Loose Lips

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.

  • Jim

    This is SO unfair! So corporations can pump as much money as they will at the national level, but can't do anything at the city level? TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION!

    oh, wait.

  • DCrez

    There was a $650,000 Shadow Campaign. It was hidden, illegal and had no controls. But the Mayor wants us to think that he did not know about it.

    Does Gray really think Washingtonians are that stupid?

    If Gray didn't know about, then he should not be Mayor. Gray CHOSE Hawkins and Harris, etc. He chose those people. He's responsible for hiring his crooked friends.

    Gray knew. He knew all along.

    Let's have a jail pod with jim Graham, Mike Brown, Vince Gray, Grosso, and Jack Evans.

  • truth hurts

    What was one city's campaign slogan? Something like " character. Integrity. Leadership." As we witness one city's close friends and associates pleading to felonies one after another, the cat's got a death grip on gray's tongue. Note that Hawkins met with Harris and Thompson right after Gray met with Thompson at Harris' condo. Hey, Mr. Mayor, why not clear the air? Surely you can go on record and tell the public it's all just coincidental.

  • sticktoyourguns

    DCrez...you left off Bowser.

  • Terry Miller

    It is not a crime to have separate expenditures made by persons advocating (or opposing) the election of a particular candidate, as long as expenditures are not "suggested or requested" by the candidate or his campaign. These campaign donations to the "shadow" campaign are not subject to the donations cap. Therefore, it would not be sufficient for the prosecutors to prove that Gray "knew" about the shadow campaign, he would have had to have asked for it or suggested it. Since these "shadow" campaigns seem to operate as a matter or course in the District, I think it would be hard to prove that the candidate asked for or suggested anything. This is in D.C. Code Section 1-1131.01(f). Even if, for example, Gray DID meet with Thompson and Thompson said I am going to spend a lot of money indedendently to defeat Fenty and Gray said, "Ok", that would not be a crime or a violaiton of the contrabution limits! The only way that the U.S. Attorney can "get" many of those involved would be to trick them into lying to the investigators, so they could be prosecuted on that basis. Seeing how these kind of expenditures are allowed under D.C. law under some circumstances, it is inaccurate, in my opinon, to call the Gray campaign corrupt or Gray a criminal.

  • drez

    For good reason: Bowser's clean. Not a fan of Jack but he hasn't been mixed up in this either. Nor has Grosso.

  • drez

    @Terry Miller the code you cite is not applicable. The Shadow Campaign was not some registered PAC (though Gray had that through Don Peebles). This was seperate.
    And even if it had been a registered PAC there would have been prohibitions on coordination between the PAC and the Campaign. The plea agreement outlines the coordination.
    There is no legal loophole here. Gray is toast, and his continuation does his supporters (to say nothing of the rest of the city) a disservice.

  • Terry Miller

    You may be thinking of the federal law. This is a local election and local laws apply. At the time of the alleged "shadow campaign" (the rules may have change since) there was no mention of a registered PAC in the section I reference. D.C. law uses the term "person" which is defined in the law as an "individual, parnership, committee, coporation, labor organization or any other organization." Further, D.C. does not use the terms "co-ordination" in its law. As I said, it talks about "suggesting or requesting." If the U.S. Attorney had enough to go after Hawkins for violating the contributions limits or operating a "shadow campaign" why didn't they charge him with that? I would think that would fit into his agenda better. You may remember once when the U.S. Attorney made some off-the-cuff remark about what they could do was limited by D.C. laws? I didn't know about this provision at all, but I got to thinking and pulled out the D.C. Code and sure enough, I can see where D.C. law might cause a little bit of a snag in the U.S. Attoney's plans.

  • drez

    I think they charged him with the lesser charge in return for his cooperation. I also think that there will be issues with the straw donations to the official campaign, as well as issues between the two campaigns of coordination, or of another word meaning substantially the same thing.

  • drez

    Terry, see: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/debonis/2010/07/independent_fundraising_could.html

    This is very interesting in light of our present conversation.

  • sticktoyourguns

    drez...Bowser clean...no way Jose!!

  • DCShadyBoots

    Bowser is useless.

  • Terry Miller

    The campaign finance violation IS the lesser offense. It was only a jail term of up to six months, at least it was at the time of the offense.

  • Drez

    I think they could charge RICO conspiracy.

  • southeast lady

    To All I don't know what walkable, liveable means. It sounds like some California crap. We have crosswalks (I don't play crosswalks because I know that all drivers do not know what a crosswalk indicates. I drive too. We have traffic lights. I am 73, I jaywalk, I naturally know my rate of walking and I can discern for myself the speed at which the car coming at me is going. I cross at the traffic light too.

  • southeast lady

    TO ALL: None of the council members are clean! They ain't got caught yet!

  • southeast lady

    To Terry Miller: I don't care if manmade law has changed. I am talking about common decent and concerned for the people you claim you are representing.

  • southeast lady

    Vincent Gray will/can be judged in the court of public opinion and I declare him guilty. I ain't voting for him this time around.

  • Chris hauser

    It won't be necessary to not vote for him.

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