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Accountant Lee Calhoun came to the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse in June with a confession: He’d helped trick the District’s voters.
Calhoun, a former employee of alleged Vince Gray shadow campaign financier Jeff Thompson, testified about how an unnamed executive resembling Thompson asked him to make donations to political candidates. In return, the executive would reimburse Calhoun in the form of an advance on his bonus. In total, Calhoun made $160,000 in donations in D.C. and elsewhere.
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Four days after Calhoun entered his guilty plea, Stanley Straughter made one of his own. Straughter, a Philadelphia businessman who also worked for Thompson’s company, admitted that he’d acted as a conduit for $132,600 worth of donations for an executive resembling Thompson. Together, Straughter and Calhoun were the latest versions of a familiar type in the investigation into Thompson and the shadow campaign: the crony.
They were something more, too. Along with ex-Councilmember Michael A. Brown’s admission that a man believed to be Thompson had given him off-the-books campaign donations, the straw donors’ pleas were the first news in months out of the two-year-old investigation into Gray and Thompson.
With Straughter and Calhoun expected to be singing to the feds, the whole investigation looked like it would be wrapped up before people started thinking about the 2014 mayor’s race. Calhoun’s lawyer predicted reporters would be coming back to the courthouse all summer.
The parade never started. With the exception of shadow campaign operative Vernon Hawkins and a New York street team promoter who pleaded to running a shadow campaign–style effort on behalf of a District businessman resembling Thompson, the rest of 2013 would see no more indictments or criminal informations tied to the 2010 Gray campaign.
Now the investigation is as plodding as ever. Thompson’s high-priced lawyer wants to take a fight over seized records to the Supreme Court, while the District’s attorney general is in his own battle to keep records related to Thompson from the U.S. Attorney. Calhoun and Straughter keep seeing their sentencings delayed to guarantee their cooperation. So much for the summer of corruption. Maybe next year?