Former D.C. Council Ward 1 candidate Jeff Smith pleaded guilty in court this afternoon to lying about receiving illicit help from shadow campaign financier Jeff Thompson, just hours after being charged with the crime.
Smith, 40, failed to oust Councilmember Jim Graham in his 2010 campaign, despite what he admitted amounted to more than $140,000 in off-the-books aid from two of Thompson’s companies. As part of his plea deal for lying on an Office of Campaign Finance report, Smith faces between six and 24 months of prison time or probation.
Smith and his attorney, Blase Kearney, both declined to comment as they left Superior Court for Smith’s booking at Metropolitan Police Department headquarters.
Smith’s scheme with Thompson began in Dec. 2009, according to the statement of offense. On March 24, 2010, Smith sent Thompson an email planning the illicit campaign that included a budget for $140,975 worth of activities.
The money, which Smith admitted went to voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts, would have nearly doubled Smith’s war chest. According to his campaign’s Dec. 2010 OCF report, which Smith said did not include money he received from Thompson, Smith’s campaign reported spending $143,812.89.
Apparently, sending Thompson a budget is a recurring theme in shadow campaigns. Former at-large and Ward 6 hopeful Kelvin Robinson said in his own plea deal that he gave Thompson a budget, only to see Thompson slash it by more than half. Thompson’s statement of offense alleges that Mayor Vince Gray—-who hasn’t been charged and isn’t named in the document—-gave Thompson a budget for his 2010 mayoral bid.
Smith’s plea deal includes a promise from the government not to pursue charges against any of Smith’s family members. Smith’s now-ex-wife, Council Secretary Nyasha Smith, declined LL’s request for comment.
Smith’s plea also guarantees protection against charges for Arielle Etienne-Edmondson, a deputy director at DC Voice, Smith’s school reform group. It’s not clear how Etienne-Edmondson is involved in the case, and she didn’t respond to a request for comment.
At his hearing, Smith hesitated when Judge Anita Josey-Herring asked him whether he was satisfied with Kearney, his public defender. While Smith later described Kearney as “outstanding,” he complained that his defense had been constrained by money problems.
“I was represented by the best counsel I could afford,” Smith said.
After this month’s pleas from Robinson and Smith and earlier charges against former councilmember Michael Brown, only four candidates who Thompson claimed received shadow campaigns—-including Gray and at-large Councilmember Vincent Orange—-have not been charged. Both Gray and Orange have repeatedly proclaimed their innocence in the investigation.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery