- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2011

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said Wednesday that he has not been summoned to appear before a grand jury investigating allegations of corruption in his mayoral campaign, even as reports suggest prosecutors are accelerating their closely watched probe and that a Gray campaign consultant is playing a pivotal role.

Mr. Gray told reporters at the John A. Wilson Building that he has not been asked to provide fingerprints, and he distanced himself from Howard L. Brooks, a campaign consultant who reports suggest has gone from a target of the corruption probe to an informant willing to wear a wire.

“I haven’t spoken to Howard Brooks this year,” Mr. Gray said, curtailing any speculation that Mr. Brooks may have recorded a conversation with him.

The ongoing scandal has plagued Mr. Gray’s first term, raising questions about personnel hired by the administration and, more crucially, whether the accusations of promises and payoffs during the campaign are true and amount to criminal activity.

Mr. Brooks has been accused of providing money on behalf of the Gray campaign to a minor mayoral candidate, Sulaimon Brown, to bash incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty during the race.

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh, who looked into the allegations as part of her government oversight duties and released a report in August substantiating at least some of the charges, never got the chance to question Mr. Brooks or his son, Peyton Brooks — who received a $110,000-per-year city job before resigning — because both of them asserted their Fifth Amendment privilege to stay silent.

“I’m not the sheriff, I’m a legislator,” Mrs. Cheh said, noting her oversight paved the way for legislative remedies and her committee referred evidence of wrongdoing to the appropriate authorities.

Mrs. Cheh said developments suggesting Mr. Brooks is at the center of the grand jury probe and that his son had been given immunity “seemed very interesting to me, because who’s giving up whom, and who has information? Because we were always frustrated on that point.

“A lot of it really revolved around Howard Brooks, as far as I was concerned,” she said. “He’s like a mystery man.”

Well-connected

Questions remain about how close Mr. Brooks is to Mr. Gray and his inner circle — and for how long.

Mr. Gray was quoted in the Washington Examiner in March as saying that he knew Mr. Brooks, “but I don’t know him well.”

Mr. Brooks is described by his brother-in-law as short in stature and prone to exaggeration.

Leonard Manning, a well-connected businessman who ran the D.C. Lottery for more than 25 years and whose sister is married to Mr. Brooks, said Mr. Brooks‘ closeness to Mr. Gray and his inner circle of advisers cannot be denied. He objected to efforts by the mayor to distance himself from Mr. Brooks.

Howard’s been very friendly with Mr. Gray since Mr. Gray first ran for city council,” Mr. Manning said.

He recalled hiring Mr. Brooks 20 years ago, but said his brother-in-law soon left to work with Bruce Bereano, a powerful Maryland lobbyist and longtime friend of the mayor who was at the time a consultant for lottery firm GTECH.

Mr. Brooks later subcontracted with GTECH in Georgia on a venture that ended in a judgment against his company for $1.4 million, according to news reports.

While working in the lottery business, Mr. Manning said his brother-in-law met Lorraine Green, who then headed the D.C. Lottery Commission, and who more recently partnered with GTECH to bid on the D.C. Lottery. He was brought in as an adviser by Ms. Green in 2009 during GTECH’s failed bid, though GTECH officials vehemently denied ever engaging directly with Mr. Brooks.

Ms. Green, a close confidante of Mr. Gray’s who has been involved in his political campaigns, discussed with D.C. Council members during a hearing on the Gray administration’s hiring practices her “close, personal relationship” with Mr. Brooks.

But asked during the hearing about conversations she had with Mr. Brooks about Mr. Brown’s allegations, Ms. Green declined to answer, citing the ongoing investigation.

One source who knows the Brooks family said they saw Mr. Brooks and Ms. Green coming out of a Northwest restaurant as recently as August, as the region braced for Hurricane Irene.

Howard looked like he’d gained weight, he looked stressed out and tired,” the source said, noting that Mr. Brooks was carrying a case of wine.

Ms. Green’s attorney, Thomas C. Green, declined to comment.

Mr. Manning said he had also seen Mr. Brooks working closely with Reuben Charles, director of operations for the Gray campaign and director of Mr. Gray’s transition team.

Howard was always with Vince at the fundraisers I attended in 2010,” he added.

A number of other D.C. politicos reported multiple sightings of Mr. Gray and Mr. Brooks, sometimes in the company of Mr. Brown and Ms. Green, during the 2010 campaign.

One elected official who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the ongoing investigation said he saw Mr. Brooks and Mr. Gray together at least a dozen times, and that they were joined by Ms. Green on three or four of those occasions.

Multiple sources told The Washington Times that after a fundraiser during the 2010 campaign season they saw Mr. Gray accompanied by Mr. Brown, Ms. Green and Mr. Brooks at Ben’s Next Door, adjacent to Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street in Northwest.

Tom Lindenfeld, a government consultant who worked with Ms. Green on GTECH’s failed lottery bid, said he has never seen Mr. Brooks when he wasn’t accompanied by Ms. Green.

Of Mr. Gray’s purported distance from Mr. Brooks, Mr. Lindenfeld said, “That doesn’t sound right.”

Yet Mr. Gray has downplayed his relations to Mr. Brooks, who was the subject of a report Monday on WUSA-TV (Channel 9) that said the former campaign staffer had recorded a conversation for prosecutors investigating the Gray campaign, though it was unclear who was on the other end of the recorded conversation.

A. Scott Bolden, a prominent defense lawyer and former prosecutor, said of the recent Brooks revelations: “It suggests he is more than cooperating with investigators, it suggests he is interested in working on his own deal — if he doesn’t have one already. While others have declined to wear a wire, this suggests he was able to obtain further information from targets, subjects and witnesses.

“It suggests he has the most information, and the most to lose.”

Mr. Brooks‘ attorney, Glenn F. Ivey, declined to comment on the recent developments.

Mr. Gray has repeatedly pledged his cooperation with the investigation.

“From the beginning, I called for an investigation into this matter. And from the beginning, I’ve said that if anyone is found to have committed any wrongdoing, then they should be held accountable,” Mr. Gray said in a statement this week.

As for Mr. Brooks‘ involvement, Mr. Manning said, he thinks his brother-in-law is motivated by self-preservation.

“I wouldn’t be surprised at anything he did,” he said. “In order for Howard to wear a wire they’d have to have threatened to indict him or caught him in a lie.”

‘Clear evidence’

The most serious allegations against the mayor’s campaign team stem from Mr. Brown, who says he received cash from Mr. Brooks and the promise of a job from Mr. Gray’s team, although the mayor has said he promised only an interview. Mr. Brown received a $110,000-a-year position at the Department of Healthcare Finance, but was fired in late February over questions surrounding his past and his behavior on the job.

Mr. Brown testified that he met with Ms. Green, then the Gray campaign chairman, in the rotunda of Union Station in the summer of 2010 to lay out his request for a city job and payments to support his own campaign.

He testified that she introduced him to Mr. Brooks, who in turn, he says, provided him with payments, including one in front of Mr. Gray at an Eatonville restaurant on Aug. 4, 2010.

In June, The Washington Post reported that Mr. Brown had provided the newspaper with five money orders totaling more than $600 that represent a portion of the money he says he received from Mr. Brooks.

The money orders are made out to “Sulaimon Brown for Mayor” and include $225 from Mr. Brooks‘ son, Peyton, and other friends and relatives, yet some of the names and addresses are misspelled or incomplete and some of the individuals denied making the payments, the newspaper reported.

Federal investigators obtained fingerprints from Mr. Brooks and Mr. Brown for use in examining crucial documents, The Washington Post reported on Sunday.

Mrs. Cheh’s committee substantiated the finding that money passed from Mr. Brooks to Mr. Brown in a report issued in August but stopped well short of saying the mayor authorized, or even knew of, the payments.

“There is clear evidence that Mr. Brown received money from persons associated with the Gray campaign,” the report said. “Bank records corroborate Mr. Brown’s claim that he received at least $1,160 in money orders from Mr. Brooks. Yet, there is no evidence, other than Mr. Brown’s own testimony to substantiate his additional claims that he received thousands of dollars from Mr. Brooks and that Mayor Gray personally approved these payments.”

For now, everyone is waiting on the U.S. attorney to act.

“All I know is, whatever they do, I hope they do it with some dispatch,” Mrs. Cheh said. “Because we cannot continue to operate under this cloud, this feeling of impending doom. It’s getting in the way of things.”