- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2012

Agents from the FBI and criminal investigators from the Internal Revenue Service this month visited a Capitol Heights print shop whose owner says he received far less in payments for yard signs in 2010 than D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s campaign officials reported to city officials, The Washington Times confirmed this week.

Howard Andrews, owner of Drew Printing Co., said Monday that federal authorities arrived at his shop at 7905 Central Ave. on March 1 armed with documents and seeking answers. After reviewing his invoices, he told The Times that Mr. Gray’s personal campaign assistant, Stephanie Reich, coordinated the purchase of 14,000 yard signs and other campaign materials for $55,174.

The campaign, he said, paid by checks signed by campaign treasurer Betty J. Brown.

But the Gray campaign reported to the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance expenditures to Drew Printing in excess of $88,000, according the office’s records.

“They asked me 10 different ways if I took kickbacks,” Mr. Andrews said Monday regarding his visit from federal authorities. “It’s tough out here, but I’ve got nothing to hide. I ain’t going to jail for no one. I’m not taking no kickbacks.”

In an email exchange Thursday, Ms. Reich, who was chief of staff to Linda Cropp while she was D.C. Council chairwoman and is now chief of staff to the director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services, confirmed that she coordinated the purchase of the yard signs, but deferred to Ms. Brown on the discrepancy between the amount paid and the amount reported to the campaign finance office.

“I gave my authorized receipts and authorized expenditures to Betty Brown,” Ms. Reich wrote in an email. “I cannot speak to who reported expenditures to OCF.”

Office of Campaign Finance officials said the treasurer is the only person besides the candidate who is authorized to file expenditure reports. Ms. Brown did not return calls for comment.

Since taking office last year, Mr. Gray has been dogged by accusations that his campaign paid cash and promised a job to a minor mayoral candidate to stay in the race and bash his opponent. Those accusations have spawned a wide-ranging federal probe of campaign-finance irregularities that recently has engulfed D.C. contractor and campaign fundraiser and bundler Jeffrey E. Thompson.

Mr. Thompson, whose house and offices were raided this month by FBI agents, owns Chartered Health Plan - the District’s largest contractor, doing more than $300 million annually in city business.

‘Shadow campaign’

On Thursday, news reports said investigators also have spoken to former Gray campaign staff members who claim a “shadow campaign” was conducted outside official campaign headquarters on Sixth Street in Northwest, where longtime Gray associate and field organizer Vernon E. Hawkins sometimes worked on a “volunteer” basis.

Mr. Hawkins was forced to resign as director of the D.C. Department of Human Services in 1996 after the D.C. financial control board took an unprecedented vote to remove him from the city payroll, declaring an “emergency” characterized by “widespread waste and abuse in the handling of city contracts,” The Washington Post reported at the time.

More recently, Mr. Hawkins was a director of the Union Temple Community Development Corp., a private foundation affiliated with Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast Washington. The company is a partner with a firm headed by megadeveloper and friend of the mayor W. Christopher Smith Jr. on a $20 million Housing and Urban Development-approved project to redevelop a blighted public housing project in Southeast now known as Sheridan Station.

Mr. Hawkins did not return calls for comment.

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