Co-Founder: 'Firm's Good Works Overlooked'
For more than a week, the firm of Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio & Associates (TCBA), has been stuck in the middle of a firestorm following raids at the office and home of TCBA Chairman Jeffrey Thompson on Friday, March 2.
There is widespread speculation that the move by the Federal Bureau of Investigation is centered on Thompson's possible involvement as part of an on-going investigation into whether there were financial improprieties during Mayor Vincent C. Gray's 2010 election campaign.
Ralph B. Bazilio, one of the firm's three founding partners, expressed his growing concern during an exclusive interview last Friday, of the aspersions being cast on the firm which is only peripherally involved in whatever is transpiring.
"The TCBA story is getting lost," he said. "Just because this has happened doesn't mean TCBA doesn't have good standing in the community. The firm has a built a tremendous reputation. Many people admire the work we do. There have been a lot of reassurances to staff and clients. No one is walking away from us. During this week, we have heard from numerous clients from around the country. We have been getting calls of support and well wishes from clients and others."
"We want to tell the TCBA story. You won't find another firm that has done the things we have in this community. TCBA is ploughing back into the community. Pick any five local community organizations at random and we have touched them. Whether it is the homeless, youth, rehabilitation, the elderly, housing, or counseling, TCBA is in there somewhere."
Bazilio checked off some of the charitable efforts in which the staff is involved. These include, working with pregnant teens, buying Christmas gifts for needy children, and participating in races and walks for cancer, HIV/AIDS, leukemia and asthma.
He was coming out of a staff meeting which a participant compared to church service because of the fervor generated in the room. He said in the aftermath of the raid, staffers remain "buried in the books."
"There is a fear of being cast in a really poor light," said Bazilio at the firm's 15th Street offices in Northwest. "This was pretty horrific for the employees."
Bazilio recounted what he knows about the 8 a.m. morning raid. He said federal officials have chosen not to explain the precise nature of the investigation.
"The agents surprised us. They asked for access to documents. We cooperated and gave them access," Bazilio said. "I don't know what they wanted and asked them by telephone. They chose to look for themselves. I don't know if they found what they were looking for."
"They haven't told us what they were looking for."
He said the agents did not take any client records, and Bazilio reiterated that whatever the feds are looking for does not include any of the firm's clients.
"This has nothing to do with us in terms of our performance as CPAs or consultants," Bazilio said. "There are several elected officials who the chairman of the firm has held fundraisers for. It's public knowledge."
Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio & Associates is the largest black-owned business of its kind in the United States. The firm has a staff of roughly 200 employees and an additional 300 who are contractors. Bazilio said TCBA is a full-service professional services firm that provides accounting, audit and assurance, information systems technology, cyber-security, financial consulting and advisory services, management consulting and income tax services. The 29-year-old company's headquarters is in Washington, D.C.
Bazilio said TCBA has clients in the federal government, state and local government agencies, Fortune 500 companies, financial institutions, quasi-governmental organizations, small and medium businesses, nonprofits and trade associations. Employees also have or are handling projects in the Philippines, Mexico, Canada, Pakistan, Senegal and 14 other African countries.
Thompson, 57, is a major donor to D.C. political campaigns. He has raised and contributed considerable sums of money to former Mayors Anthony A. Williams and Adrian Fenty and also to Gray who is said to have received a $100,000 donation. Thompson is purported to have also given money to every member on the D.C. Council, with the exception of Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6).
According to Loose Lips, of the Washington City Paper, "a review of campaign records from 2000 to the present shows that Thompson, his companies, employees of his companies, companies that do business with companies he owns, and others with some sort of link to Thompson have given about $630,000 in direct campaign contributions over the last 10 years. Add in contributions from Thompson and his companies to political action committees and elected officials' constituent services funds, and the total shoots past $730,000."
Thompson is a noted philanthropist. He has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to many D.C.–based organizations, including the University of the District of Columbia Foundation and the National Council of Negro Women.
In addition to his affiliation with TCBA, Thompson owns and is chairman of D.C. Chartered Health Plan, Inc., which signed a $322 million annual contract with the D.C. government. It is the single largest contract in the city's history.
The company is responsible for the delivery of healthcare in the District, especially to the city's poorest citizens. The company processes claims and handles private medical information for more than 100,000 District residents.
A number of people contacted for this story declined to comment but a person familiar with the workings of D.C. government and political campaigns, said federal investigators are trying to ascertain if Thompson violated local and federal campaign finance laws.
"I'm not saying I know anything ... but there are several questions that have been raised," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
At present, individuals can donate a maximum of $2,000 to a mayoral candidate, $1,500 to a person running for council chair, $1,000 to an at-large candidate and $500 for a person vying for a council seat. In addition, he explained, each individual and corporation is limited to a contribution of $1,000. If a person owns more than one corporation and also runs an independent limited liability corporation (LLC) which is not a subsidiary of that particular company, that person can contribute according to the number of LLCs, he/she owns. For example, if a person had 25 LLCs, she could contribute $26,000 maximum – as an individual and replicate the sum 25 times as an LLC doing business in the District.
"All of this is legal. They can say bundling is bad or illegal but it's not," the source said. "If someone decides to provide cash to a candidate, or campaign and the campaign converts that to money orders, that's illegal. Or if a person or corporation were to encourage employees through fundraisers to make contributions and they were reimbursed for that, that's not their contribution, but his. If that's proven, it's illegal."
Other scenarios that would raise suspicion is if a campaign contributor provided "a bundle of cash to someone to convert to money orders" using fictitious names or if a person signed other people's names on those money orders, that's illegal.
"These are some of the issues that the feds are probably looking at," the source said. "The mayor has not accounted for all the money orders he received. According to [WUSA Channel 9's] Bruce Johnson, 200-300 money orders were purchased across the street from the Gray headquarters."
"What would be the motivation? You're saying that 200 to 300 people decided to contribute and they all bought the money orders at the same place? That's unlikely."
Suspicions are also raised about the actual amount of cash given to the Gray campaign, where it came from, and the sheer volume of money orders.
"It's not illegal to make a contribution by money order. That in and of itself is not illegal," the source said. "But a campaign with an extraordinary number of money orders ..."
This case speaks to the issues that are roiling the Mayor's Office and the D.C. Council about where money is coming from, the lack of transparency regarding campaign contributions, attempts by contributors to give more than the legal allowable limits and the efforts to hide donor identities.
A D.C. resident who follows local politics closely said he's hoping Thompson won't be implicated in any wrongdoing.
"I think what's bothersome is that deep down Jeff is just a big guy and no one wants that big guy taken down," said the man, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity. "D.C. is tiny. You can't do politics in D.C. and not have touched Jeff Thompson. Everyone who did politics in this town crossed paths with Jeff Thompson. People don't want to say anything, it's just a sigh. People think he's an upstanding guy. It's like the patriarch is hurt. He may have exceeded legal limits; that's just fines."
The 40-year-old man said as Council members effect the various ethics and campaign finance rules, all it does is tighten the noose on black elected officials who don't have as wide a pool of potential donors. He said people he knows see Gray and Council Chairman Kwame Brown "hemmed up" and they hope Thompson doesn't find himself in the same position.
"It's a bummer. I was happy that a black man was able to go so hard. It's disheartening. People relished that Jeff had the power he did. Jeff had the money; they're just saying whether he handled the money right or not."
The man said he hates the witch-hunt quality of the allegations, adding that he hoped the media would give Thompson a fair shake. He also blamed Sulaimon Brown for the city's political unrest.
"People like Sulaimon don't get to bring down people," he said of the former mayoral candidate whose allegations opened a number of investigations against Gray. "He's running a train wreck through a lot of folks. I don't want people to get a pass, but you have to come to the party with clean hands."
Bazilio said he has gotten no indication from federal investigators about when the probe will end. In the meantime, he said, the company will stay focused on its mission.
"We have 29 years of success providing top-quality service nationally and internationally," Bazilio said. "This story is centered on D.C. Should the story not be told that the firm has been helping the L.A. Metro for 14 years protecting how their money is spent? Or our work on the African continent to check these governments' financial systems so that money and aid from the U.S. government will be secure?"
"Our staff is tough. We recruit employees who are tough because the clients are tough. They are handling this well. They know the significance. They are as frustrated as I am when they see only a part of the story being told. They built the place, they are fiercely loyal and they understand. They don't expect these blips to affect their careers in the firm."