- The Washington Times - Friday, April 15, 2016

Hundreds of pages of previously sealed court documents related to the federal probe of illicit funding of former D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s successful 2010 mayoral campaign were released Friday — shedding new light on an investigation that resulted in a dozen criminal convictions and cast a black cloud over city politics for years.

The documents include affidavits in support of search warrants that allowed federal investigators to collect bank and business records from companies that paid for the shadow campaign, cellphone GPS data from key players, as well as email communications between members of Mr. Gray’s campaign. They suggest that the influx of cash was an open secret among the candidate’s staffers, who several times raised concerns about the source of the funding.

Some document email exchanges between campaign workers who express shock at the amount of money raked in by the campaign, while others show that federal investigators also sought access to Mr. Gray’s own email account, which authorities said was used to talk about “independent” campaign activities.

The documents were released as the result of a lawsuit brought by The Washington Post.

A dozen people pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the investigation, which spanned nearly five years and uncovered a $660,000 “slush fund” of illegal donations dedicated to unseating Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. The case, which netted several of Mr. Gray’s closest aides and associates, cast a shadow over his one-term administration and contributed to his defeat in his re-election bid last year. But U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips closed the case in December with no charges ultimately ever brought against Mr. Gray.

Much of the structure of the illegal campaign funding scheme has already been laid out in prior court documents, including the plea agreement of shadow campaign financier Jeffrey Thompson, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges. Prosecutors have said that Thompson made more than $3.3 million in illegal contributions to at least 28 political candidates running for both local and federal office between 2006 to 2011 — hiding the true source of the funds by transferring the money through straw donors and funding off-the-books campaigns.

But among the revelations from the newly unsealed court documents:

- Emails and other communications obtained by investigators showed unnamed campaign workers’ surprise when Mr. Gray’s fundraising totals for one period exceeded projections by more than $200,000.

“So I’m as over the moon as anyone about the fundraising number, but I feel compelled to ask… As late as on yesterday’s comms call, [redacted] was warning us to expect a number in the low $300,000s. The cash on hand obviously seemed to support that projection,” wrote one campaign working in an email cited by law enforcement in a search warrant seeking messages, emails and other communications associated with the Gray campaign’s internet domain. “I’ll ask this on the call today, but where did this extra $200,000+ come from? And how’s it possible the the projection was so unbelievably ridiculously far off?”

Another campaign worker later replied, “Lots of last minute cheeks and [redacted] had $100K in his pocket. Lots of checks from out of state — so people were washing money.”

- In charges filed against Thompson, prosecutors said Mr. Gray presented a one-page, $425,000 budget to Thompson to pay for get-out-the-vote efforts during a dinner meeting at the apartment of Jeanne Clarke Harris, a D.C. businesswoman and close associate of Thompson’s who conspired to hide the sources of illegal campaign donations.

But in search warrants that include a recounting of the dinner meeting by Harris to investigators, Harris said the funds to be provided for the effort were a “loan.”

- A third candidate running for mayor during the 2010 race discussed possible payments and appointment to a spot within Mr. Gray’s cabinet if he dropped out of the race and endorsed Mr. Gray. The candidate is unnamed in an affidavit seeking cellphone data, but the Washington Post has previously reported that the candidate was Leo Alexander.

According to the search warrant, the unnamed candidate authored an email describing a meeting with Mr. Gray at a Mitchellville home and recounting the various offers — which ranged from a request for $50,000 to pay off campaign expenses, to potential backing to fill an expected at-large seat on the D.C. Council, to a deputy mayor position overseeing the Office of Cable TV.

“Given that my platform is to address the root causes of generational poverty, I have absolutely no interest in the Office of Cable TV. This post would do nothing to assist people most in need and politically it does nothing to build my resume. After hearing that from Ms. Harris, the deal was off,” the candidate wrote.

- Federal investigators in 2013 searched what appears to be Mr. Gray’s personal email account and found that during the 2010 mayoral campaign, the Yahoo! address was used to talk about “independent” campaign activities, according to a search warrant. The company had already turned over some requested information, but authorities wanted free reign to look through the email account.

In the search warrant, investigators drew a thin line between emails sent from the account in May 2010 discussing campaign T-shirts that were supposed to be paid for and sold independently of the official campaign and unofficial T-shirts that were later funded by Thompson’s shadow campaign.

“Because the Thompson-funded activities later in the campaign likewise included such T-shirts, such email discussing earlier similar activities provides provides probable cause to conclude that [redacted] later discussed Thompson-funded [get-out-the-vote] activities via email from this account,” investigators wrote in the search warrant affidavit.

And in another exchange in May 2010, an email account that appears to be Mr. Gray’s discussed securing “upstairs space” in a building on Sixth Street in northwest D.C. next to the official Gray campaign headquarters. That space was shared by the official campaign and Thompson’s shadow campaign between August and September 2010, according to the search warrant. The shadow operation eventually moved downstairs in the same building.

Court records also showed that in July 2010 the same email account discussed problems with his official get-out-the-vote effort, which is around the same time that Vernon Hawkins started planning the Thompson-funded get-out-the-vote shadow campaign.

Hawkins, a Gray campaign aide, has pleaded guilty to making a false statement to federal authorities. He admitted to giving cash he obtained from Harris to a worker to persuade the person to leave the District in order to evade questions from law enforcement officials.

In another July email from around the time, documents show that the email address cautioned, “Be careful what information you include in emails.”

- In January 2012, as federal authorities were deepening their investigation in the shadow campaign, Hawkins expressed concern over invoices that Harris planned to submit to the official Gray campaign for the illegal get-out-the-vote activities.

Hawkins was concerned and spoke with someone who appears to be Mr. Gray, but that person denied ever knowing of the activities or the money. He instructed Harris to submit the invoices to the campaign so an amended report could be filed, but court documents said no further invoices or documentation were submitted to the campaign.

• Ryan M. McDermott can be reached at rmcdermott@washingtontimes.com.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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