A onetime aide to former D.C. mayor Vincent Gray received a six-month prison sentence Tuesday for his role in an illegal slush fund that helped Gray get elected in 2010.
Vernon Hawkins pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators for his role in what prosecutors called a “shadow campaign.” He admitted he was involved in spending and arranging illicit campaign funds as well as efforts to pay a witness to leave the District to avoid investigators.
Hawkins is the second person who worked on Gray's campaign to receive jail time. Sentencing for several Gray aides who pleaded guilty had been delayed repeatedly while prosecutors tried to build a case against the mayor.
Three weeks before the 2014 Democratic primary, a prosecutor alleged in court that Gray knew about the illegal funds. Gray went on to lose the election to Muriel Bowser, who is now mayor. In December, prosecutors announced that they were ending the investigation without charging Gray, who has denied all wrongdoing.
Gray is now seeking a seat on the D.C. Council in his home ward, where he finished well ahead of Bowser in 2014 despite the allegations.
Hawkins, 77, who was a city official during the late Marion Barry's mayoral administration, apologized in court for his actions, saying he was deeply embarrassed by his conduct. He said he “should have refused” when he was asked to persuade a witness to leave town.
“It was wrong, and I should not have had anything to do with it,” Hawkins said. “It was a lapse in my life.”
Prosecutors requested a one-year sentence for Hawkins, arguing he continued to obstruct the investigation after pleading guilty by lying about his role in a $10,000 payment to a close relative of Gray. Hawkins' attorney argued that he did not deliberately lie about the payment, blaming instead his client's faulty memory. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said there was not enough evidence to conclude that Hawkins knowingly misled prosecutors.
Despite Hawkins’s otherwise clear record, he committed a serious offense, Kollar-Kotelly said.
“Campaign transparency is the core of our democracy,” she said. “You made a decision. You stepped to the dark side."
Hawkins was involved in arranging get-out-the-vote efforts for Gray in majority-black neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, where Gray defeated then-mayor Adrian Fenty by big margins. An influential District businessman, Jeffrey Thompson, has admitted supplying the $660,000 in “shadow campaign” funds that paid for those operations. Thompson is scheduled to be sentenced next month.