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Campaign aide for Gray cuts plea deal

- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2012

A senior member of D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray's 2010 campaign team has cut a deal with prosecutors and will plead guilty Tuesday to a felony count of obstruction of justice and three misdemeanor campaign-finance violations — the first criminal charges from an ongoing federal probe that has overshadowed the mayor's term.

Thomas W. Gore, who handled "day-to-day finances" as the Gray campaign's assistant treasurer, was accused in documents filed in U.S. District Court on Monday of using someone else's name to make three contributions to another mayoral candidate between June 15 and July 2 of 2010 and of destroying a spiral notebook that contained payment records.

Mr. Gore, 56, is scheduled for a plea hearing in federal court on Tuesday morning.

His plea marks the first significant step in a high-profile probe of Mr. Gray, who defeated incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty in the 2010 Democratic primary. Federal prosecutors began their investigation after a minor mayoral candidate, Sulaimon Brown, publicly claimed Mr. Gray's team paid him and promised him a job to stay in the race and bash Mr. Fenty.

Prosecutors accuse Mr. Gore of destroying the notebook on March 6, 2011 — the same day The Washington Post published Mr. Brown's claims — "with the intent to impede, obstruct and influence the investigation" conducted by the FBI.

Although the charging papers do not mention Mr. Brown by name, they list three payments — two for $100 and one for $355 — to a "Candidate B."

Just three people are listed in Mr. Brown's campaign-finance records as having given donations during the two-week period mentioned in the court records. The donations were all made July 2. Only two of the three donations match the dollar amounts cited in the court papers. Mr. Brown's records state Aulias Naylor gave $335; Mike Browish gave $225; and Latanya Livingston gave $100.

The campaign records appear rife with either misspellings or incomplete information. A full address is not given for either Mr. Browish or Ms. Livingston. An Aundrea Naylor, but not an Aulias Naylor, is listed as living at the address given for Ms. Naylor in “Anapolis.” None of the three people could be reached for comment.

The fraudulent contribution charges against Mr. Gore are misdemeanors, but the obstruction of justice charge related to the notebook is a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison, according to federal prosecutors. The misdemeanors carry a maximum six-month sentence.

Longtime associate

Mr. Gore served as Mr. Gray's campaign treasurer during the mayor's successful runs for council from Ward 7 in 2004 and for council chairman in 2006.

He also is president and executive director of the nonprofit Associates for Renewal in Education Inc. (A.R.E.), a position he took in 2002 after serving as executive director of the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative. He has a master's degree in social work and has served on the Mayor's Advisory Task Force for Children and Youth. A.R.E. runs a number of group homes, child care and after-school youth programs in the District.

In January 2011, The Washington Times reported that the company had received more than $54 million in city contracts since 2000, and city records show A.R.E. was paid more than $500,000 in the first six months of fiscal 2012.

The Washington Post reported in 2007 that A.R.E. was on the brink of eviction from a city-owned building it had occupied for 20 years, which the city had eyed for a charter school location. Sponsored by then-D.C. Council Chairman Gray, legislation to give A.R.E. right of first refusal to lease the building passed in the D.C. Council by a vote of 10-0. Mr. Gray afterward denied he sponsored the legislation as a political favor to Mr. Gore.

Mr. Gore will be represented by Fred Cooke, a well-known lawyer of choice for D.C. politicians who have run into legal issues in the past.

Mr. Cooke declined to comment on the case.

Mr. Gray is in Las Vegas for an international shopping-center convention. His attorney, Robert S. Bennett, declined to comment on the mayor's behalf, citing the pending investigation.

Ongoing probe

Investigations by the D.C. Council and a House oversight committee last year found numerous missteps and suspicious payments by Mr. Gray's 2010 campaign, but the most serious issues fell short of the mayor.

A special committee by council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, mentions Mr. Gore once and links him to the activities of Howard Brooks, who Mr. Brown accused of providing him most of the payments.

Mr. Brooks has kept a low-profile during the federal probe and declined to testify in front of Ms. Cheh's panel, citing his Fifth Amendment rights, although a WUSA-TV (Channel 9) report in October said Mr. Brooks was cooperating with authorities and wore a wire to record conversations for prosecutors. He has not been charged with any crimes.

Gerri Mason Hall, who served as Mr. Gray's chief of staff before she was fired in March 2011 amid the swirling scandal, mentioned Mr. Gore when the panel asked her about Mr. Brooks' role on the campaign.

"I'm not 100 percent sure of Mr. Brooks' role," she said, according to the council's transcript. "It was my understanding that he worked closely with Tom Gore, who was the finance lead for the campaign. And I'm not sure about Mr. Gore's exact title, but he overall managed the finances."

Ronald C. Machen Jr., the U.S. attorney for the District, declined to comment on the case on Monday, his spokesman said.

Existing court documents and the office's silence give little indication of where the federal probe is heading or how high it could climb on the power chain of D.C. politics.

The most recent ripple occurred in early March, when federal agents raided the home of prolific campaign donor Jeffrey E. Thompson as part of an apparent probe into campaign-finance matters. Mr. Thompson, who has given to nearly all of the District's sitting politicians, has not been accused of any crimes or wrongdoing.

On Monday, Ms. Cheh said it is unfortunate that people now face criminal charges, but there should consequences for any misdeeds.

"I'm just happy that there's movement now," she said of the long-running probe. "Let's get it done."

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