As he stood before U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly March 10, businessmen Jeffrey E. Thompson pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to violate District of Columbia and federal campaign finance laws. Thompson’s plea deal is the result of a yearslong investigation into Mayor Vincent Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign by Ron Machen, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, and federal authorities.
Thompson has been cooperating with authorities – apparently hoping to secure a light prison sentence in return – but Machen said Thompson has provided information that is only “the tip of the iceberg.” Machen has vowed to continue the investigation until all of the people who conspired with Thompson are brought to justice.
The government’s 32-page Statement of Offense describes Thompson as a “prolific political donor” who secretly transmitted more than $3.3 million to at least 28 local and federal political candidates and their campaigns. More than $2.29 million of that money went to District of Columbia campaigns.
According to the government’s evidence, from 2006 until 2011, Thompson fed $1.3 million to secret off-the-books, “shadow campaigns,” for seven D.C. candidates. The most significant local campaign was that of Vincent C. Gray during his 2010 run for mayor. The Statement of Offense referred to Gray as “Mayoral Candidate A.”
Thompson told federal authorities that Gray knew about the shadow campaign.
After Thompson’s plea, Gray went on damage control, telling NBC4 that almost everything Thompson told federal authorities was “lies,” with the exception of him acquiescing to Thompson’s request to be called “Uncle Earl.”
Thompson asked Gray to use that name to conceal his involvement as a fundraiser for Gray’s campaign and to prevent drawing the ire of then-Mayor Adrian Fenty.
But Thompson didn’t stop with that undercover name request. When he learned that Gray’s campaign needed additional funds, Thompson wanted to meet with Gray directly. According to the government, Thompson met with Gray at the apartment of Eugenia “Jeanne” Harris. There, Gray allegedly presented Thompson with a one-page budget requesting that Thompson pay $425,000 for the “Get out the Vote” campaign.
Thompson agreed, but reminded Gray that his contributions could not be made public, in part because they exceeded the legal limits on individual campaign contributions.
Throughout the entire investigation, Gray has remained defiant and steadfast in claiming his innocence.
During his news conference – amid reporter’s questions that he had enough evidence to charge Gray with at least conspiracy – Machen stopped short of saying Gray was his next target.
“Our duty and our obligation, if we bring charges, we’ve got to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt – said Machen – We do have that. We corroborate every aspect of our investigation … obviously we wouldn’t come forward if we didn’t believe the admissions today made by Mr. Thompson.
“There is a reason these cases have been pleading guilty,” he added, referring to the other guilty pleas related to Gray's investigation, saying that the government’s evidence has been strong in each case.
Machen suggested that Thompson’s plea and cooperation could be the catalyst that stops corruption in D.C. politics. “Election after election, Jeff Thompson huddles behind closed doors with corrupt candidates, political operatives, and businessmen, devising schemes to funnel millions of dollars of corporate money into local and federal elections,” he said.
“Today’s guilty plea pulls back the curtain on years of widespread corruption. With Mr. Thompson’s cooperation, we have the opportunity to hold many wrongdoers accountable and to usher in a new era of honesty, integrity and transparency in D.C. politics.”
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