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U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips‘ decision today to not file any more charges related to the Vince Gray investigation isn’t just good for the former mayor and his political prospects. LL has rounded up the winners from the investigation’s end—-and who got hosed.
Shady District Politicians
For a while there, the U.S. Attorney’s Office was on a run. In the space of two years, they brought charges against three councilmembers, several D.C. Council candidates, and Gray’s inner circle. Now that the Gray case has fizzled, though, LL bets that prosecutors will be warier about pursuing corruption cases at the Wilson Building.
At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange—-or, if you’re reading the Jeff Thompson guilty plea, “Candidate D”—-was in hot water for a second. Orange’s 2011 at-large run received $150,000 in illicit help, according to Thompson, who admitted that he wasn’t sure whether Orange knew about the criminal activity boosting his campaign.
For his part, Orange has always insisted he didn’t do anything wrong. That didn’t stop the feds from subpoenaing records from one of his campaign donors, or upcoming at-large foe David Garber from positioning himself as the ethical alternative to Orange.
Now he’s in the clear, right in time for 2016’s primary. Orange didn’t respond to LL’s request for comment.
As the Thompson/Gray investigation sprouted enough subplots to rival a season of Fargo, one of the stranger machinations involved Thompson’s effort—-allegedly at the behest of some Gray aides—-to funnel $10,000 into an unnamed District union election. Meanwhile, Gray campaign chauffeur Mark Long, who was illegally paid by Thompson, has admitted to helping Thompson crony Jeanne Clarke Harris deliver a mystery package to an unnamed union official.
Whoever that official is, good news: You’re a free man/woman!
This guy engineers a years-long scheme to cook multiple federal and local elections, in part to preserve his lucrative city Medicaid contract with the District. And now, thanks to an outrageously favorable deal with prosecutors, he’ll likely facing only a few months under house arrest.
Thompson defense attorney Brendan Sullivan already had a reputation as a tough lawyer, thanks in part to his role defending Oliver North and Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. Now he can take credit for Thompson’s cozy plea deal, which he earned in part by threatening to take a fight over seized records from Thompson’s home and office to the Supreme Court.
In his guilty plea, Thompson admitted giving $10,000 to an unnamed member of Gray’s family. No one else has been prosecuted for that, or for the potentially illicit Housing Authority database used by Gray’s campaign while Gray son Carlos Gray worked at the agency.
Gray’s “Close Personal Friend”
Talk about extreme home makeovers. In another mysterious portion of Thompson’s plea, he admitted spending $40,000 on home renovations for a “close personal friend” of Gray’s. That “close personal friend” has never been charged or named.
Wilson Building superlawyer David Wilmot had a cozy relationship with Thompson, including a shared bank account that included strange payments to District officials for unspecified “consulting” work. The reasoning behind that arrangement hasn’t been explained by prosecutors, and apparently now never will be.
Lorraine Green chaired Gray’s campaign, and she’s been eyed in press reports as the pseudonymous “Person A” described in court records at a meeting to steer money to 2010 Gray campaign front Sulaimon Brown. She’s never been charged.
Eleanor Holmes Norton
Here’s something weird. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, like nearly every other politician in the District, received illicit campaign contributions from Thompson’s donor network. There’s been nothing public to suggest Norton knew the money her campaign was getting was tainted.
Norton had a chance to weigh in on whether Vincent Cohen Jr., who had led the investigations into Thompson, or Phillips should get the open U.S. attorney position. Norton backed Phillips, reportedly because she was fed up with Cohen and previous U.S. Attorney Ron Machen‘s failures to close the Gray case.
So Norton opposes the guy investigating her campaign donor and his contributions, some of which helped elect her. Then the prosecutor she supported gets into office and closes the case.
Gray pal Thomas Gore looks likely to be the only guy to do serious hard time over this entire thing, and all because he destroyed a notebook related to the ludicrous Sulaimon Brown stalking horse scheme. Sorry, Thomas, you should’ve hired Brendan Sullivan.
Former Councilmember Michael Brown was arrested in 2013 as part of an unrelated bribery sting, but he received extra prison time after not telling prosecutors about illicit help he received from Thompson.
It’s hard to overstate how badly Machen miscalculated by bringing charges against Thompson less than a month before the 2014 primary. The decision at least helped Muriel Bowser win the race, and overshadowed the rest of his career as the District’s top lawman.
Machen, who has the good timing to be out of town today, didn’t respond to LL’s requests for comment.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery