Feds Asking Questions About VO’s Campaign
Federal authorities this week questioned a former campaign worker for At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange's 2011 campaign about the campaign's ties to Vernon Hawkins and Jeanne Clarke Harris—two central figures in the ongoing federal investigation into Mayor Vince Gray's 2010 campaign.
The former aide says the FBI was interested in what roles Hawkins and Harris, who pleaded guilty earlier this summer to helping run the alleged shadow campaign, played in Orange's campaign. (The aide would only talk on condition of anonymity, due to the ongoing law enforcement investigation.) LL has previously noted that after he was sworn in, Orange thanked Hawkins for his help on the campaign and called him "one of the top strategists in town." Also, sources saw Harris at Orange's campaign headquarters the day of the 2011 election.
Neither Hawkins or Harris' lawyer could be immediately reached for comment. Orange, who's in Charlotte, N.C., for the Democratic National Convention, did not respond to an email request for comment left last night or a phone call this morning.
It's not clear to what extent the feds are interested in Orange's campaign. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment. But the news does appear to mark a noteworthy expansion of the federal probe into what U.S. Attorney Ron Machen says was an illegal off-the-books "shadow campaign" that helped Gray win the mayoral election. It also underscores the fact that the feds have been actively looking at D.C. politics beyond just the Gray campaign: The FBI is looking into the infamous lottery contract as well as the city's commercial tax office.
The 2011 Orange campaign benefited from a large infusion of cash from D.C. Medicaid contractor and alleged mayoral shadow campaign financier Jeff Thompson and those connected to him. In court, Harris admitted that she made straw donations to the Gray campaign on behalf of her companies, her family, and her friends using Thompson's money. One of Harris' companies and some of her family members who gave to the Gray campaign also gave to Orange's campaign.
Orange has also said that several money orders from Thompson and his associates appear "suspicious." Among those questionable donations were contributions from Thompson's masseur, caterer, and Hollywood producer partner. But Orange has also always maintained that he had no knowledge of any alleged illegality about Thompson-tied donations to his campaign.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery