Taking a victory lap, US Attorney Ron Machen said Jeffrey Thompson's admission that he conspired to defraud local and national elections "pulls back the curtain" on the corruption of DC politics going back nearly a decade, and added that more charges could be on the way for the candidates who allegedly signed off on Thompson's activities.
"The people of the District of Columbia deserve the truth," Machen said at a press conference shortly after Thompson entered his plea in federal court. "Year after year, election after election, the voters of the District of Columbia were deceived."
In his tough-talking press conference, Machen went back over many of the details about Thompson's illicit financing of numerous DC mayoral and Council campaigns his deputies described in court, including the $668,800 Thompson admitted to spending on behalf of Mayor Vince Gray in 2010 and the allegation that Gray knew about the under-the-table payments.
Although Gray was named in court, Machen referred to the mayor as "Candidate A," but repeated many of the damning allegations revealed in Thompson's plea agreement.
"Thompson asked to be called 'Uncle Earl,' and the candidate agreed to keep Thompson's secret," Machen said, referring to Thompson's request that Gray and his associates refer to him by a nickname to avoid exposing his support for Gray's mayoral bid.
In interviews this afternoon, Gray vehemently denied doing anything illegal, but did acknowlege meeting with Thompson and using the "Uncle Earl" moniker. Gray has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but Machen says his investigation, which began in 2011, continues.
"Today marks a new day," Machen said. "This investigation enters a new phase to hold accountable all those who hid the truth. We are not going away. If you participated in backroom under the table deals with Thompson, I urge you to come forward now and own up to your conduct."
Machen also went through Thompson's spending $809,000 in unreported funds on a presidential campaign in the 2008 Democratic primary, revealed in prior cases as Hillary Clinton. However, unlike many of the DC politicians who benefitted from Thompson's largesse, there is "no indication" Clinton was aware of the support she was getting, Machen said.
Machen also addressed the fact that with the government willing to waive the recommended 18-month jail sentence for the federal conspiracy charge in exchange for his cooperation, Thompson could serve as little as six months in jail.
"It's a balancing act," Machen said. "We have an opportunity to lift up this curtain. What you learned today is the tip of the iceberg."
Machen said he has no timetable for how the investigation will proceed, but today's revelations come a week before early voting begins in the Democratic primary for DC mayor that features "Mayoral Candidate A"—better known as Gray—leading the polls.
Machen's office also released a statement of offense against Thompson, which lays out in more details the shadow campaigns he confessed to financing.
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.
“Uncle Earl” has been calling the shots since 2006.
That’s the moniker DC businessman and political megadonor Jeffrey Thompson asked Vince Gray and Gray’s campaign hands to use in 2010 when he financed a $668,800 shadow campaign on Gray’s behalf, prosecutors said today as Thompson pleaded guilty to local and federal charges of conspiring to defraud elections.
Prosecutors also said, after a three-year federal investigation, that Gray knew about the illicit campaign financing and personally asked Thompson for his support, a revelation that comes less than a month before the Democratic mayoral primary in which Gray is seeking a second term.
“Mayoral candidate A is Vincent Gray,” Assistant US Attorney Michael Atkinson said before unpacking a detailed scheme in which Thompson used his businesses, friends, and family members to spend vast amounts of cash on Gray’s 2010 mayoral effort without reporting a cent. Thompson admitted to developing the shadow campaign in concert with Eugenia Clarke Harris and Vernon Hawkins, two longtime associates of Gray’s who previously entered guilty pleas over the course of the investigation.
The plotting commenced in early 2010 before Gray, then the chairman of the DC Council, entered the race, Atkinson said. According to the charges, Thompson, Harris, and Hawkins discussed Thompson's financially supporting Gray if he was willing to run against then-Mayor Adrian Fenty. But Thompson feared that openly backing a challenger to the incumbent would jeopardize his company Chartered Health Plan’s Medicaid contract worth $300 million a year. Thompson believed the business climate would be more favorable in a Gray administration, according to prosecutors. Thompson told Hawkins and Harris that his support would have to be kept secret, and that he should be referred to as “Uncle Earl.” Thompson’s first contribution came that May, when he wired $15,000 to Hawkins and Harris to purchase campaign materials.
Atkinson discussed two instances in which Gray met with Thompson. The first encounter took place on June 7, three days before a financial reporting deadline, in which the parties talked about “expediting” the fundraising process. Gray wound up reporting $561,342 on June 10, with much of the money coming in the form of contributions from people who were later reimbursed by Thompson, according to Atkinson.
Thompson also admitted to contributing another $82,500 on July 28 by wiring the money from his accouting firm, Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio and Associates, to a company run by Harris.
But the big payment came in August 2010, when Gray’s campaign was planning its get-out-the-vote operation ahead of the September 14 primary. Hawkins told Thompson the sprint to the finish would cost more than $400,000. Thompson agreed to pony it up, but only if Gray asked him personally. Atkinson said Harris arranged a dinner meeting at her apartment between Gray and Thompson, where Gray asked Thompson to pay for get-out-the-vote activities.
“Thank you, uncle,” Gray reportedly said when leaving the dinner, prosecutors said.
Thompson wired another $566,000 between September 7 and 14, when Gray beat Fenty 53 percent to 46 percent. He made additional payments after the primary, including $10,000 that went to a close family member of the mayor-elect, $40,000 to a personal friend for home repairs, and $10,000 to support the election of a union leader that Gray backed, Atkinson said.
Gray has denied knowledge of the shadow campaign since US Attorney Ron Machen opened his investigation in 2011, and he has not been charged with any wrongdoing. But he began his re-election campaign by apologizing for the “great pain” his 2010 effort caused the city. Chuck Thies, the manager of Gray’s current campaign, says the details laid out in court today should not be taken seriously.
“What value is there to what Jeff Thompson says?” Thies tells Washingtonian. “A man who has subverted democracy? This is a man you can trust?”
Thompson’s hearing contained potential bad news for another mayoral candidate, DC Council member Vincent Orange, whose successful 2011 campaign in a special election for an at-large seat was described during the proceeding. Atkinson said that Thompson met directly with “Candidate D” ahead of the March 10 fundraising deadline to collect contributions in the form of money orders from people who were reimbursed by Thompson. When the candidates in the race filed their fundraising reports, “Candidate D” led the pack.
But the details read in court could be the most damning for Gray, a fact not lost on mayoral hopeful Tommy Wells, who has run on a platform of ethical reform and was stalking outside the courthouse during the hearing.
“It’s worse than I imagined,” Wells says. “I’ve known Vince Gray for many years. I’m shocked.”
Wells came in fourth place in a pair of recent polls, but hopes he might get a boost from today. “It became a lot more real,” he says.
Former city council member Michael Brown was a frequent recipient of Jeff Thompson’s dirty cash, according to federal prosecutors. Brown pleaded guilty in June to taking bribes of $100 bills stuffed in a duffle bag and coffee mugs. That caper had no connection to Jeff Thompson, but it put Brown in the position of talking to prosecutors about his dealings with Thompson.
In 2006, Brown was running for mayor in the Democratic primary against city council chair Linda Cropp and Fenty, then the Ward 4 Council member. Atkinson told federal Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly that Thompson feared Fenty would disrupt his lucrative city contracts, so he supported Cropp and contributed funds to her campaign. Late in the campaign, when Fenty was pulling ahead of Cropp, Thompson met with Brown, asked him to drop out of the race and publicly support Cropp. In exchange, Thompson promised to provide Brown with a contract for $200,000.
In early September, Brown dropped out of the race and threw his support to Cropp. Thompson then financed a contract of $12,500 a month for Brown.
Fenty won the election.
Brown is the son of Ron Brown, former chair of the Democratic National Committee and commerce secretary under Bill Clinton. He was killed in a plane crash in the Balkans in 1996.
From Thompson’s perspective, Monday’s plea deal was a win. Sitting at the conference table and testifying before the judge, Thompson seemed at peace, for good reason. In exchange for providing prosecutors with evidence that Mayor Gray was fully aware that his campaign was receiving Thompson’s dirty money, Thompson could serve no time in federal prison.
The prosecutors are asking Kollar-Kotelly to waive the 18 months he might have served for violating federal campaign and tax laws. That leaves Thompson facing a six-month sentence for violating DC campaign finance laws. It is quite possible that prosecutors will allow Thompson to skip jail time on those charges, as well. He could wind up spending six months confined to his home.
“Uncle Earl” might wind up getting off pretty easy.
Sulaimon Brown, the fringe mayoral candidate whose allegations in 2011 set off the federal investigation that eventually implicated Gray and Thompson, was not in federal court Monday. Brown alleged that Gray’s campaign paid him to harass Fenty, and Gray promised him a job in his government. Brown got the job, but when he was quickly fired, he went public with his allegations, which proved to be true. When federal prosecutors investigated Brown’s case, they unravelled Thompson’s shadow campaign.
Brown’s attorney, James Rudasill, attended Monday’s hearing.
“They thought they were untouchable,” he told Washingtonian. “They were not.”
Nominations for the annual City and Regional Magazine Awards were announced last week, and Washingtonian came away with 15. From Sophie Gilbert’s hilarious account of her experiences joining Mensa to Harry Jaffe’s look at a DC neighborhood hiding underground toxic waste to our multiplatform feature on local hikes and bikes, the works represent a wide range of subjects and storytelling techniques, and we couldn’t be prouder of the recognition. In addition to nominations for Cover Excellence and Excellence Online, Washingtonian Bride & Groom and the Washingtonian Welcome Guide picked up nods in the Ancillary Publication categories. Read all the nominated stories below.
“Talk Nerdy to Me: My Year in Mensa” by Sophie Gilbert
Food or Dining Writing: Todd Kliman
“Angel Is Airborne” by Garrett Graff
“Jeffrey Goldberg, Washington’s Most Pugnacious Journalist” by Paul Starobin
Excellence in Writing: June 2013
“Shot Down” by Shane Harris
“You’re Pretty—You Could Make Some Money” by Marisa Kashino
“Children Are Dying” by Alexandra Robbins
“The Toxic Waste Pit Next Door” by Harry Jaffe
Businessman and longtime DC government contractor Jeffrey Thompson was charged today with two conspiracy charges in connection with allegations that he funded a "shadow campaigns" behalf of numerous local and federal candidates, according to a criminal information document filed by US Attorney Ron Machen. A criminal information suggests that Thompson will plead guilty when he appears in court Monday afternoon after a three-year investigation.
Thompson is charged with one federal count of conspiracy to defraud and one District count of conspiracy to commit a crime. According to the charging document, Thompson allegedly used the businesses he ran to funnel $668,800 in "excessive and unreported" donations to a mayoral campaign in 2010. Prosecutors also allege that Thompson acted "in coordination with and in support" of the candidate. Details in the criminal information make clear that Mayor Vince Gray's campaign was the beneficiary.
Additionally, Thompson is also charged with financing illicit donations to seven other candidates in city elections, including a 2006 mayoral candidate who received about $278,000 in unreported aid, several candidates in races for at-large seats on the DC Council, and candidates in wards 1, 4, and 6.
The federal count against Thompson alleges he funneled unreported money to at least 13 candidates between 2006 and 2012, including a 2008 presidential campaign that received $608,750. A guilty plea entered last year by one of Thompson's former associates revealed that effort was waged on behalf of Hillary Clinton.
In total, proseuctors allege that Thompson, going back to 2006, spent almost $2 million to illicitly wire money to more than a dozen candidates for District offices, including schemes that used as many as 75 individuals to make straw contributions.
But the biggest single shadow campaign Thompson is accused of financing is the one on behalf of Gray's 2010 mayoral bid. The criminal information does not mention the mayor by name, though Machen's investigation has yielded guilty pleas by four of Gray's former campaign associates. Gray himself has not been accused of any wrongding.
Gray's 2014 campaign manager, Chuck Thies, sounds vindicated about the Thompson charges. "Mayor Gray called for this investigation," he tells Washingtonian by text message. "People who break laws must face justice."
In a later statement from Gray's campaign, Thies says he expects Gray's opponents in the current mayoral campaign to add the charges against Thompson to their talking points.
"We urge the media to be cautious when reporting the facts of this case and avoid the innuendo that our political opponents will gladly promote as gospel," Thies says.
Thompson will appear in US District Court at 1:30 PM today. Read the criminal information below.
Sunday morning marks the annual nuisance of having to set all your timepieces forward by one hour as daylight saving time begins. But for Washingtonians spending their Saturday nights carousing at the bars, the time shift also brings an important notice about public transit.
“At 2 AM, Sunday, March 9, all clocks will be moved ahead one hour. When that happens, it will become 3 AM EDT (new time) and the Metrorail system will close,” Metro advises its customers. In other words, the last trains of the night will leave before 2 AM.
So you might have to figure out a different way to get home if your Saturday night rager runs long. But it’s not all bad. Although Metro is losing an hour, the District allows bars to stay open until 4 AM on Sunday morning. And this year marks the first time when the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is not charging establishments a $200 fee to stay open an extra hour.
Metro also generously reminds its customers that they will get an “extra hour” of service in November when the clock reverts to standard time and 2 AM becomes 1 AM. That’s little comfort this weekend, but at least last call at the bar will be after last call for Metro.
We already know that Washington, DC, is our nation’s most literate city (and if you didn’t know that already, it’s because you’ve been ignoring my @TheBookMaven tweets). It makes sense, because our fair metro region kind of invented the “knowledge economy,” by which I mean the Founding Fathers were a bunch of policy wonks.
Given our reading proclivities, each month I plan to post a list of the books I think Washingtonians should know about. Cocktail party chatter and all that, folks. However, winnowing it down is and will remain difficult; I could easily list twice as many books. (See the last title on the Nonfiction list for why I will constrain my monthly list to ten titles.)
I’m always open to recommendations, too: email@example.com.
The New Mind of the South by Tracy Thompson
A Georgia native who now lives “just outside Washington, DC,” (we are sort of Southern city, y'all) journalist Thompson gets the American South. After years as a journalist covering the region, she decided to see how things are now—and was surprised, dismayed, and heartened, in equal measures.
Field Guide to the Natural World of Washington, D.C. by Howard Youth
The start of spring is a perfect time to contemplate the flora and fauna that share our cement and subdivisions, and this gorgeous illustrated book is a great way to do it. From bats to bluebells, you’ll find your own little bit of nature represented.
The “secret city” Oak Ridge, Tennessee appeared on no map during the Second World War, yet its population of 75,000—mostly young women from all around the US—were doing the kind of work that would have put it on the map if that had not been forbidden. Great, relevant, readable.
The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown by Paul Taylor/Pew Research Center
Forget about gender, race, and class. The real divide in America has arrived, and it’s going to get worse, as Baby Boomers seek to “age in place” and Millennials attempt to “get a life.” Might the fisticuffs be avoided? Research from other aging societies says a cautious “yes.”
Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte
Schulte knows whereof she speaks: After all, she lives in Alexandria, is married, has children, and works for the Washington Post. So listen to your fellow Washingtonian when she tells you that there are ways to find a balance—although it may involve giving up (gasp!) perfection.
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
An astonishing inversion/retelling of the Snow White tale in which a woman named Boy, her stepdaughter Snow, and her biological child Bird challenge the notions of race, identity, family, and community in a 1950s Massachusetts town. Nigerian author Oyeyemi has triumphed.
Falling Out of Time by David Grossman
A grieving father tells his wife he is off in search of their dead son; yet “Walking Man” (as he comes to be known) simply makes ever-larger circles around their town. Grossman, an Israeli novelist (To The End of the Land), makes storytelling a meditative act.
After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman
“Felix Brewer left five women behind. Now there are four. Does at least one of them know the truth?” The wondrous—and, lucky for us, Baltimore-based—Laura Lippman does it again, crafting a mystery with superb characterization, great atmosphere, and a sharp attitude.
The Man Who Walked Away by Maud Casey
Based on the true story of Albert Dadas, a 19th-century French psychiatric patient, DC’er Casey’s new novel charts a possible itinerary for the seemingly trance-bound man. Her writing takes what might have been a fanciful tale to the realm of art about alienation and homecoming.
All I Have in This World by Michael Parker
You’ve read novels about an object and its owners (think of Annie Proulx’s Accordion Crimes), but don’t pass by Michael Parker’s book about a “low-slung sky-blue 1984 Buick Electra” without kicking its tires, so to speak—it’s no lemon but a sweet, sinuous, and smart love story.
As a persecuted spiritual leader, Nobel laureate, and general espouser of peace and reconciliation, the Dalai Lama is usually welcomed, in this country at least, by adoring crowds. Not today. A speech by the Buddhist leader at the Washington National Cathedral about “building a more compassionate and peaceful world” brought out several hundred protesters calling the Dalai Lama an oppressor, for banning a strain of Tibetan Buddhism.
“He lies all the time,” says Yangte Rinpoche, a Tibetan national who follows the Shugden branch of Buddhism, which worships a deity considered to be a “Dharma protector.”
The Shugden school was banned by the Dalai Lama’s predecessor, a policy he continued when he rose to the position. But members of the Shugden community accuse the Dalai Lama of turning his back on something he himself practiced for decades. The Dalai Lama belongs to the Gelug branch of Tibetan Buddhists.
The ban, says Rinpoche, makes life difficult for followers in Tibet, including limiting hospital access.
“He’s crazy,” Rinpoche says while leading a mostly American crowd in chanting, “Religious freedom.”
Besides chanting and slowing traffic on Wisconsin Avenue, Northwest, the demonstrators passed out pamphlets calling the Dalai Lama “the worst dictator in this modern day.”
The reason for the Shugden ban is a murky brand of Himalayan inside baseball, but the Dalai Lama has made statements in the past that it is harmful to his health.
According to Choma Ostheimer, a Shugden practitioner from San Francisco who, like many in today’s crowd, has chased the Dalai Lama on his current US tour, the Dalai Lama’s claims about his health don’t make sense.
“He’s older than most Tibetans by ten years,” Ostheimer says.
The average life expectancy for Tibetan males is 67 years. The Dalai Lama is 77.
A central figure in the investigation into Mayor Vince Gray’s 2010 campaign is expected to agree to a plea deal as soon as today, putting new attention on an ethical scandal that the mayor has tried to avoid while running for re-election.
Businessman and longtime mega-donor Jeffrey Thompson is in the “final stages” of making a deal with federal proseuctors, the Washington Post and NBC4 report, potentially closing the loop on a three-year investigation into an alleged “shadow campaign” waged on Gray’s behalf in 2010 that spent $653,000 in unreported funds to elect the mayor. Thompson is believed to be the source of that money.
Over the past three years, four of Gray’s 2010 campaign advisers and friends have pleaded guilty to their roles in the scheme, including longtime Gray confidante Vernon Hawkins, who confessed to lying to federal officials about an attempt to divert the FBI’s investigation into the 2010 effort. Other guilty pleas collected over the course of the investigation have also revealed that Thompson allegedly funneled illegal funds to Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign.
Meanwhile, US Attorney Ron Machen has said that his investigation will continue regardless of the impending election.
“Our decision is based on the facts and whether a person violated criminal law,” Machen said in November.
Gray has repeatedly denied any knowledge of the shadow campaign, but he noted the headaches it has caused for himself and the city as he started his re-election effort, kicking off his 2014 campaign announcement with an apology. “I apologize to you for the pain that my campaign caused,” he said. “I ask for your forgiveness.”
But voters in next month’s Democratic primary—early voting for which begins in nine days—might not be as forgiving as the mayor hopes. Although Gray continues to lead polls of likely voters, with a 28 percent plurality in a Marist College survey last week, 70 percent said in the same poll they say they believe Gray acted either unethically or illegally in 2010.
Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook said today that bullets found in three high-profile murders are similar enough that authorities will start investigating the cases as being linked to each other.
“This is our obligation to this community,” Cook said at a press conference to update reporters about the slaying of 59-year-old music teacher Ruthanne Lodato, who was killed February 6 when a gunman knocked on the door of her Ridge Road Drive home and opened fire when she answered.
Lodato’s death raised immediate comparisons to the November death of Ron Kirby, the director of transportation planning for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, who was also killed in his home, and to the unsolved 2003 murder of Nancy Dunning, the wife of then-Alexandria Sheriff Jim Dunning.
Cook said the bullets recovered from all three homicide scenes show the “same general rifling class,” but there is not enough evidence to determine if the small-caliber rounds used in the killings came from the same gun.
“The cases appear to be linked, but until we have evidence to point to only one suspect, we investigate all possibilities,” Cook said.
Police have not identified any suspects in Kirby’s death, but Lodato’s killer is described as an older, balding man with gray hair and a beard. Cook said Alexandria authorities are being assisted by the FBI, the Virginia State Police, and even a group of 80 cadets from the Northern Virginia police academy. No motive has been established, though, and Cook added today that the suspect is not assumed to be an Alexandria resident.