FBI said to probe allegations that Gray campaign staff concealed donations

FBI said to probe allegations that Gray campaign staff concealed donations

By Nikita Stewart, Washington Post, Wednesday, December 5, 7:00 AM

Federal officials investigating Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2010 campaign have recently focused on allegations that campaign staff members encouraged some supporters to donate by promising that their contributions would not be reported, several people familiar with the investigation said.

The staff members allegedly targeted city employees and contractors who feared that the administration of then-mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) would retaliate if it knew they had contributed to his political rival’s campaign, said three people who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak candidly about the investigation.

FBI investigators are trying to determine whether donations were concealed in violation of campaign laws, according to several people familiar with the investigation. City law requires all campaign donations to be disclosed with the Office of Campaign Finance.

Separately, The Washington Post has discovered numerous discrepancies between an internal campaign list of nearly 2,750 contributions and reports the Gray campaign filed with OCF. The names of dozens of those donors could not be found in documents filed with the agency, according to a Post analysis.

The federal investigation — entering its 21st month — continues to hang over a mayor who made integrity and transparency campaign promises.

The mayor has repeatedly declined to comment on the investigation because it is ongoing. But in an interview Tuesday, he said he was surprised by the most recent allegations. “I’m astounded,” said Gray (D). “I’m incredulous.”

More people interviewed

In recent weeks, investigators have interviewed Barbara Lang, president and chief executive of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and a new board member of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, according to two other people with knowledge of the probe who requested anonymity to speak freely.

Investigators asked Lang whether campaign chairman Lorraine Green told her that contributions from hesitant donors could be accepted yet not reported, the two people said. Investigators also talked to Lang’s husband, Gerald, who was a member of the Gray campaign finance committee.

Attorney A. Scott Bolden, who represents the Langs, said his clients were interviewed by the FBI but declined to give details of the meetings.

“I can confirm that my clients, like several others, have been contacted by the FBI in connection with the Gray investigation and that both of them were open, honest and forthright in their interviews and are mere witnesses — not targets or subjects of the investigation. I remain confident that their status will not change,” Bolden said in a statement. “Furthermore, my understanding of those interviews is that neither of them knew very much and have little, if any, information to provide the U.S. Attorney concerning the Gray campaign’s fundraising operation.”

Attorney Thomas C. Green, who represents Lorraine Green, no relation, declined to comment.

If the solicitation took place, it is unclear which campaign staffers sought supporters, how many donors were contacted or how much money was raised. But those alleged contributions are separate from the funding of what federal prosecutors have called a “shadow campaign” — an illicit $653,800 get-out-the-vote operation on behalf of Gray.

“People on the [campaign] finance committee would say so-and-so can’t give,” said a committee member who requested anonymity to speak freely. “Other people were apprehensive about giving to Gray. . . . That would happen. Frankly, people were worried about retribution. That happens in any campaign.”

The committee member remembers discussions about lagging campaign fundraising but was not aware of an effort to solicit secret donations.

“They have been asking questions,” said another person familiar with the investigators’ new focus, adding that the queries have been about alleged unreported donations.

Lists of contributors

The internal campaign document The Post obtained lists 2,744 contributions to Gray’s campaign from late March 2010 through mid-August of that year but does not list donation amounts. The Post found about 60 contributors whose names and addresses could not be found in OCF documents.

They do not appear to be the contractors and city employees allegedly solicited by campaign staffers, which sources said are the subject of the federal probe. Instead, they gave much smaller amounts, between $25 and $50, according to interviews with a half dozen contributors.

If additional unreported donations were made to Gray’s official campaign, they would violate city campaign finance law, like the “shadow campaign.” It would also call into question the campaign’s portrayal of itself as the financial underdog in the contentious 2010 contest, based on campaign finance reports showing that Fenty out-raised Gray more than 2 to 1.

Public relations consultant Jeanne Clarke Harris admitted her role in the shadow campaign when she pleaded guilty in July. She said in court that businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson provided the funds for the illicit campaign but wanted to hide his expenditures because he didn’t want Fenty to know he was supporting Gray. Thompson, who was then the city’s largest contractor, has not been charged.

The investigators’ new focus comes as Thomas W. Gore, the assistant treasurer of Gray’s campaign, is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court on Dec. 12. In May, Gore pleaded guilty to three D.C. election law misdemeanors and a federal charge of obstruction of justice in admitting his role in covert payments to Sulaimon Brown, a minor mayoral candidate who publicly disparaged Fenty during the campaign.

Gore agreed to cooperate with the investigation and faces 12 to 18 months in prison. Howard L. Brooks, a campaign aide who made payments to Brown, was sentenced to two years of probation on a felony charge of making a false statement.

One of the donors listed on the internal document is retired beautician Rosie Lee Moses of Northwest. However, it is unclear what happened to the 90-year-old’s donation because, like many others, it does not appear on the official campaign finance record.

Moses recalled mailing a $50 check to the campaign but now regrets it, fearing that her contribution did not get to the official campaign.

Asked if she still supports Gray, Moses said, “No comment.”

As for her donation, “I’d be glad to get it back,” she said.

Staff researcher Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.

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