D.C. campaign finance investigation yields another guilty plea

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A Philadelphia business owner on Monday became the third associate of prolific political donor Jeffrey E. Thompson to plead guilty to charges related to a widespread campaign finance investigation, admitting in federal court to funneling more than $132,000 in straw donations to various races.

Stanley A. Straughter, 71, admitted that he and his business, Oak Lane Consulting Group, gave money over a six-year period on behalf of a corporate executive for whom his company performed consulting work. Under the arrangement, Mr. Straughter donated $49,000 to D.C. campaigns, $58,600 to federal campaigns, and another $25,000 to political campaigns run in other states and U.S. territories. While the donations were widespread, his guilty plea — to a misdemeanor count of making an unlawful corporate contribution — stemmed specifically from donations made through his business to two politicians running for U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives races in 2010.

While Mr. Thompson was not named during the proceedings that took place in the U.S. District Court for the District, he matches the description of an unnamed executive described in court papers as directing the straw donations.

Mr. Thompson, his name wasn’t mentioned in the courtroom and I’m not going to comment on Mr. Thompson or anything related to him,” Mr. Straughter’s attorney Steven McCool said Monday outside the courthouse.

The response stood in contrast to the comments of an attorney representing another associate of Mr. Thompson’s who pleaded guilty Thursday to a similar crime and did identify Mr. Thompson as the unnamed executive.

That associate, Lee A. Calhoun, admitted to making more than $160,000 in straw campaign contributions at the direction of leadership at the accounting firm of Bazilio Cobb Associates — a company Mr. Thompson formerly owned. Mr. Calhoun, a 65-year-old principal at the firm, admitted he was reimbursed for the donations through “bonuses” paid by the company.

Prosecutors said Mr. Straughter was also reimbursed for contributions through payments to his company.

While Mr. Calhoun’s attorney, Edward B. MacMahon Jr., described the straw donations “as something that was done at the company,” with his client receiving small sums of money in return, Mr. McCool described Mr. Straughter’s actions as simply a bad decision.

“He exercised poor judgment and unfortunately that brought him here today,” Mr. McCool said. “That doesn’t change the fact that he’s a good and decent man and he’s going to continue to cooperate with the government and he’s going to fulfill his end of the bargain.”

The 2010 suspect donations from Mr. Straughter appear to match a $2,300 donation given to D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, and a $2,000 contribution to former Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Democrat, who died last year.

Mr. Straughter, whose sentencing has been postponed so he can cooperate with the ongoing investigation, faces a maximum year in prison, a $100,000 fine and a year of supervised release.

Thompson associate Eugenia C. Harris pleaded guilty in July to charges related to the campaign finance investigation, admitting that at least $650,000 in unreported funds were used in D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign. That money is believed to have come from Mr. Thompson. Two other Gray campaign operatives have also pleaded guilty.

Mr. Thompson has not been charged with any crimes, but with each new guilty plea by an associate the dollar amount he appears to have illegally invested in political campaigns continues to rise.

“Today’s guilty plea pushes the confirmed dollar figure of illegal campaign contributions in this scheme above $300,000,” U.S. Attorney for the District Ronald C. Machen Jr. said.

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