A D.C. board issued an engineering license to a co-founder of a company with ties to Mayor Adrian Fenty even though the man has never passed the professional exam, The Washington Examiner has learned.

Abdullahi Barrow has emerged as a key figure in the ongoing investigationinto millions of dollars' worth of parks contracts awarded to companies owned by the mayor's friends and fraternity brothers. One of them, Sinclair Skinner, has said publicly that he relied on Barrow's expertise to win public parks contracts for Liberty Engineering and Design, a company founded by Skinner and Barrow.

But Barrow failed his engineer's exam seven times since 2002, sources said and documents obtained by ner show. In 2008, the Fenty-appointed Board of Professional Engineers unanimously granted Barrow the professional license because of his "eminence" in the field, board spokesman Clive Cooks said.

There are three ways to obtain a professional engineer's license in the District: passing the exam, having already obtained a license in another state, or for eminence. The board rarely issues eminence licenses, Cooks said. Since 2005, only four have been given out -- including Barrow's, Cooks said.

Barrow's lawyer, A. Scott Bolden, said any suggestion that Barrow wasn't qualified as an engineer was "nonsense."

"He's got a master's degree, he's got several years of experience in D.C. government, he's got substantial experience in the public and the private sector over several years, including being a former chief building inspector for the District government," Bolden said. "Sounds like he's qualified to me regardless of how many engineering exams he's taken."

Fenty spokeswoman Mafara Hobson didn't respond to requests for comment.

Barrow was deposed last month. Sources familiar with his testimony said that Barrow, like Skinner, had trouble recalling basic details about his company, including its first client and the last name of a third man, "Chris," who initially started the business with Skinner and Barrow.

Barrow said, however, that yet another company co-founded by him and his wife was paid by Liberty Engineering, the sources said. The company, Providence Construction, has also been given a contract to build a fence for the city's real estate agency, sources said.

The council canceled the parks contracts shortly after learning about them and ordered an investigation. The Washington Post first reported last week that Fenty's attorney general, Peter Nickles, agreed to pay $550,000 to Banneker Ventures to settle a lawsuit over the cancellations.

Council members Phil Mendelson, D-at large, Harry Thomas, D-Ward 5, and Mary Cheh, D-Ward 3, wrote Nickles a letter Tuesday condemning the settlement.

Examiner staff writer Freeman Klopott contributed to this report.