Gray under cloud in campaign fraud case

Aide helped fund opposing candidate

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Federal prosecutors dealt a major blow to D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray on Tuesday, validating high-profile claims by a minor 2010 candidate that Mr. Gray’s campaign paid him to bash incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty during the race.

The prosecution’s case against Thomas W. Gore, a senior aide to Mr. Gray’s 2010 campaign, outlined several payments to Sulaimon Brown, who also claimed he was promised a city job he received in the Gray administration before his firing for poor performance and behavior.

Gore, 56, admitted in federal court that he helped another campaign staffer make donations totaling $660 to Mr. Brown’s campaign - using the names of people who did not make the donations - before destroying a notebook that outlined the payments. Gore said he abetted the process by providing campaign funds.

He pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges of making fraudulent campaign donations and a felony count of obstruction of justice.

“In 2010, the voters of the District of Columbia were deceived,” said U.S. Attorney for the District Ronald C. Machen Jr. “Envelopes stuffed with fraudulent money orders prevented the public from knowing that one mayoral campaign was secretly financing the campaign of an opposing candidate.”

Gore is the first person to be charged in a long-running federal probe of Mr. Gray’s campaign activities, an investigation that overshadowed the mayor’s first year in office. The fervor around the probe subsided for a time before a raid on a prolific political donor’s home and offices in March reignited interest in how his 2010 campaign raised money and conducted its affairs.

Gore served as the Gray campaign’s assistant treasurer, yet he has been described as the go-to contact for financial matters during the race. He also worked on Mr. Gray’s 2004 run for Ward 7 member of the D.C. Council and 2006 run for council chairman.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly told Gore he faced up to 20 years in prison for the felony, but that guidelines call for a sentence of 12 to 18 months based on his lack of a criminal record and potential to cooperate with investigators.

In court, Gore was forced to confirm the names of candidates listed in charging papers, offering the first formal indication that Mr. Brown - whose credibility has been questioned because of his erratic behavior - did not fabricate the notion he was paid by at least one member of Gray’s campaign team.

“Candidate A was the campaign for Vincent Gray. Candidate B was Sulaimon Brown,” Gore said.

Mr. Gray is scheduled to return Tuesday evening from an international shopping center convention in Las Vegas. He has referred questions to his attorney, who declined to comment when Gore’s charges came to light Monday.

Charging documents released Tuesday do not indicate Mr. Gray was aware of any payments to Mr. Brown.

The mayor has denied the allegations against him and repeatedly noted that he called for an investigation into the matter.

Mr. Brown has asserted that Mr. Gray was aware of the furtive payments. He pointed to phone records between him and the mayor and testified before the council that Mr. Gray brought him to an associate outside the Eatonville restaurant in Northwest so he could obtain an envelope full of money.

Mr. Brown has claimed that associate, Howard Brooks, made most of the payments. Although he is not named in charging papers, Mr. Brooks seems to fit with descriptions of “Person A,” who is described in court papers as a campaign staffer who recruited family members to put their names on money orders that were passed to Mr. Brown.

The names of Mr. Brooks’ family members and their friends appear on money orders that Mr. Brown was able to produce last year, creating a consistent pattern with comments by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellen Epstein in court Tuesday.

Court papers said Gore destroyed the notebook that lists the payments March 6, 2011, the same day that Mr. Brown went public with his accusations through a story in The Washington Post. A federal grand jury commenced an investigation into Mr. Brown’s claims four days later.

Prosecutors said Gore obstructed justice by lying to the FBI three times during a voluntary meeting Oct. 13. He said he had not discussed records of payments to Mr. Brown with “Person A,” even though he met with him Sept. 22 to talk about what they should tell law enforcement about the payments.

Mr. Brooks has kept a low profile since Mr. Gray became mayor. He declined to testify before a D.C. Council committee that looked into Mr. Brown’s claims. A WUSA-TV (Channel 9) report in October said Mr. Brooks was cooperating with authorities and wore a wire to record conversations for prosecutors.

On Tuesday, Gore appeared to volunteer that “Person A” was wearing a wire when they discussed the payments to Mr. Brown. But his attorney, Frederick Cooke, claimed that reporters must have misheard Gore.

“I may be completely out to lunch, but I did not hear him say the word ‘wire,’” Mr. Cooke said outside the courthouse.

Gore also lied by claiming he did not make a record of payments to Mr. Brown and then maintained he shredded the notebook a week after the general election, when he really destroyed it in March 2011, according to court papers.

The falsehoods were intended to mislead the FBI and sway the grand jury because “he did not want law enforcement authorities to find out about these funds,” Ms. Epstein said.

Gore was not among the witnesses who testified before the council last year about Mr. Brown’s claims and nepotism in the Gray administration’s hiring practices. His name appears once in a committee report on the council’s findings, when Mr. Gray’s former chief of staff, Gerri Mason Hall, said she did not know Mr. Brooks’ exact role but that he worked closely with Gore.

Gore is president and executive director of the nonprofit Associates for Renewal in Education, a position he took in 2002 after serving as executive director of the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative. In January 2011, The Washington Times reported that Associates for Renewal in Education had received more than $54 million in city contracts since 2000, and city records show the nonprofit was paid more than $500,000 in the first six months of fiscal 2012.

After his plea, Gore declined to speak to a throng of reporters and TV cameras that followed him from the courthouse door to a waiting car.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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