News & Politics

Mayor Gray Vehemently Denies Receiving “Illicit” Funds From Jeff Thompson

Gray says the contributions his campaign received were “a perfectly legitimate experience.”

Mayor Vincent Gray said Monday afternoon that allegations he knew of illegal funds flowing into his 2010 campaign were “absolutely false.”

Speaking to WRC-TV reporter Tom Sherwood, Gray acknowledged his campaign received funds from city contractor Jeffrey Thompson, but he said it was “a perfectly legitimate experience.”

Earlier Monday Thompson pleaded guilty in federal court to violating federal and District campaign laws. Federal prosecutors detailed Thompson’s spending $2.3 million since 2006 in unreported campaign contributions.

Gray’s 2010 campaign has been implicated as the recipient of $630,000 in under-the-table funds from Thompson, whose companies have thrived on millions in city contracts. Four of Gray’s closest political aides have pleaded guilty to federal charges in connection with US Attorney Ron Machen’s three-year probe, but Gray has maintained he was unaware of the so-called “shadow campaign.”

At Monday’s hearing, federal prosecutors for the first time described specific meetings where Gray asked for and received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Thompson, and Gray knew the funds were not to be reported. Sherwood asked Gray about allegations by prosecutors that Thompson forked over $10,000 for his son, Carlos, and another $40,000 to renovate the home of his personal friend.

“These are lies,” Gray told Sherwood in his first response to the allegations, “absolute lies.” But Gray did corroborate some elements of the case that assistant US Attorney Michael Atkinson described. He acknowledged, for example, that Jeff Thompson “initially said no” to requests for campaign contributions for fear of retribution from Gray’s opponent, incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Prosecutors said Thompson gave money under the table for the same reason. Prosecutors also said Thompson asked Gray and his aides to refer to him as “Uncle Earl,” to mask his association with the campaign.

“That’s true,” Gray told Sherwood. “I thought it was because of him not wanting to be seen as legitimately raising money for my campaign. That’s true. But there was never any illicit secrecy associated with that.”

But that begs the question of how Thompson gave money to Gray’s campaign if he didn’t want to be seen as “legitimately” contributing. Gray showed a defiant front to Sherwood, based on his word against Thompson’s, and he signaled the weakness of the prosecutor’s case to this point.

“I’m sure there are no documents that will corroborate my involvement in that time,” he said.

Until Machen provides documents, it’s Gray’s word against Thompson’s.