Loose Lips

U.S. Attorney: “What You Learned About Today Is Only the Tip of the Iceberg”

Jeffrey Thompson

Jeff Thompson pulled it off, until he didn't.

The man who was once one of the biggest financiers in District politics laid it all out in court today while he pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges: the $278,000 he spent trying to elect Linda Cropp mayor in 2006, the $668,000 he spent backing Vince Gray four years later, the tens of thousands in favors he says he did for the mayor, the hundreds of thousands more in other illicit campaigns and straw donations, and the tax fraud to cover up those straw donations. And that's not even everything.

"What you learned about today is only the tip of the iceberg," U.S. Attorney Ron Machen said this afternoon after Thompson's plea hearing.

It's a hell of a tip. Thompson, the former owner of a well-connected Medicaid contractor and part owner in an accounting firm, pleaded guilty today to organizing multiple shadow campaigns and straw donation schemes that Machen said amounted to "a veil of corruption over the District of Columbia." With the exception of former Councilmember Michael A. Brown, none of the politicians Machen said benefited from Thompson's illegal actions have been charged with any crimes.

The most immediate impact in the Wilson Building will likely be felt in the mayor's race, with Thompson's claims in open court and in filings contradicting Gray's claims that he didn't know about the illicit effort to get him into the mayoral suite. While Gray claimed that Thompson's charges were "lies" in an interview with the Washington Post, Thompson's statement of offense features Gray arriving for an August 2010 meeting to personally deliver a $425,000 budget for how to spend Thompson's money on a get-out-the-vote effort.

Prosecutors and Thompson say the meeting at Thompson associate Jeanne Clarke Harris' apartment was arranged after Thompson, who had already spent $102,800 through his healthcare holding company and accounting firm, said he would only consider spending more to defeat then-Mayor Adrian Fenty after meeting with Gray personally. Harris proved far more useful for Thompson than just as a host—two of her companies were described by Machen as a "familiar pass-through" for Thompson's money. (She entered her own guilty plea in 2012 to charges that she acted as a straw donor for shadow campaign cash and is cooperating with the feds.)

At the end of the meeting, Gray allegedly expressed his "gratitude" for Thompson's help by calling him "uncle," a reference to "Uncle Earl," the alias they had decided to use for Thompson to hide his support for Gray from Fenty. (Thompson told prosecutors he feared supporting Gray publicly would lead to retaliation by Fenty against Thompson's lucrative contracts.) Gray conceded in his Post interview that he called Thompson "Uncle Earl"—"that part is true," he told the Post—but he said he was unaware of any illegal activity on his campaign's behalf. 

Thompson's largesse for Gray allegedly went beyond the September primary. He claims to have paid $10,000 in cash to a "close family member" of Gray's to pay for people who worked on the campaign. In November 2010, Harris told Thompson that Gray wanted to him to help sway a run-off union election. The plea doesn't name the union, but the Washington Teacher's Union had a run-off that month; the union had backed Gray aggressively against Fenty. Thompson spent $10,000 on the race.

Thompson claims to have provided Gray with less political help. Court papers say he paid $40,000 for "home improvements, employment, and other items" for someone described as a "close personal friend" of the mayor's sometime after Jan. 2, 2011. And court record say Thompson paid for former D.C. Council candidate Mark Long to drive Gray during the campaign... in a luxury SUV leased by Harris.

Machen insisted at his press conference that there's no agenda behind the plea, which comes just a week before early voting starts. "I don't feel that there's a timeline," Machen said.

The campaign finance misdeeds Thompson swore today he committed started in 2006, when he funded a $278,000 effort on behalf of then-D.C. Council chairwoman Linda Cropp's mayoral effort. When then-rival and future Councilmember Michael A. Brown, who makes multiple appearances in Thompson's statement of offense, looked like he'd steal votes from Cropp, Thompson convinced him to drop out. Brown's price: $200,000 for himself, and a $150,000 consulting contract from one of Thompson's companies to Brown's employer. Cropp, who according to Thompson may not have known about the campaign, went on to lose to Fenty. (Brown pleaded guilty last year to a federal bribery charge, and like Harris and several Gray 2010 campaign veterans, is now working with prosecutors in exchange for leniency in sentencing.)

Thompson funded a shadow campaign on Brown's behalf the following year, when Brown ran against Fenty protege (and now mayoral candidate) Muriel Bowser for the Ward 4 D.C. Council seat Fenty had vacated. The campaign, which cost Thompson roughly $20,000, didn't succeed in putting Brown in office.

Still, Thompson remained committed to Brown, funding another $100,000 shadow campaign so Brown could win an at-large seat in 2008. Thompson also spent $100,000 trying, and failing, to get Long elected to an at-large seat. That same year, Thompson spent a whopping $809,000 backing Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, including funding a lawsuit over Democratic primary rules and bankrolling a protest.

Thompson also didn't just spend on the mayor's race in 2010. He paid $26,000 for a campaign whose description in court papers matches that of Ward 6 Council candidate Kelvin Robinson, in an unsuccesful attempt to oust would-be mayor Tommy Wells. Thompson also contributed $140,000 to Jeff Smith's failed Ward 1 campaign against incumbent Jim Graham, who put out his own statement today about the plea.

Thompson's plea could also affect the political career of Councilmember Vincent Orange, who (say it again, everybody) is also running for mayor. Court filings say Thompson's last campaign, which cost him $148,146, went to benefit Orange's successful at-large bid.

Thompson only decided to back Orange after ordering a poll in January 2011 of the field, then allegedly meeting with Harris and Gray and Orange associate Vernon Hawkins, who has already pleaded guilty to his own role in the Gray shadow campaign. Orange showed well in the poll, so Thompson says he met with him in his accounting firms office on March 10, 2011, a campaign finance filing deadline. Thompson had bought the famously clumsy money orders that went to Orange's campaign earlier that day.

After meeting with Orange, Thompson allegedly installed him an office in his firm to call donors. Thompson, meanwhile, sat in an another office setting up straw donations. Former Ward 6 candidate Robinson, court papers say, was also at Thompson's office, and, after taking money orders and other contributions from Thompson, sat with him and filled out Orange's Office of Campaign Finance report.

The statement of offense says Thompson "understood" that Orange "was aware" of the illicit activity, but Thompson claimed in court that he wasn't sure whether Orange and Cropp knew about the crimes committed on their behalf.

Machen echoed Thompson, saying that not every candidate knew as much as others. "There are varying degrees of knowledge," the prosecutor said.

Machen promised that Thompson's plea marked a new stage in the investigation. As to where it's headed next, Thompson urged anyone who had made a deal with Thompson to come forward.

"I promise you we are not going away," Machen said.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • the bride stripped bare

    look at where the 300 million plus a year went, ok?

  • HUAlum71

    Question:

    Why hasn't Machen indicted Mayor Gray if he has so much ice under the sea?

  • Northwesterneer

    The real issue is this, since Vincent Gray has not accomplished anything as Mayor, could there be any quid pro quo activities that benefitted Thompson? Gray has not successfully implemented any plans as mayor, therefore there was no quid pro quo.

  • NE John

    What a truly disgusting bunch. This money is all earned from using poor people who didn't know any better and our tax dollars. We should gather all who took the cash, tie them together, and dump them off the 14th Street Bridge and watch what happens. And to paraphrase Machen, this is just the beginning ...

    You too Cheh!

  • James Ward 2

    Vincent Grays' 2010 mayoral campaign promised "character. integrity. leadership" and now we realize that his promises are... "Lies. These are lies."

  • Daddy Grace Fish Sandwich

    Jeffrey Thompson looks older than 58 years old and how did this man earn millions of dollars? I heard this man is a multi millionaire.

  • http://citypaper Tony

    Daddy Grace, what is the germaness of Thompson's age?It is a foregone conclusion that Mr. Thompson is a multi-millionaire.

  • DCShadyBoots

    This is why I hate politics. Thompson just got caught. I don't think one can fathom how influential money is to our ENTIRE electoral system, local, state and federal. If we were to disqualify every politician that is/was influenced by some form of corporate backing either financially or policy we wouldn't have anyone to vote for. The U.S. Supreme Court, in effect, is a signatory to allowing the mega-wealthy to donate unlimited capital to push a politician through Superpacs; a sophisticated name for a "shadow campaign".

    From Marian Barry to Vincent Gray, Jeff Thompson, looking at the enormous contracts that he has managed to hold onto with the city for decades, has had control over District government and it's elected officials. Underscores why he has been known as the "governor" of DC. News to me was the influence he has had with national politicians like Hillary Clinton.

    There is not a law the city can right to change the influence of money in politics that the Supreme Court wouldn't rule to be unconstitutional. This is the system that we are stuck with. Thompson's mistake was that he wasn't smart enough to use the accepted form of election rigging called superpacs. I'm sure the next mega millionaire or billionaire won't make that mistake. But there WILL be one.

  • dfc

    Michael Brown -- toast.
    Kwame Brown -- toast.
    Harry Thomas Jr. -- burnt toast.
    Vincent Gray -- soon-to-be-toast.
    Sulaimon Brown -- butter!

    How so very sad but true. Muriel Bowser and Vincent Orange should also be toast real soon.

    Voters of DC: Do yourselves a favor...demand competence
    and courage from your electeds. These bunch of clowns are just that. Only person with any moxie and style is Eleanor Holmes Norton; the rest of these clowns belong in jail, not even the circus.

  • DC Native

    A rule of thumb in DC politics. If there are allegations of corruption, they are true. And whatever the allegations, the truth is always MUCH worse. "Uncle Earl" will be the new "The B@#$# set me up," and DC will continue to be the laughing stock of the country and the whipping boy of Congress. The house cleaning is going well, but there are a few more bad apples ruining the bunch. Machen for Attorney General!

  • DCShadyBoots

    Who received money from Jeff Thompson:

    Locally:

    Vincent Gray, Linda Cropp, Vincent Orange, Jeff Smith, Michael Brown, Mark Long, Kelvin Robinson, Adrian M. Fenty, Kwame Brown, Muriel Bowser, David A. Catania, Marion Barry, Yvette Alexander and Patrick Mara.

    Nationally:

    Hillary Clinton, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Arlen Specter, Donna M. Christensen, Kweisi Mfume, Harry M. Reid, Kendrick B. Meek, Jesse Jackson Jr., Charles B. Rangel, Heath Shuler, Harold Ford Jr., Robert P. Casey Jr., James E. Clyburn and Bennie Thompson,

  • YW

    Mayor Gray is not going to be indicted. There is no evidence. Mayor Gray will WIN the primary handily. His supporters are indeed unwavering and their support solid. None of these “allegations” are a surprise to Gray supporters. Quiet as it is kept, many believe some of these allegations and will still vote for Mayor Gray because he has done a great job as Mayor and with all the scrutiny upon him, he could not do anything even remotely illegal if he wanted to.

  • Dan

    Did I not hear from Machen that Mayor Gray met with Thompson and actually discussed the shadow campaign? If true, then why isn't Mayor Gray indicted now? This timing is suspicious.

  • Jes’ sayin

    If this guy Thompson bought everybody, stole elections, and ruined the town, how come he's only getting six months (if that) in the slammer? I'm surprised they didn't let him plead down to a parking ticket or a speed-cam violation.

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  • Ward-8

    Very interesting development, Thompson singing to save his ass with a six months promise sentence for charges that could get him 10 to 15 years, Yes, he probably would tell the US Attorney anything he thinkss he wanted to hear.If Machen had enough evidence to indict Gray he wouldn't be talking loud and saying nothing, he would have indicted him. Yes, the quid pro is missing and the only thing left is he say, you say, me say, which I doubt is enough to convict. Another day in the city of corruption.

  • 2btrue

    Many Gray supporters are mistaken about the process. First step, establish an offence has been committed. Second step, put together evidence. Thompson could not have cooperated until his deal. So you did not have his story to yesterday. Two other people who were at the dinner meeting pled guilty. An alleged budget, which if they did not have they would not be talking about. Third, once you have evidence you present to a Grand Jury who decide to indite or not. Gray should step down. If a sitting Mayor of DC gets convicted along with othersand Republicans take house and senate home rule could be a thing of the past. Mayor Gray put the city first

  • Corky

    Without commenting on the alleged facts, the timing of this indictment and plea deal does not speak well to the integrity of the US Attorney's Office. They are supposed to stay out of politics. Nothing announced yesterday hasn't been known by them for years. Why wait until a couple of weeks before an election? Has Machen ever heard of Joe DiGenova and the back lash he spurred in DC after harrassing Marion Barry for years and finding nothing, other than the fact that he was a junkie?

  • Typical DC BS

    Uh, the reason it's taken so long to get to this point with Thompson is that the US Attorney had to wait for Thompson's bogus appeal all the way to the US Supreme Court about what "evidence" the feds seized TWO YEARS AGO that the feds were "allowed" to examine and present as evidence. Once Thompson's attorney's finally lost that delaying action, they FINALLY had to face the facts.

    The implication that Machen "delayed" this investigation is ludicrous - it was Thompson's attorney's using every scam in the book to try and get Thompson off on a technicality.

    The usual morons crying "racism" just show how ignorant they are. Maybe they can blame Bush next after people stop laughing at them when they try to excuse crooked behavior as "poor black men being picked on". Please.

  • tony

    A little "political noise" being made by politically motivated people won't stop the Gray's Express Train.

    I still believe!

  • UNC-G Grad

    There ain't no way on this planet here called Earth, that Gray will be re-elected. Where are the "parrots" getting the notion that Gray has done so well for the city. Sure the city has gotten richer - Hell it's robbed all of the denizens, et al ! Red light camera robbery, parking robbery, rent robbery, tax robbery (property, sales & the lying-assed-save-the-River bag tax) - you name it and the gov't is/has taken your money in DC. The development that so many of you tout was planned back in the days of the Barry and Williams administrations. The schools are still a debacle - don't be fooled. DC still has the lowest performing/achieveing schools in the free world - any boasts of improvement are inevitable 'cause when you're on the bottom there ain't nowhere to go but up.

    Gray has proven that he is just a dubious, Skeletor-looking, Crypt keeping liar ! Y'all ain't tired of being lied to yet ???? What the what ????

    Don't get it twisted -there's a lot more to come. Uncle Earl is the godfather of the Carribean mafia and it is deeply, deeply, deeply entrenched with operations in the DC Gov't. It takes time to get in the weeds with this mess. Wait til it comes out as to how many DC Govt agencies were paying Uncle Earl's ol' Thompson, Cobb & Bazilio (I know that the DC Dept. of Human Svcs was paying them a ton of money), and wait til' you see how Chartered fleeced DC out of money.

    Gray will be lucky if he avoids jail time. All they need is one, count 'em, one conviction against him as an elected official - and perjury qualifies-and he's HISTORY and guess what ?

    He's HISTORY.

  • tony

    That "political noise" won't work.

    Sorry, try again!

  • mrs understod

    I always thought the one with the most monet wins the race. DC is only following the example set by Congress and every other elected offical. NO MONEY NO WIN that why we have millionares impersonating people

  • mona

    Tick, tock, tick, tock...that is the sound of the clock counting down Grays being charged. Once he is charge hopefully he will do the right thing and resign. Unlikely, now that the primaries are so close. He may win but it won't be like before where the primaries define the new mayor. He maybe behind bars by the time the real election comes and his winning the primary won't mean a thing. Bowser is no better so don't think giving her your vote is helpful.

  • HOOKMAN

    Its my belief that the information Thompson has provided will indict Vinny...6 months is a sweet deal...ONLY if what he told Machen is considerably damaging and puts Gray away for sometime...if it doesn't and Gray is slapped on the wrist for knowingly participating in the shadow campaign...the entire investigation will have been worthless...Thompson will spend half of his 6 months at the Ritz Carlton and be out doing the same things he's been doing and enjoying his riches...6 month slap on the wrist jail sentences don't send a message that political corruotion will not be tolerated...it means you can still be corrupt because you know you'll be given a light sentence...lets hope the info he has puts an end to this pattern and Count Vincent goes away for awhile...

  • HOOKMAN

    cont... I also believe Machen is putting the pieces together with the information Thompson gave him...once this is done, I think we'll see some action taken against Gray..

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