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This week’s LL column takes a look at Hollywood movie producer Proteus Spann’s somewhat mysterious ties to Jeff Thompson—the D.C. Medicaid contractor who is in the middle of a federal investigation into the city’s campaign finances.
If nothing else, the Spann connection demonstrates how large Thompson’s network of donors is. The network, which has given more than $800,000 to local politicians in the last decade, includes more than 70 individuals and entities. Most are connected to Thompson’s accounting firm or Medicaid managed care organization, but some are a bit more random. The common denominator: All of them exhibit patterns of political giving whose dates, amounts and beneficiaries track closely with one another.
Besides Spann there’s Ian Thorne, who runs a hair salon on a Thompson-owned parcel of land. Thorne has given more than $16,000 to Thompson-backed candiddates. There’s also the Butts family of Georgia, which has given more than $15,000 to local pols. The Buttses are related to longtime Thompson associate Jeanne Harris. Her house, like Thompson’s, was raided by the feds.
Another addition to the random category: Thompson’s longtime masseur. Richard Evans and his company, New Columbia Solutions, have donated $10,500 to several D.C. politicians since 2006, with the donations aligning almost exactly with other donations from Thompson’s network of donors. Some money order donations from Evans are part of a batch of donations to Councilmember Vincent Orange that Orange himself has called “suspicious.”
The fact that several Thompson-related money orders share similar handwriting, serial numbers, and points of purchase have raised questions about whether straw donors were used to circumvent campaign finance giving limits.
But Evans, who says he’s been Thompson’s massage therapist for about 20 years, says there’s nothing suspicious about any of his donations.
“My money, my donations,” Evans says. He adds that he’s donated at Thompson-held fundraisers for local pols, but never at Thompson’s suggestion.
A look through campaign finance records gives a couple clues as to why Orange may have found Evans’ donations suspicious. On March 10, 2011, Evans wrote Orange two checks for $1,000, the maximum donation amount in an at-large race. One of the checks was from his personal account, the one was from New Columbia Solution’s account.
Evans’ signature also appears on two $500 money orders purchased that same day. What’s weird is that on copies of the money orders that Orange provided to the Post, the money orders appear simply to be from Evans himself. And Orange’s original campaign finance report shows that Evans gave $1,000 check and $1,000 in money orders.
That would have been a no-no. But the same money orders — which the Office of Campaign Finance asked Orange to provide copies of, and which LL obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request — were later amended to say they were from NCS Systems, a workforce training nonprofit Evans founded in late 2010. An amended campaign finance report filed by Orange says that Evans only gave a $1,000 check while NCS gave the $1,000 in money orders.
What’s really strange: the original campaign finance report filed by Orange says that both Evans and NCS Systems gave $1,000 in money orders. Orange didn’t immediately return LL’s call seeking comment. LL’s had a cordial conversation with Evans by cell phone this morning, but after the call was disconnected mid-conversation his subsequent calls have not been returned.
Take a look at the money orders. First, copies of the two money orders provided to the Post:
And here are the money orders as they were given to the Office of Campaign Finance:
There were two other money orders purchased at the same time and the same Western Union agent as Evans’ NCS money orders. Those others were from Russell Binion*, who works at Grubb’s Pharmacy on Capitol Hill. The handwriting on all four orders looks to LL’s untrained eye to be the same. Binton has not returned LL’s calls seeking comment.
Here are the Binton money orders:
A few hours after these money orders were purchased, the very same Western Union agent sold several other money orders that also went to Orange’s campaign. Those money orders, however, bear Thompson’s signature.
A few more things about Evans: his name popped up in the Post seven years ago in an article questioning misspent public funds at the D.C. Maternal and Child Health Administration. “Records were also missing or spotty for $300,000 in supplies the agency purchased through contractor Richard Evans,” the article said.
Evans has also been discussed at the University of the District of Columbia as a possible new member of a fundraising board that Thompson oversaw until he was voted off in late 2010. A school official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the board, said Evans had expressed interest in joining the UDC Foundation Inc., but that that school officials did not want him to join because he’s not wealthy and doesn’t appear to have much fundraising potential. Evans tells LL he was asked to join the board but hasn’t actively pursued it. He says Thompson had no influence on his involvement with UDC. Thompson’s attorney, by the way, does not speak publicly about his client.
One last thing: Evans currently works at the Department of Parks and Recreation as a recreation specialist. Another person with the same job title is also a member of the Thompson network whose name appears on money orders bound for Orange’s campaign last year. Edgar Sams’ name appears on two $500 money orders purchased the same time on March 10 as Thompson-signed money orders above. The handwriting on Sams’ money orders, though not the signature, looks similar to the Thompson money orders.
Sams tells LL that Thompson is an old friend he’s known since he was in college. When LL asked who had purchased the money orders, Sams said he had to go and said he would call LL back. He’s not yet called LL back and hasn’t returned a follow up call seeking comment.
*Orange’s campaign records misspell the Grubb’s pharmacy employee’s name. According to the pharmacy owner, the employee’s name is Russell Binion and he is a longtime friends with Evans. Binion’s name has been fixed in the original post.