- 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.

The visit by federal investigators to Drew Printing suggests that a purported “shadow campaign” separate from the official Gray mayoral campaign does not account for the entirety of the closely watched case.

Visitors to Drew Printing might be confused by the fact that there is no signage, no phone listing and no website. It is located in a strip mall inside a store named Print Depot, which Mr. Andrews said is owned by his son. On Monday, The Times observed an array of glossy nightclub and party fliers on the counter along with campaign materials for Ward 7 D.C. Council candidates Bill Bennett and Tom Brown, who happened to be there picking up his yard signs that day.

The Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation’s website lists both Drew Printing and Print Depot as entities that long ago forfeited their authority to do business in the state. The website says Drew Printing forfeited its status in 1991 for “failure to file a personal property return,” and that Print Depot forfeited its status in 2009 for the same reason. Mr. Andrews said he and his son are in the process of addressing their regulatory-compliance issues.

Status revoked

The D.C. Department of Consumer Regulatory Affairs shows that Drew Printing registered as a company in the District in 1984 and has since had its registration status revoked. The agency’s website shows no record of Print Depot ever having been registered in the District.

Mr. Gray’s electronic mayoral campaign filings with the Office of Campaign Finance show more than 20 expenditures to Drew Printing from April to October 2010, totaling more than $88,000. The campaign of D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown made a similar number of expenditures to Drew Printing from June to October 2010.

On Monday, Mr. Andrews said Mr. Gray personally called him after announcing his candidacy and asked him to bid on the job. He said he produced approximately 14,000 yard signs at a cost of $3,700 per batch of 1,000, in addition to posters, business cards, letterhead and envelopes.

On Wednesday, during a follow-up interview, Mr. Andrews said he didn’t do the sign printing himself because he lacked the capacity to produce an order of that size.

“I took the job in and farmed it out,” he said, explaining that he paid a printer in Largo $1,900 per batch of 1,000 signs and an additional $44,000 for the stakes, the cost of which was included in the amount he charged Mr. Gray.

Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro referred questions Wednesday to Gray campaign officials. Thomas W. Gore, the mayor’s campaign finance manager, did not return a call and email for comment.

Mr. Andrews, a Maryland resident, said he dealt with Ms. Reich and had no dealings with Mr. Thompson or Mr. Hawkins. In light of persistent reports of an investigation that appears to be expanding in scope, he questioned whether the District had flawed leadership.

“They need to clean house up there and start over again,” he said. “The way it looks, it don’t look good at all.”