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Ward 6 Councilmember and mayoral hopeful Tommy Wells says he thinks he was tricked into voting in favor of increasing reimbursement rates with a company run by alleged Vince Gray shadow campaign backer Jeff Thompson.

“I do feel duped,” Wells told LL Wednesday. Wells, who provided the swing vote on the 7-6 Council decision to allocate $32 million to cover payments to UnitedHealthcare and Thompson’s Chartered Health Plan, now claims that he would never have voted for the money if he had known about the shadow campaign.

Wells says he wasn’t familiar with Thompson when the payments, meant to end a dispute over dental reimbursements to Thompson’s Medicaid company, went in front of the Council for a final vote on June 14, 2011. (LL can’t help but noting that a previous LL did write about the dispute and Thompson’s political connections around the same time.)

David Catania, then the chairman of the D.C. Council’s health committee, tried to convince Wells not to vote for the deal. But Wells, who holds the rare distinction of being a District pol who never received money from Thompson, figured that Catania was acting out of some personality conflict with Thompson.

In a lengthy joint statement to LL, Attorney General Irv Nathan and Department of Health Care Finance director Wayne Turnage defended a settlement with Thompson that was a factor in the increased rates. The agreement, now under federal investigation, was vetted by an outside firm and made in the District’s best interests, according to the agency heads.

“If Chartered’s claims had gone to trial at the [Contract Appeals Board], the District would likely have faced judgments in the range of $20 million,” the statement reads.

Mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro took a different route, accusing Wells of looking for anything that will boost his mayoral run. In a conversation with LL, Ribeiro squealed to mimic a desperate Wells looking for an issue. “I’m drowning, I’m drowning,” Ribeiro says. “Save my campaign.”

“He’s not so much a dupe as he is a dope,” Ribeiro adds.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery