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Possible Indictment Clouds Gray Re-Election Bid

Barrington M. Salmon | 3/19/2014, 3 p.m. | Updated on 3/20/2014, 10:39 p.m.
Since D.C.'s U.S. Attorney Ron Machen Jr. announced March 10 that local businessman Jeffrey Thompson admitted to secretly funding a ...
A beleaguered D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray insists that he has not broken the law. (Courtesy photo)

Since D.C.’s U.S. Attorney Ron Machen, Jr., announced March 10 that local businessman Jeffrey Thompson admitted to secretly funding a $3.3 million shadow campaign to finance national and local candidates in 28 races, including D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, residents have been waiting for the other shoe to drop.

From the time that Machen first indicated that he was investigating Gray’s 2010 campaign, Gray has been running the city under a cloud. He has continued to strenuously deny any wrongdoing and both he, his Campaign Manager Chuck Thies and his attorney Bob Bennett are adamant that he did nothing wrong and that he was also not culpable because he had handed over the day-to-day running of the campaign to other aides.

One local attorney who himself ran for public office said that he’s very skeptical of Machen’s timing.

“The Department of Justice is free to indict or offer deals to whoever it wants. They could charge the mayor but they haven’t yet. But they’ve convicted him in the public and political spheres,” said A. Scott Bolden, managing partner of Reed Smith, LLC. “Jeff Thompson’s value to the government is that he’s the only one who can put the mayor in meetings and the $600,000 in campaign contributions.”

According to the plea deal, Thompson is looking at a possible six month sentence with speculation rife that he’ll be placed under house arrest. Bolden said the deal hammered out by Thompson and the feds raises a number of questions, including whether the timing of the announcement was a political maneuver aimed at influencing the upcoming elections.

“The deal is underwhelming in terms of the millions involved,” said Bolden, whose practice focuses on complex criminal and civil/regulatory defense litigation, defending individuals and corporate clients in state and federal trials and grand jury proceedings; conducting internal investigations for major public and private corporations; and advising clients on white collar criminal issues, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigations and prosecutions. “This doesn’t pass the smell test … The fact that Gray may have had knowledge is one thing. But did he conspire to inject funds into his campaign?”

Last week Machen announced the plea deal with Thompson a founder of the accounting firm Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio, and former owner of the D.C. Chartered Health Plan which had a $300 million contract with the city. Thompson also lavished tremendous amounts of money on candidates and campaigns. Thompson, Machen said, delivered $1.3 million in illegal campaign contributions to the shadow campaigns of seven local candidates. Thompson is alleged to have given the Gray campaign $663,000 during his 2010 run for mayor. The government’s 32-page Statement of Offense refers to Thompson as a prolific political donor who secretly funneled more than $3.3 million to at least 28 local and federal political candidates and their campaigns. Of that amount, $2.29 million ended up funding D.C. campaigns.

Thompson pled guilty in federal court to two counts of conspiracy to violate D.C. and federal campaign finance laws. The plea deal comes after a three-year federal investigation by Machen and the federal government into Gray’s dealings. Several of Gray’s associates and friends have pled guilty but Machen said that is just the tip of the iceberg. He vows to continue digging until everyone who conspired with Thompson is held to account.