Shadow Campaign Operative Vernon Hawkins Pleads Guilty
At this point in the investigation into the shadow campaign to elect Mayor Vince Gray in 2010, there's not much left to hide. In U.S. District Court today, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly called Gray by his own name, rather than his alias in some court documents—"Candidate A." And Vernon Hawkins, who pleaded guilty today to lying to investigators, even dropped the pseudonym that U.S. Attorney Ron Machen's office has used to describe the shadow campaign's alleged financier, Jeff Thompson.
Hawkins met with Jeanne Clarke Harris, an associate of Thompson's, in June 2010 to plan the shadow campaign, Hawkins told the court today. He would also meet the shadow campaign's financier, and participate in a conference call with Thompson and Harris to tweak the campaign's budget. The money paid for canvassers, drivers, vans, and flyers to increase voter turnout for Gray.
But by December 2011, a year after the election, the shadow campaign's organizers were concerned about other workers talking to investigators. A caterer who moonlighted as the shadow campaign's transportation coordinator had discovered a government investigator's business card in his door, and expected to meet with agents soon. Hawkins and Harris told him to leave town for several weeks to delay the investigation, but the caterer was reluctant to lose potential business during an absence.
To make up for the lost business, the caterer, identified by the Washington Post as Lamont Mitchell, asked for $4,000, according to Hawkins. But when he received the money in Dec. 2011, he didn't stay out of the District long enough—Hawkins saw him in January 2012 at an event for another candidate. Hawkins says he gave Mitchell another $4,000 through Harris to convince him to leave.
Despite admitting his involvement in the operation and the ensuing cover-up of the shadow campaign, Hawkins minimized his role, saying that he just relayed messages from Harris and, by extension, Thompson. Referring to the three-way conference call, Hawkins told Judge Kollar-Kotelly it wasn't his idea to change the budget.
Similarly, Hawkins claimed that he didn't intend to make it harder for the FBI to reach Mitchell, despite admitting that he gave him $8,000 so he would leave. "I was aware that that was something that Ms. Harris and Jeff wanted," Hawkins said.
Hawkins would later lie to FBI agents about trying to persuade Mitchell to leave, which would lead to the charge he pleaded guilty to today. "It happened so fast," Hawkins said. "I wasn't thinking."
Hawkins' statement of offense also points to coordination between the official campaign and the shadow campaign. It mentions an unnamed shadow campaign consultant—"Person Two"—who worked out of a building next door to Gray's campaign headquarters and on the same floor as Gray's own get-out-the-vote coordinator. The consultant also had several conversations with Gray campaign officials, according to Hawkins.
Hawkins claims that Harris told him Person Two left the District around the time they were trying to convince Mitchell to do the same, although Hawkins' statement of offense doesn't specify how long he or she was gone.
Prosecutors and Hawkins' attorney disagree about how to classify his crime. Hawkins' attorney claims that he's facing between zero and six months in prison, while prosecutors claim that he's eligible for between 10 and 16 months.