- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2012

A second aide to D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2010 campaign pleaded guilty Thursday to lying about furtive payments he made to another candidate and in the process revealed that there were at least several thousand dollars in unattributed donations to the Gray team.

Howard L. Brooks, 64, who worked on the Gray campaign’s finances, admitted that he lied five times during a meeting with FBI agents on April 6, 2011, when he claimed he had not given minor mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown a series of money orders totaling $2,810 in the summer of 2010.

He also signed the name of a friend on $2,000 in money orders that were donated to the Gray campaign and lied to federal agents when he said he used his own money to make a separate, $2,000 donation to the Gray campaign.

Brooks pleaded guilty to making a false statement, an offense punishable by up to five years in prison, although sentencing guidelines call for him to face up to six months or merely probation in light of his cooperation with authorities.

“I think he hit the point where he realized he had to accept responsibility for what he’d done,” Brooks‘ attorney, Glenn F. Ivey, said after the hearing.

Court papers say Brooks, assistant campaign treasurer Thomas W. Gore and a third campaign worker, “Person A,” met in June 2010 and that Brooks “was instructed” to make payments to Mr. Brown’s campaign.

“The express purpose of these payments to [the Brown campaign] was to make him whole and keep his campaign running,” charging papers said.

Mr. Ivey said it would be “a fair statement” to say Brooks did not think up the scheme.

Prosecutors previously said Gore and Brooks recruited Brooks‘ relatives and friends to sign their names on five money orders totaling $660 for Mr. Brown’s campaign. Mr. Brown has claimed the Gray campaign paid him so we would stay in the primary race and bash incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

The recent guilty pleas raise questions as quickly as they provide answers, leaving many to wonder how far the scandal will reach. Mr. Gray has denied knowing of the scheme in the past, but this week he asked the public to “let the investigation play out” while he conducts the city’s business.

Mr. Brown publicly described the furtive payments in March 2011 after he was fired from a job at the D.C. Department of Healthcare Finance. He claimed that Mr. Gray had promised him the job, and that the mayor’s campaign chairman, Lorraine Green, played an active role in the scheme.

Ms. Green, who has not been charged, testified before the D.C. Council last year that she had no involvement in any payments to Mr. Brown, did not think his candidacy needed help and did not appreciate his outlandish criticism of Mr. Fenty.

“It did not appeal to the people we were trying to attract, and it was not something we sanctioned,” she told council members. “As far as getting out of the race, he had gone to all that trouble to collect all the signatures, and I don’t find it plausible he was going anywhere. … He seemed like he was having a grand old time of being a candidate for mayor.”

Her attorney, Thomas C. Green, did not return a phone message after Brooks‘ plea at the federal courthouse on Judiciary Square.

The hearing forced Brooks to make a rare public appearance, after he had kept a low profile during the long-running probe. He refused to testify before a D.C. Council committee that investigated claims against the Gray campaign, citing his Fifth Amendment rights.

His plea arrived two days after Gore, a longtime campaign aide to Mr. Gray, pleaded guilty to making donations to Mr. Brown in other people’s names and then destroying a notebook that documented the payments.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellen Epstein revealed in court Thursday that Brooks provided Mr. Brown with $2,150 in addition to the $660 outlined during Gore’s court appearance on Tuesday. Mr. Brown devoted $150 of the funds to a Geico insurance payment, court papers said.

Prosecutors said Brooks bought three $500 money orders at a 7-Eleven near his home July 30, 2010, and delivered them blank to Mr. Brown three days later. Mr. Brown deposited one money order into his campaign account and cashed the other two, prosecutors said.

On Aug. 4, 2010, Brooks bought four money orders — two for $500 each for a relative and two, for $500 and $150, that he delivered to Mr. Brown two days later, prosecutors said. Mr. Brown cashed the $500 money order and sent the smaller one to the insurance company, according to charging papers.

In the spring of 2010, Brooks signed the name of a friend on four money orders of $500 that were donated to the Gray campaign and reported under the friend’s name to the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said he also obtained four money orders from Gore and signed his own name on them as a $2,000 donation to the Gray campaign, even though Brooks had not contributed these funds.

During a voluntary meeting with the FBI, Brooks lied about the source of funds for his donation to the Gray campaign.