Loose Lips

Ex-Jeff Thompson Employee Made $160,000 in Straw Donations

Ex-Jeff Thompson Employee Pleads Guilty

Edward MacMahon, Lee Calhoun's attorney.

Defense attorney Edward MacMahon had a message today for embattled D.C. campaign donor Jeffrey Thompson: It's going to be a busy summer.

"I would expect you people will be back here shortly," MacMahon told reporters outside the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse, predicting more charges against Thompson associates who are now being scrutinized by the feds as potential illegal conduits for straw donations.

Lee A. Calhoun, MacMahon's client, pleaded guilty today to making illegal donations in his and his wife's name to Virgin Islands Del. Donna Christensen on behalf of Thompson, who isn't named in documents (Christensen's campaign is returning the donations). But MacMahon said Calhoun served as a conduit between Thompson and many more political campaigns.

Calhoun's straw donations to federal campaigns.

Calhoun made $160,000 in political contributions in his name and those of his relatives from 2002 to 2011. But the money actually came from Thompson and his accounting firm Thompson Cobb Bazilio & Associates, according to MacMahon.

Each time Calhoun made a donation, he would be reimbursed by the company at Thompson's direction, according to court papers filed in connection with Calhoun's plea. "Executive A"—whose description matches Thompson's—would allegedly call a reimbursement an "advance on bonus," according to Calhoun's statement of offense.

While Thompson's old accounting firm—now renamed Bazilio Cobb Associates—has tried to distance itself from the alleged straw donor scheme, Calhoun claims it was managed within the company. The firm kept a record of Calhoun's reimbursements, court papers say, and the firm's controller allegedly worked with Thompson and Calhoun to square Calhoun's reimbursements with his income tax statements. (The firm declined to comment on Calhoun's allegations today.)

Calhoun's straw donations to local D.C. campaigns.

The process of covering up Calhoun's reimbursements—described as a "true up"—resulted in what look on paper like absurd increases in salary and bonuses. In 2007, Calhoun's W-2 from the company increased his salary by $125,000, while Calhoun noted a $321,900 bonus on his taxes in 2011, allegedly at Thompson's request. In fact, the bonus didn't exist.

While Calhoun claims he realized in 2002 that the straw donor scheme was illegal, he kept making donations through 2011. He didn't organize the scheme, according to the statement, but there was something in it for him with each reimbursement check. "There was a little on top every time," MacMahon said.

In a statement released today, U.S. Attorney Ron Machen described Thompson's firm as "an assembly line for illegal campaign contributions" like Calhoun's.

Calhoun's sentencing date hasn't been set yet to ensure his cooperation with the investigation, but a status hearing is scheduled for September. While under his plea agreement, Calhoun faces between 24 and 30 months in prison, MacMahon said he doesn't expect his client to be incarcerated because the charge is a misdemeanor.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery