- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2013

A longtime campaign aide of D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray is expected to plead guilty Tuesday to one count of lying to investigators in connection with a wide-ranging federal campaign finance probe — the fourth person affiliated with the 2010 campaign to plead guilty.

Vernon E. Hawkins, a volunteer adviser to Mr. Gray’s mayoral bid and a consultant and outreach coordinator with some of the mayor’s past campaigns, was accused of giving a worker money to leave the District in order to evade questions from law enforcement officials and was charged with lying to investigators about his role in the scheme.

The disclosure was made Monday morning by federal prosecutors in a criminal information, a document that often suggests a plea deal is imminent. A hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the District.

Prosecutors said Mr. Hawkins in December 2011 gave money to an unnamed “Person One” to persuade him/her “to leave town for an extended period of time” so as to be unavailable to speak with federal agents. The papers say Person One was the owner of a D.C. catering business who worked as transportation coordinator with a get-out-the-vote effort funded by a D.C. businessman.

A source with knowledge of the investigation, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly, identified Person One as Lamont Mitchell, owner of D.C.-based Imani Catering. The businessman was not named in the court documents but is widely believed to be Jeffrey E. Thompson.

The court documents say Mr. Hawkins obtained the money from Thompson associate Eugenia C. Harris, who pleaded guilty in July 2012 to charges related to the campaign finance investigation, admitting that at least $650,000 in unreported funds — also believed to have come from Mr. Thompson — were used in Mr. Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign. Two other Gray campaign operatives also pleaded guilty in connection with the effort.

Prosecutors said Mr. Hawkins told FBI agents he was unaware of anyone connected to the campaign being asked to leave town to evade questioning and that he had not requested anyone leave or assisted anyone in leaving.

The charge carries a maximum five-year sentence. Mr. Hawkins’ lawyer declined to comment.

Neither Mr. Gray nor Mr. Thompson has been charged with any wrongdoing.

Mr. Hawkins, who served the Gray campaign in 2010 as an unpaid volunteer, was paid $22,000 by Mr. Gray for consulting services, campaign materials and fundraising activities during his 2004 and 2006 campaigns for D.C. Council. He also served on the transition team after Mr. Gray was elected council chairman in 2006.

Mr. Hawkins’ city service dates back decades, including as director of the Department of Human Services in the Marion Barry administration. He was forced to resign in 1996 after the D.C. financial control board, which then had oversight of city finances, took an unprecedented vote to remove him from the city payroll, declaring an “emergency” characterized by “widespread waste and abuse in the handling of city contracts,” according to news reports at the time.

• Matthew Cella can be reached at mcella@washingtontimes.com.

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