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A federal judge has sentenced businessman Jeffrey Thompson, whom a prosecutor characterized as the “embodiment of the District’s culture of crooked elections,” to three months behind bars and three years of subsequent probation for illegal political funding operations—including a “shadow campaign” that helped bankroll ex-Mayor Vince Gray‘s 2010 mayoral bid.
U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly admonished Thompson Monday for coordinating hundreds of thousands of dollars in illicit campaign donations that “permeated all levels” of the election process. “Most outrageously,” she concluded, Thompson shredded, deleted, and falsified documents as well as arranged travel for co-conspirators to curtail an investigation. His actions violated citizens’ right to vote free of corruption, she said.
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Though prosecutors had proposed giving the 61-year-old six months of house arrest, and defense attorneys had recommended 24 months of probation plus 1,200 hours of community service, Kollar-Kotelly determined that neither was “sufficient,” citing the numerous local and federal campaigns into which the former contractor illegally funneled money over the last decade. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Atkinson and defense counsel Alex Romain both described Thompson as an obliging cooperator who’s helped put several campaign finance felons in prison by pleading guilty and offering information.
Both attorneys recounted Thompson’s self-made biography from his roots in Jamaica to creating one of the largest minority-owned accounting firms in the country. They and Kollar-Kotelly all noted that friends and associates of Thompson submitted dozens of letters in support of him to the court.
“Mr. Thompson did not create this culture of crooked elections … but he grew it, made it bigger, and more pervasive” such that it’s “politically dominant,” Atkinson told the court, adding that Thompson’s demise is “especially tragic.” In trying to justify the lighter sentence the government proposed, Atkinson contended that the publicity surrounding Thompson’s case has provided “general deterrence” against illegal campaign finance operations. (At one point, he even displayed a Washington Post photo of Thompson holding his hands up as he left a court hearing, a symbol of the latter’s “public surrender.”) Kollar-Kotelly disagreed, arguing that jail time was warranted.
Thompson and his attorneys declined to comment to reporters while they exited the courtroom, though he did offer brief remarks during the sentencing.
“I have a clear conscience and accept responsibility for these wrongs,” said a somber Thompson, who explicitly apologized to those he’s harmed. “The last four years have been very gut-wrenching and taught a lot.”
Prosecutors had dropped a conspiracy charge under federal statutes but maintained one under District law as part of Thompson’s plea bargain. Kollar-Kotelly said she believed his motivations in organizing illegal campaign finance operations—wherein he reimbursed donors, either personally or through his companies—were “overwhelmingly” ones of “self-interest”: Setting himself up for millions in government contracts and greasing the wheels of the Wilson Building. Thompson funded Gray’s campaign with more than $650,000. A federal investigation against the former mayor was dropped, reportedly because prosecutors worried about Thompson’s perceived credibility on the stand.
“I expect you to move forward,” Kollar-Kotelly said before adjourning. “You’re still young enough to have a good life ahead of you.”