Hours after being implicated in a Philadelphia political corruption scheme, DC political strategist Tom Lindenfeld found himself cast out of Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser’s inner circle.
Bowser, who touts her patience and loyalty with people, cut her ties with Lindenfeld not long after he was identified as fitting the description of a political consultant who served as the bagman in a plot to hide an illegal $1 million loan. Such a role would be a big turn for a longtime DC political operative who relished walloping Mayor Vince Gray over the scandal surrounding his 2010 campaign and was enlisted by the Washington Post to write a high-dudgeon editorial about cleaning up municipal politics. But it appears a campaign that Lindenfeld advised in Philadelphia did not always follow his published advice.
According to documents entered in federal court Wednesday in Philadelphia, ten-term US Representative Chaka Fattah’s 2007 mayoral campaign did not disclose $1 million borrowed from a benefactor believed to be Al Lord, the former chief executive of student-loan giant Sallie Mae. The guilty plea for Fattah aide Greg Naylor states that he and his boss attempted to pay off the $1 million and other campaign loans by funneling federal grant money through nonprofit organizations and political consulting firms.
Naylor’s plea document lists “Person B,” described as “a founder and partner in a Washington, D.C. political consulting firm,” serving as the courier. The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News reported Wednesday that this characterization fits Lindenfeld, who consulted for Fattah’s 2007 race. According to plea, this individual and his company took the money around April 2007, when Fattah’s campaign looked doomed. Person B spent about $600,000 on Fattah’s behalf, including $200,000 in “walking-around money.” (“Walking-around money” is not alien to Lindenfeld’s DC campaigns. Bowser’s finance reports list hundreds of people who were paid up to $200 for canvassing the District in the days leading up to this year’s Democratic primary on April 1.)
Person B returned the $400,000 balance after Fattah lost the 2007 election, but soon after, the source of the loan called in the other $600,000, which was not included in the campaign’s outstanding debt. With Fattah’s illicit benefactor pleading “acute financial difficulty,” prosecutors say Fattah arranged for a nonprofit organization to transfer money it received from the Sallie Mae Fund and federal grant programs to a company run by another individual identified only as “Person C.” That person’s and Person B formed a “strategic partnership” in January 2008, with the Sallie Mae and federal money first going from the nonprofit group to Person C’s company, and then onto Person B’s company, which resembles Lindenfeld’s LSG Strategies, before finally being paid back to the original donor.
It was a stressful, high-stakes scheme, according an e-mail from Person B to Person C with the subject line, “You are killing me.”
“I made a commitment based on yours to me,” Person B wrote in the January 30, 2008 message. “Please don’t drag this out. I have a lot on the line.”
The transfer went through the following day, but the scheme started to unravel two months later, when the Justice Department started auditing the grant it issued to the nonprofit. Naylor’s guilty plea states that Person B’s District-based political consulting firm never did any work to justify a $600,000 payment from Person C’s outfit. Fattah is currently running for his 11th House term.
Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.