Mayor Vince Gray is in Las Vegas, trying to convince big-box stores and shopping centers to set up shop in DC. Judging from events in federal court today in DC, and the pace of investigations into Gray's 2010 mayoral campaign, he might want to spend a few more days in Nevada. This might be his last visit as mayor.
When the FBI and federal prosecutors started poking around Gray's campaign documents, I was dubious that any criminal charges would reach the mayor. But after Thomas Gore, his close friend and assistant campaign manager, pleaded guilty Tuesday to obstruction of justice, destroying evidence, and giving campaign contributions under false pretenses, I am revising the odds to 60-40.
Gore was the ultimate insider in Gray's campaigns, going back to his runs for DC council in 2004 and 2006. It is Gore's connection to the ultimate outsider--Sulaimon Brown--that makes me believe the feds might be able to pin a crime on the mayor.
Brown is the outlandish character who triggered the federal probe. Gore makes Brown less outlandish and more toxic. Brown alleged that Vince Gray's campaign operatives, including Gray's top advisor, Lorraine Green, paid him to harass incumbent mayor Adrian Fenty during mayoral forums. Brown also alleged that Gray personally promised him a job as part of the deal to put the verbal knife into Fenty.
Brown got a job. Then he got fired. Then he cried foul and charged Gray with reneging on the deal.
At first glance, Sulaimon Brown is the least credible accuser imaginable. He rants and raves. He showed up to testify before the city council in shades and refused to take them off. He lectured council members. His contention that Gray's people passed him envelopes of cash was easily dismissed.
Until, that is, Tom Gore pleaded guilty, in part because feds found he had destroyed a notebook that contained the line items of cash that went to Brown. All of a sudden, Brown looks a lot more credible, and his description of a deal with Gray seems more plausible. Among the evidence that Brown turned over to the FBI were cell-phone records that included a series of calls with Gray at the height of the mayoral campaign. Why talk to a purported rival? Perhaps to conspire and collaborate and arrange for a future payoff?
There's more bad news for Vince Gray to follow the fall of Tom Gore. My sources say Gore is not the only Gray insider who has been talking to federal authorities. Among them are advisers Green, Vernon Hawkins, Howard Brooks, and Jean Harris, whose offices were raided by the FBI.
Another problem for Gray might be that according to my sources, Mark Long has been talking to federal agents. Long has run for city council and now works for at-large council member Vincent Orange. Long also worked for Jean Harris, contributed money to the Gray campaign, and served as Gray's driver at various times during the campaign. Drivers hear lots of things. How good is Long's memory? Does he have recollections that might incriminate the mayor?
The question is, what did Gray know about the payments to Brown? Will his friends finger him? More important, did he tell the truth to federal officials when they asked him about the payments?
The mayor is known as a calm, mild-mannered fellow, more the wise academic than the tough-talking politician. Either way, his friends say he micromanages his affairs. He likes to know the details of every deal, every policy, every regulation. If that's the case, it is very hard to believe Gore and other close advisers were paying off Brown without Gray's complicity.
Announcing Gore's plea, US Attorney Ron Machen said: "In 2010, the voters of the District of Columbia were deceived. Envelopes stuffed with fraudulent money orders prevented the public from knowing that one mayoral campaign was secretly financing the campaign of an opposing candidate."
Machen and his investigators and prosecutors were not out for Tom Gore. He's now cooperating with federal agents. They are hoping for bigger prey--as in a mayor.