Ex-Gray adviser Vernon Hawkins charged with lying in ‘shadow campaign’ probe

Ex-Gray adviser Vernon Hawkins charged with lying in ‘shadow campaign’ probe

By Ann E. Marimow, Mike DeBonis and Nikita Stewart, Monday, August 12, 11:35 AM

A D.C. political operative who allegedly worked on a secret campaign to elect Mayor Vincent C. Gray was charged Monday with lying to federal authorities.

Vernon E. Hawkins, a longtime adviser to Gray (D), is accused of lying about trying to impede a federal investigation into an alleged off-the-books $653,000 campaign funded by a D.C. businessman in 2010.

The one-count charge against Hawkins signals that a plea agreement has been reached and a hearing is scheduled for Tuesday morning. He is the latest in a series of people charged with connections to businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson, the alleged financier of what has become known as the “shadow campaign.”

The charge against Hawkins carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, but he is likely to face far less time under sentencing guidelines. His attorney, William E. Lawler III, could not immediately be reached for comment.

According to the three-page charging document, Hawkins paid off another person involved with the off-the-books effort to encourage the campaign worker to leave town to avoid speaking with FBI agents.

A fixture in District government and politics since the Marion Barry era, Hawkins rose from being a Department of Corrections worker to leading the Department of Human Services. He was a paid consultant on Gray’s D.C. Council campaign in 2004 and a volunteer adviser for Gray’s successful bid for council chairman in 2006.

In 2010, Hawkins was among the 100 people who went with Gray as he filed paperwork to launch his campaign that March. Internal campaign documents obtained by The Washington Post identified Hawkins as a “special adviser.”

But several campaign staffers pushed Gray to distance himself from Hawkins, fearing that the rival campaign of incumbent mayor Adrian Fenty would use Hawkins’s presence to tie Gray to the city’s old guard, according to several people privy to the discussions about Hawkins’s role in the official campaign.

Although Hawkins continued to be seen at Gray campaign headquarters directing canvassers, his name was dropped from internal documents. Campaign staffers were often confused by Hawkins’s workers vs. official Gray campaign workers.

Through the 21 / 2 year federal investigation, campaign workers would later learn that those canvassers worked for the “shadow campaign.”

The court documents filed in Hawkins’s case Monday describe a business executive matching Thompson, who was for years one of the city’s largest contractors. Thompson has not been charged.

One of Thompson’s longtime associates, Jeanne Clarke Harris, pleaded guilty last year to funneling Thompson’s money through companies she owned to fund the off-the-books effort for Gray.

In 2010, according to the court documents, Harris gave Hawkins money to try to persuade another campaign worker identified as “Person One” to “leave town for an extended period of time, so that Person One would be unavailable to speak with federal agents.”

Person One is Lamont Mitchell, according to people with knowledge of the investigation. He owns a catering business, Imani Catering, and coordinated transportation for Thompson’s get-out-the-vote effort. Campaign finance filings for Gray’s official campaign list a $1,800 payment to Mitchell’s catering company.

Mitchell has also provided catering for several other local candidates and D.C. Council members for breakfast meetings.

Mitchell could not be immediately reached for a comment.

Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

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