and frayed family bonds seemingly beyond repair.
A corrosive mix of myopic estate planning, lax oversight and a moving truck-sized hole uncovered in guidelines governing continuing congressional operations has decimated those closest to the late congressman.
The 22-term Florida Republican died on Oct. 18, 2013; he was laid to rest on Oct. 24 not far from here, at Bay Pines National Cemetery in St. Petersburg. There’s been no such solace for those left behind, a group — including his widow, former House aide Beverly Young; the couple’s adult sons; newly minted Appropriations Committee member Rep. David Jolly and Young’s former chief of staff, Harry Glenn — currently at one another’s throats regarding the location of myriad keepsakes and the preservation of Young’s political legacy.
“You have to understand the amount of drama that has surfaced since my father’s passing, mostly from people fueled by hatred for other people,” Patrick Young, the youngest of the longtime lawmaker’s brood, said in an email that begged off weighing in on the dispirited morass.
He’s not the only one who clammed up.
The House sergeant-at-arms, Capitol Police, Department of Justice and FBI — all of which, at one point or another, were battered by a blizzard of accusatory emails, frantic phone calls and enraged Facebook posts unleashed by Beverly Young — declined to comment on the Young family’s saga.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
According to Beverly Young, her husband maintained that whenever he died, his affairs would be attended to on Capitol Hill.
“’The sergeant-at-arms, the moment I die, will be notified by the military and will secure the office,’” Beverly Young said he assured her. “Well, that didn’t happen.”
Instead, she charged, opportunists have strategically spirited away whatever they wished — for more than a year now — with absolute impunity.
“Once Bill took his last breath, I was nothing. I became a non-entity,” Beverly Young told CQ Roll Call. “It has been a frigging nightmare. And I hope that nobody else has to go through what I’ve been through as a spouse.”
The two would have celebrated 30 years of marriage (his second) this year.
The varied items she’s struggled to recover range from a gigantic shell casing expelled by a gunship that participated in Operation Enduring Freedom to a bundle of cold, hard cash the congressman purportedly stashed in his Capitol Hill office.
“He kept $10,000 in his desk because he believed the terrorists were going to attack the grid … and no one would be able to get to the banks,” Beverly Young explained. Per a hand-written note her husband left for her, the money (theoretically seeded with $100 notes and $2 bills), was tucked into an envelope marked “Closing – Morning Dew” — a cryptic reference to the home they sold in Arlington, Va., that the congressman apparently hoped would camouflage the loot from prying eyes.
“He says, ‘It’s in my desk. Upper-left drawer. Key is in my nightstand,’” she related while rereading his instructions, her quivering voice echoing through the three-bedroom, elevator-enabled condominium she had shared with her frail spouse. “I never got that key. That key was in his pants the day he went to the hospital.”
At some point, she said her husband’s chief of staff began peppering her with snapshots he’d taken inside the Rayburn office. “Harry had to have the key because he opened up Bill’s desk and he sent me pictures and he says, ‘Here’s pictures of everything in the desk drawers. I don’t want to be accused of taking anything,’” she said. (Glenn told CQ Roll Call no cash-filled envelope was found in the desk.)
Whether he had Beverly Young’s permission, Glenn was, at least in the eyes of House administrators, the best candidate to resolve the longtime lawmaker’s outstanding obligations.
Figure It Out
According to House rules, vacant congressional offices immediately fall under the purview of the Clerk of the House.
Day-to-day operations (sans voting authority) are expected to continue until a properly elected successor is installed. Closing up shop, however, falls to an appointed designee.
“The Clerk reaches out to the Member or appropriate representative of a deceased Member concerning the arrangements for the Member’s records, papers, and files, as well as the collection of any personal artifacts,” a House Administration Committee aide said in an email of the prescribed chain of command. Prying even that boilerplate response out of congressional overseers took weeks of hounding. Gatekeepers within the various departments contacted by CQ Roll Call either passed the buck — Senate aides suggested talking to Capitol Police; Capitol Police deferred to the House sergeant-at-arms; the House sergeant-at-arms pegged the Clerk of the House as having ultimate jurisdiction — or employed the silent treatment. (“That’s really nothing that we can comment on,” an FBI agent demurred.)
Glenn, who spent 25 years in the employ of C.W. Bill Young, including nearly a decade as his chief of staff, praised higher-ups for setting staffers’ minds at ease on the financial side (saying they explained when final paychecks would be issued and how continuing health benefits would work), but intimated that other concerns were left open to interpretation.
“There is no handbook. It’s just, ‘Deal with it,’” he said of the nebulous marching orders.
The first piece of business was contacting Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott to report Young’s death. After that, Glenn said staff was urged to lay low.
“Two major rules were: a) You can’t talk to the press, and b) Nobody on the payroll can be engaged in the special election — even on your own time,” he said of the far-reaching parameters — congressional staff can typically participate in campaigns during off-hours — dictated by House advisers.
After that, the office essentially switched over to autopilot.
Glenn said it conducted a mass-mailing informing constituents about casework options (allowing the office to keep plugging away or close the case and request return of all the corresponding documents), with the understanding that all continuing cases would eventually be turned over to the replacement lawmaker. Staff was prohibited from responding to new legislative correspondence, but could keep processing tour requests for the Capitol Dome and White House.
Glenn said Jodi Detwiler, an executive administrator in the Clerk’s office, informed him the D.C. office would have to be shuttered no later than the day before any special election. District offices were ordered to shut down two days earlier.
Staff was asked to inventory all the hardware for the clerk, including computers, phones, BlackBerrys, chairs and couches. “The new office actually inherits the old equipment. So they wipe it, and then give it to the new office,” Glenn explained. Sensitive information, such as completed case work and constituent data, had to be totally eradicated.
Per Glenn, the clerk requested a final disposition on Young’s desk (which surviving family members are given an opportunity to purchase) and indicated everything else “belongs to you.”
“They’re more interested in how do you dispose of the stuff that the House needs to get back … and they’re concerned that you get the office vacated in time for the new person to come in,” he said.
Unbeknownst to anyone, Glenn and his boss had been making preliminary arrangements with St. Petersburg College since 2006, albeit informally, to archive the lawmaker’s personal effects. The major sticking point, according to Glenn, was that Young repeatedly declined to sign a deed of gift with the college out of fear of sparking rumors of premature retirement.
Once he died, Glenn said he saw no reason to deviate from the long-standing practice of bubble-wrapping, boxing and shipping items as time allowed.
The eight-page, Clerk-supplied pamphlet he received just days after the funeral — the clerk’s office ignored multiple requests to furnish CQ Roll Call with a copy of the “Operation of a Vacant Congressional Office” publication — certainly did not appear to present any substantive opposition.
“It says ‘files, records and papers.’ It doesn’t say memorabilia, trophies and, you know,” Glenn said of the narrowly tailored brochure. “It says, ‘Personal memorabilia — the member or legal representative of the deceased member is responsible for the removal or shipping of personal artifacts and memorabilia that do not fit within the definition above.’ That’s the guidance on memorabilia, right there. One paragraph.”
Beverly Young said a friendly staffer in D.C. alerted her that things were “walking out of the office” shortly after her husband’s funeral.
The most prominent item the spy saw slip out the door: a giant brass “bullet.”
Per the inscription, the wartime relic was presented to the lawmaker by Gen. Charles R. Holland “in appreciation for steadfast support to special operations forces.”
Exactly when the conversation piece exited Rayburn remains unclear. But in an email exchange in late 2013 between Beverly Young and Glenn, the staffer acknowledges transferring the shell casing to Young staff alumnus Douglas Gregory, now a vice president at Van Scoyoc Associates.
“That was one of his projects and he has a picture firing it from a 130 gunship. My bad. I will get it back from him,” Glenn, using his House email account, replied to Beverly Young on Dec. 5, 2013.
Fast forward to spring 2014. The shell casing remained AWOL. And Beverly Young continued getting reports about other curious developments.
Her faith in Glenn shaken, she asked the Capitol Police to get involved.
In the beginning, she interacted mostly with Special Agent Sean Camp. According to her, he was empathetic and willing to help. But that faded fast.
“He was really nice — until he went to his supervisors,” she said.
According to Beverly Young, Camp initially told her Glenn had admitted to removing certain items from the office. Camp went on to suggest she could press charges, if she were so inclined.
A week after he’d finally gained possession of the shell casing, Camp’s tone changed dramatically. “In previous conversations and emails, you indicated that you only wanted the item back and a police report would have been the last option,” Camp fired off in an April 28, 2014, in an email. “At this point, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will not prosecute the matter.”
Soon after, Beverly Young got wind that a portrait of her husband painted while he had served in the Florida Senate — a picture that, to the best of her knowledge, was supposed to adorn the lagoon-framed, palm frond-shaded campus not a 15-minute drive from her front door here — had somehow materialized on Capitol Hill.
“The picture was an accident. The detective sent me a picture of the cops in the office,” Beverly Young said of the snapshot a Clearwater, Fla., policeman shared on social media of local law enforcement posing with Jolly in front of his predecessor’s smiling visage. “I never would have known.”
Beverly Young redoubled her efforts, blasting out messages to Camp, local media and anyone who might listen about the seemingly unauthorized redistribution of her husband’s belongings.
A month later, Camp attempted to shut her down once and for all.
“In reference to any other items which are or were in the office, you will need to pursue these in a civil manner. There is no indication that a crime occurred,” Camp emailed Beverly Young on May 29.
Undeterred, she emailed FBI Special Agent Kevin Luebke pages and pages of narrative chronicling everything that had transpired from the moment C.W. Bill Young slipped and fell in his bathroom to the withering battle she was having with congressional authorities about her delinquent survivor’s benefits.
Beverly Young said Luebke agreed to look into things, but remained skeptical she’d persevere. “Bev, you’re not going to win. I’ll just get your stuff back,” she said he counseled her.
She told CQ Roll Call that roughly six months after she’d first raised hell about the absentee “bullet,” the now-wobbly shell casing (the wooden base cracked in half somewhere along its journey) that once graced her husband’s office finally found its way back to her, via authorities. Reclaiming pictures and other memorabilia would require poking around a secured room at St. Petersburg College she said she never knew existed — with CQ Roll Call in tow.
Painted Into a Corner
James Olliver, provost of the Seminole Campus of SPC, appeared blindsided by the whole sordid affair.
By his recollection, the stockpile of items provided by C.W. Bill Young had been trickling in since early 2007.
“The materials have arrived over time. Congressman Young agreed to donate them to the College, though no formal agreement was executed,” Olliver confirmed via email. As such, he stressed, “The artifacts belong to the Young estate.”
Yet the college apparently didn’t give it a second thought when Jolly swung by the campus in early March and asked to pick through the collection.
According to an aide at the college, the Florida Republican mentioned something about “establishing a ‘Congressman Young Conference Room’ in his Washington office.”
“Rep. Jolly asked about potential items for the Washington Conference Room during a visit he had with me shortly (a week?) after his election, when he visited campus to discuss the potential of leasing office space. While he was here we walked over to the locked/secure area where the memorabilia was stored and identified the four loaned pieces that he then took/shipped to Washington,” Olliver wrote of the handshake deal that relocated the in-dispute pieces from Florida to D.C.
When Beverly Young demanded them back, the various parties involved said they rushed to smooth things over.
“When Congressman David Jolly took office in March, he chose to do a very special thing to honor C.W. Bill Young by converting the late Congressman’s longtime personal office in Washington into a conference room bearing Young’s name. To recognize Young’s legacy, Jolly’s staff sought and received permission from St. Petersburg College, the custodian of much of the Congressman’s archives, to receive on loan four pictures previously on display at the College for use in the new D.C. conference room,” Jolly spokesman Preston Rudie told CQ Roll Call in a statement. “When we learned of concerns regarding the pictures, Congressman Jolly decided to immediately return the items to the College.”
Olliver was foggy on when the issue of the missing pictures first bubbled up, but maintains it was dealt with in short order.
“I don’t recall how I learned that there was a concern about temporarily housing those loaned pieces in Washington, but know that I spoke with the Washington office and they agreed to ship them back,” he relayed via email. “A lot of time didn’t pass.”
Glenn said he got roped into the picture scuffle, even though it all happened after he’d drawn his last congressional paycheck.
Regardless, once Camp contacted him (for the second time in two months), Glenn said he immediately alerted Jolly that the pictures had become a sore spot and left it to everyone else to resolve the latest standoff.
He expressed a fondness for a candid shot of Young, from Roll Call, holding son Patrick aloft during the 1988 Republican convention in New Orleans.
“The Roll Call photographer was kind enough to give us a print of the picture, which we had blown up into a poster. We actually had it displayed in a campaign office one year,” Glenn said.
As time wore on, Glenn said it became nearly impossible to keep track of who had retrieved what from where and when.
The surviving Youngs contend they never removed anything from the Rayburn office.
“I have not been in any of my dad’s offices since two days after his death, and I was only there for a few minutes to meet members of the military to be taken to Andrews Air Force Base as I was representing my family as his casket was placed on a plane,” Billy Young told CQ Roll Call.
“I went to D.C. maybe 2-3 weeks after the funeral to box up personal items in the condo, but could only stay 1 day before I started freaking out. But NEVER WENT TO BILLS OFFICE. Didn’t have to because Harry [Glenn] secured it,” Beverly Young said in an email.
It’s been 15 months since Beverly Young said her final goodbye to her husband.
During that time, she’s become estranged from Patrick Young (the two barely speak), been cut off from her grandchildren (Patrick relocated his family from Florida to Pennsylvania at the end of 2014), was involuntarily committed and continues to seek out traces of her husband’s past that have been scattered near and far. (Expect more on these angles in future stories.)
For now, at least, it sounds like St. Petersburg College is on top of the situation.
“No other possessions have been loaned out or gone missing,” Olliver assured CQ Roll Call.
Glenn said not hashing out crystal clear, legally binding instructions from C.W. Bill Young before his death was obviously a grievous oversight.
“If a member decides he wants to start donating items to a university or archival facility before retiring, he should definitely get a deed of gift so that it’s clear, for both parties, who’s responsible for what, who takes ownership for what … and for liability purposes,” he said. “But, you know, hindsight is always 20/20.”
Glenn hopes the coda to the lawmaker’s legacy will not be reduced to a petty squabble over stuff.
“To me, Congressman Young’s service is about 53 years of public service … and the legacy of service and the good work that he did far eclipses anything that was turned over to any archives or any individual items,” Glenn said.
He maintained the office did its best under extremely trying circumstances.
“I think everybody along the way has tried to do the right thing to both protect personal property, to honor the memory of the congressman and to make sure everything gets where it’s supposed to go,” he said. “I think we did a pretty good job.”
An emotionally drained Beverly Young would beg to differ.
“I will never be able to win,” she said. “I’m just a constituent.”
CQ Roll Call went with Beverly Young to St. Petersburg College to see what remained of the late congressman’s archival memorabilia. Video by Warren Rojas.