Eatonville encounter figures big in determining Gray’s knowledge of payoff scheme

Posted at 02:47 PM ET, 05/29/2012

Eatonville encounter figures big in determining Gray’s knowledge of payoff scheme

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post

The chic 14th Street NW eatery is where Gray may have become directly involved in illicit dealings. (SUSAN BIDDLE – FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Last week’s guilty pleas in the federal investigation of Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2010 campaign have not directly implicated the mayor, but have prompted much speculation among chatterers (including yours truly) on whether or not they will actually touch the mayor directly.

And thus far, the speculation is, well, speculation. It’s stuff like: Vince Gray is a meticulous, detail-oriented guy — how could he have not known about the scheme? Or noting that Thomas Gore, de facto campaign treasurer and now admitted notebook-shredder, is a trusted friend of Gray’s who wouldn’t have done anything without his good buddy’s okay. And so forth.

But setting that speculation aside, charging documents have not named Gray as participating in the scheme to pay fringe candidate Sulaimon Brown in any way. They have, however, largely vindicated Brown’s version of events. And Brown’s version of events has Gray playing a personal role in the scheme during a meeting on Aug. 4, 2010, at the Eatonville restaurant.

The meeting would have happened late that night, after the candidates had participated in a rowdy Ward 4 candidates’ forum at a 16th Street NW church. (Post columnist Colby King gave a good account Saturday.) A straw poll of ward Democrats followed, one that Gray would win handily following a count that stretched into the wee hours of the next morning. But before the tally finished, most Gray partisans had already repaired to Eatonville where a “Young Professionals for Gray” fundraiser had morphed into a victory party.

Brown described what happened there in D.C. Council testimony:

I went to Eatonville and sat with Gray, who was talking on the phone at the time. He put up a finger, and I waited. Brooks showed up. Gray ended his phone call and said, “Let’s talk outside.” While we were outside, he thanked me for my help at the earlier Ward 4 debate, and said, “I think Howard” — referring to Howard Brooks — “has something for you.” Howard handed me an envelope that contained two money orders. There was one for $500 and one for [$150] along with some cash, and these are the two money orders here. It’s money order number 14085332525 and 140853325524.

In other words, Brown says he was paid off with Gray’s knowledge on the night of Aug. 4 or perhaps the early morning hours of Aug. 5.

Compare that to what Brooks admitted to in his Thursday guilty plea. The amounts line up — Brooks admitted to giving Brown two money orders together, worth $500 and $150 — but the dates are not a precise match: Prosecutors say Brooks bought the money orders “on or about” Aug. 4, the day of the Ward 4 event, and delivered them to Brown “on or before” Aug. 6.

Verifying the day of sale is a pretty straightforward affair: Virtually all money orders carry date and time stamps, and Brown kept copies of the money orders he was given. But the delivery date appears to be a matter of personal testimony, and if Brooks is saying he handed them to Brown on Aug. 6 — two days after the Ward 4 event — that would seem to contradict Brown’s Eatonville story.

But then again “on or before” means “on or before,” and keep in mind that little if anything Brown has claimed about the scheme has thus far been proven wrong.

Here’s what Gray said about the Eatonville allegation, back when he was still commenting on these things: “There’s no truth to it,” he said at a June 2011 news conference reported in the Washington Times. “I mean the logic of it doesn’t even hold — Have you been to Eatonville? … To step outside and have a conversation like this, whispering, it’s preposterous.”

By Mike DeBonis | 02:47 PM ET, 05/29/2012


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