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Tom Sherwood’s Notebook: Shivering With More Scandal

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Sherwood: Shivering With More Scandal

Jeff Thompson

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DC Mayor Breaks Silence on FBI Probe

DC Mayor Vincent Gray is commenting for the first time on an FBI raid that's shaken the city's political establishment. News4's Tom Sherwood reports.

FBI Raids Home As DC Corruption Probe Expands

The FBI is expanding a corruption probe involving officials in the District, including Mayor Vincent Gray.
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It may have been an unusually warm winter, but the latest FBI raid looking for corruption in D.C. is sending shivers through the city’s political establishment.

And it should.

The target of last week’s raid was prominent businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson -- both his home and his offices on 15th Street. Thompson has the most lucrative contract there is with city government -- more than $300 million a year in Medicaid health care services -- and he is a prolific contributor to city political campaigns.

Campaign reviews by the media say Thompson has been instrumental in raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for many city political leaders, including large sums for Vincent Gray’s 2010 campaign for mayor.

Whatever Thompson’s role -- his office did not respond to requests for comment on Monday -- sources said federal authorities are specifically looking into at least tens of thousands of dollars in donations made to the Gray campaign through suspicious money orders and checks. Those sources say many names on the checks and money orders may simply have been “placeholders,” with the money not actually given by those individuals.

Patrick Madden, of WAMU 88.5 FM, reported on Monday that a similar group of questionable money orders made its way into the Vincent Orange campaign in last year’s special election. Orange said as far as he knows his contributions are all proper.

The Washington Post, The City Paper and other media also have reported on suspicious money orders in the Gray campaign. And that may be the heart of this investigation.

You might remember that Sulaimon Brown last year disclosed money orders that he said were payments from the Gray campaign for his attacks on then-Mayor Adrian Fenty during the campaign. It’s clear that the federal probe, as we reported last summer, has moved far beyond the foolishness of funding Sulaimon Brown’s attacks.

On the Notebook’s deadline, the full purpose of the federal raid wasn’t clear, but it’s clear city political leaders sense that the aura of corruption is getting worse.

Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, who supported Gray for mayor, told News4 on Monday that she shares the feeling that “something is very wrong in the District … the influence peddling, the money, people working for the government showering other people with money; it’s disgusting and it has to stop.”

Council Chairman Kwame Brown, asked about Thompson, said, “I have no idea what it is about. Clearly, I’m concerned like everyone else.” Brown also is under investigation -- through a separate probe -- for his 2008 campaign activities.

• Campaign poster?

Jeffrey Thompson could become the poster child for the group trying to ban donations to city politicians from corporations and firms doing business with the District.

Thompson would have a hard time replicating his massive giving if he had to create a series of political action committees to get around the ban and recruit other humans (not corporations) to give.

The D.C. Committee to Restore Public Trust has a Facebook page. It soon will have authority to begin gathering signatures to put its ban on the November ballot.

Your Notebook has questioned whether a ban would truly curb contributions or just disperse them to other forms of giving (like at the federal level). But Friday’s raid makes it hard to have a practical discussion on the nature and influence of corporate giving; many people just want it to stop.

• The King library.

The Urban Land Institute has completed its report on what could be done to or for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library downtown.

The report doesn’t endorse any option but says the choices include: keeping the library pretty much as it is, keeping the library as is but leasing unused space to other interests, and selling the building and finding a new location for a downtown library.

This whole issue goes back to then-Mayor Tony Williams. His administration wanted to dispose of the current library and build a new facility on the site of the old convention center.

But many others like the stark, modernist design from architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and don’t want to give up the iconic space.

The insides of the building are a mess, with lots of wasted space.

Nearly everyone agrees something should be done, but there’s no unanimity yet as to what course to take.

• Middle C is first class.

For 10 years, Myrna Sislen has loved and nourished the little Middle C Music shop on Wisconsin Avenue just north of Tenley Circle.

This week, the D.C. Council officially recognized her efforts, passing a ceremonial resolution in honor of her shop as the only full-service music store in the city.

Sislen took over a small shop and began selling music sheets and all sorts of other related goods, including instruments, a decade ago. She also created space for lessons, growing so much she had to take over neighboring space to accommodate hundreds of clients.

But no matter how big Middle C gets, you’d be hard pressed to find a warmer, more welcoming music store that hits just the right note.

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