City Paper is not for tourists
Ward 7 D.C. Council hopeful Vince Gray got up in front of a crowd at a campaign stop last month and insisted that he’s over the federal investigation that once targeted him. Washed his hands of it. He’s done.
“What I’m doing now is just trying to move on,” Gray told the audience.
But as much as Gray might want to get past the inquiry that cost him the 2014 mayor’s race, the investigation—or at least its legal half-life—isn’t done with him. U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips closed the investigation last December without charging Gray. Still, a series of new court dates and unsealed documents set to arrive in the run-up to the June primary means Ward 7 voters (and incumbent Yvette Alexander) won’t forget about the investigation anytime soon.
Several major players who cut plea deals for their roles in the 2010 election still have to be sentenced, meaning that both their attorneys and prosecutors must file documents in court discussing parts of the investigation. Shadow campaign financier Jeff Thompson, whose March 2014 guilty plea scuttled Gray’s re-election hopes, will be sentenced on June 10—only four days before Gray’s primary.
This Friday, meanwhile, a judge will respond to a request from the Washington Post by unsealing more than 90 different court files related to search warrants filed during the investigation into Gray and Thompson. The search warrants, which will include explanations of the case that were used to convince judges to approve the raids, could reveal even more about the years-long investigation.
The investigation’s spring cleaning has already unearthed new information about the efforts to elect Gray. In a sentencing memo for top shadow campaign operative (and one-time Gray pal) Vernon Hawkins, prosecutors published two pages worth of calls between Gray and Hawkins, who also had a role in the legitimate campaign. The sentencing papers also detail a scheme where an unnamed “close relative” of Gray’s took $10,000 in illicit cash from Thompson.
The feds aren’t any more reticent elsewhere in their Hawkins filings. Apparently just for kicks, they detail a comical interlude in which angry shadow campaign canvassers cause a “disturbance” at Gray’s legitimate headquarters, only to be mollified with cash and an order of pizza. Horrified Gray campaigns staffers agree via email that the canvassers shouldn’t be sent to tony Ward 3.
Not to be outdone, Hawkins’ defense team implies in court papers that one government cooperator could be guilty of running an interstate prostitution ring.
Sentencing memos aren’t typically this salacious. But prosecutors’ failure to nab a target bigger than Thompson has soured relations with at least a few defense attorneys, making both sides more eager to compete in court filings.
With no trial against Gray during which their clients might take the witness stand, defense attorneys who could have scored big cooperation breaks in sentencing now have to show how much information their clients did provide. Mark Long, the Thompson crony who acted as Gray’s 2010 campaign driver, complains in recent court papers that he shouldn’t face five years in prison because he would have helped prosecutors against Gray if only they had charged him.
For their part, prosecutors are left to score stiff sentences against the 2010 campaign figures they did nab. In Hawkins’ case, for example, prosecutors say he broke his plea deal in an attempt to protect Gray and his relative. (The 76-year-old Hawkins pleads memory loss.)
Alexander didn’t respond to LL’s request for comment on the revelations about Gray and his relative, but she’s tested messaging that hits Gray on the federal investigation.
Still, Gray’s campaign treasurer Chuck Thies isn’t concerned. In the 2014 primary, when the shadow campaign was much bigger news, nearly 60 percent of Ward 7 voters backed Gray. A poll commissioned by a Gray-affiliated PAC, meanwhile, found him beating Alexander by 16 percent.
Thies says he’s not concerned about any new revelations that could come out of court proceedings in the coming weeks. If anything, Thies insists, the coming investigation details could help Gray. Hawkins’ sentencing memo, for example, portrays Hawkins as a serial liar (or at least a serial omitter) who wouldn’t hold up in any court case against Gray.
“On a scale of zero to ten, my scale about this—insofar as this election is concerned—is a zero,” Thies says.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery