City Paper is not for tourists
Here’s something to chew on while you wait for the Vince Gray shadow campaign document dump on Friday. New court records reveal more about the illicit cash payment that shadow campaign financier Jeff Thompson made to a “close relative” of Gray.
The revelations come in sentencing documents for Vernon Hawkins, a top figure in the 2010 shadow campaign to elect Gray. Prosecutors say that, by allegedly misleading them about the payments to Gray’s relative, Hawkins broke his plea deal.
The identity of Gray’s relative, referred to by prosecutors as his “Close Relative,” isn’t clear. The only other information provided about the relative is that he’s male. The new filings reveal that the relative declined, through his lawyer, to speak with investigators.
Three days after Gray successfully beat Adrian Fenty in the September 2010 Democratic primary, according to the new filings, Thompson was “irate” to discover that some Howard University students who worked on the campaign still hadn’t been paid. In a series of exchanges with Hawkins and an unnamed “Person G,” Thompson set up a payment through Gray’s relative for the students.
After a flurry of text messages and calls between Thompson, Hawkins, Person G, and Gray’s relative, “Person G” made two bank withdrawals worth a combined $10,500 to avoid scrutiny on bank transactions over $10,000. The money came originally from a transfer from Thompson’s account company, Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio & Associates. Then Person G, acting as Thompson’s bagman, met Gray’s relative in a Greenbelt, Md. shopping center for the hand-off.
“I really got to get these people paid,” Gray’s relative said, according to Person G.
The alleged $10,000 cash payment Gray’s relative was first mentioned briefly in Thompson’s March 2014 guilty plea. That plea didn’t explain what the money was meant to cover—or how intimately Thompson and Hawkins were involved in the transfer.
Like Gray’s relative, Person G’s real identity isn’t clear, either. He’s described as mentee of Thompson’s who had known both Hawkins and Thompson for more than a decade. At the time of the payment, he would have been in his early 30’s. Person G ran an HIV/AIDS nonprofit, a get-out-the-vote group, and attended culinary school—the latter two funded by Thompson.
Like many people in Thompson’s circle, Person G worked as a conduit in Thompson’s straw donor schemes. At one point ahead of the primary, according to prosecutors, Thompson, Person G, and Gray’s relative went out one night to party. After initially refusing to talk to a grand jury, Person G eventually signed a deal with prosecutors that protected him from prosecution.
Vague statements made about the payment, in what prosecutors described as Hawkins’ “selective memory,” play into their request that the 76-year-old should receive a year-long prison term at his May 6 sentencing. Even after agreeing to cooperate with investigators, prosecutors say, Hawkins skewed his descriptions of events to protect people who hadn’t been charged, like Gray, and put more blame on those who had already plead guilty.
For his part, Hawkins’ attorney blame his inconsistencies on the elderly shadow campaign operative’s memory loss. Prosecutors aren’t convinced. In a sentencing memo, they ask how Hawkins can be so vague about events involving Gray and his relative while remembering events involving other charged figures so well.
For example, Hawkins told investigators that he’s sure Gray knew about the shadow campaign, but couldn’t tell them about a single time they had discussed it.
“Hawkins could avoid becoming a witness against [Gray] (or advancing the prosecution against him) by deliberately maintaining an inability to recall any first-hand inculpating information,” prosecutors write.
Phone records provided in Monday’s filings show two pages of phone calls from May 2010 to December 2010 between Gray and Hawkins, who also had a role in the legitimate Gray campaign. For his part, Gray, now running for the Ward 7 D.C. Council seat, has said he didn’t know about any illegal efforts to elect him.
The new filings also relate an intriguing incident in which Gray’s legitimate campaign workers recoiled from the shadow campaign’s employees. Days before the primary, unhappy shadow campaign canvassers created what’s described as a “disturbance” at Gray’s legitimate campaign headquarters over late payments.
In an effort to placate them, Gray staffers bought pizza for the unhappy workers. The problem was eventually solved with illicit cash and money order payments relayed by Thompson crony Eugenia Clarke Harris, but “high-level” staffers in Gray’s legitimate campaign still wanted the shadow campaign canvassers kept out of wealthy (and mostly white) Ward 3.
“Please make sure those people I saw last night don’t go into Ward 3,” one Gray campaign staffer wrote in an email the next morning.
Update, April 12: Here’s a twist. In another sentencing memo filed this morning, Hawkins’ defense asks for just a year of probation—-and makes an interesting claim about Person G. While the defense notes that Person G received prosecutorial immunity for his role in the shadow campaign, they accuse him of working as a pimp for an unnamed person.
Person G could be charged with multiple interstate prostitution offenses, according to Hawkins’ attorney.
“[Person G] has not been immunized for his role in procuring sex for [Redacted] and the related activities,” the defense notes.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery