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Gray campaign investigation is ongoing, say investigators

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Federal prosecutors indicated Tuesday that their investigation into D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2010 campaign is still in full swing by delaying the sentencing of a campaign aide who pleaded guilty to destroying a record of furtive payments to a minor mayoral candidate.

Thomas W. Gore, 56, pleaded guilty in May to three misdemeanor charges of making fraudulent campaign donations and a felony count of obstruction of justice for helping another campaign staffer make donations totaling $660 to Sulaimon Brown’s campaign — using the names of people who did not make the donations — before shredding a notebook that outlined the payments. Gore said he also abetted the process by providing campaign funds.

At a brief hearing in federal court Tuesday, prosecutors said they would like Gore to report for another status hearing before they put the final stamp on his case.

“The investigation continues, and Mr. Gore’s obligations under the plea agreement continue,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellen Epstein said in court, referring to Gore’s pledge to cooperate with authorities.

The U.S. attorney’s long-running probe into the Gray campaign involves a number of players who have already pleaded guilty or could be criminally charged in the near future, placing Gore within a web of moving parts as information about the 2010 campaign trickles out.

Prosecutors’ comments and desire to put off his sentencing indicates they are leveraging his cooperation as the probe continues, well into Mr. Gray’s second year as mayor. The cycle of hearings mirrors a tactic the U.S. Attorney’s Office is using in its case against those linked to former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., who is serving a three-year prison term for stealing public funds intended for youth sports programs. Three people tied to his scheme have pleaded guilty but have not been sentenced. Instead, they are scheduled to appear in federal court for status hearings this fall.

On Tuesday, defense lawyer Frederick Cooke said he hopes Gore’s involvement in the probe comes to a close “sooner rather than later.”

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered Gore to return to court on Dec. 12. She said Gore has complied with the court’s release orders, although he has yet to turn in his misplaced passport.

“I’ll keep looking for it,” Gore told the judge.

Gore and a second aide, Howard Brooks, admitted they paid Mr. Brown with the hope he would stay in the race and continue verbal attacks on then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. Mr. Brown publicly accused Mr. Gray in early 2011 of knowing about the scheme after he was fired from a $110,000-a-year job at the D.C. Department of Healthcare Finance.

Mr. Gray has denied Mr. Brown’s claims, which kicked off the probe by U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen and inquiries by a U.S. House oversight committee and the D.C. Council. The federal investigation into the Gray campaign accelerated this summer, when prosecutors outlined evidence of a “shadow” campaign that spent unreported dollars to get out the vote on Mr. Gray’s behalf — whether he knew it or not.

Gore was the first of three people to be charged this year as part of the investigation, which has cast a shadow over the mayor’s first year in office. The fervor around the probe had subsided until a raid on a prolific political donor’s home and offices in March reignited interest in how Mr. Gray’s 2010 campaign raised money and conducted its affairs.

After the raid, prosecutors charged Gray supporter Jeanne C. Harris with helping a city contractor, widely thought to be Jeffrey Thompson, inject $650,000 in unreported funds into the Gray campaign and cull straw donations from family and associates. Mr. Thompson has not been charged.

Mr. Gray, who is attending the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., this week, has said he ran an honest campaign and would like the public to wait for the results of the investigation before passing judgment.

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