Sherwood's Notebook: Gray Calls Allegations ‘Absolute Lies'

Well, someone is lying.

Even though it had been long expected, federal prosecutors stunned our city on Monday with a sweeping disclosure of massive campaign fraud by moneyman Jeffrey Thompson.

In the course of less than a decade, Thompson disgorged more than $2 million in phony campaign contributions and outright shadow expenses for federal and local campaigns, most notably $668,000 for Mayor Vincent Gray’s 2010 victory over then-Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Prosecutors laid out in chilling detail how then-Council Chairman Vincent Gray (identified only as "Candidate A") knew of, sought and accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in “shadow” campaign help.

Mayor Gray, in his office with NBC4 late Monday, insisted that Thompson’s courtroom disclosures were "absolute lies" to save his own skin.

"I maintain these are lies; these are absolute lies, Tom," the mayor said quietly in his office. Gray added: "I was not involved. I have said that, and the things I’ve heard today are fabricated."

But the detailed accounting in court is a new and heavy burden for Gray. Under the threat of more prison time if he’s lying, Thompson is saying Gray knew of and solicited money for the “shadow” campaign?

If it wasn’t before, the shadow campaign is now front and center as voters head to the polls. Early voting starts Monday.

■ More corruption? The court documents lay out how Thompson, whose fortune came from lucrative health contracts with the city, lavished illegal money on more than a dozen city campaigns since 2006. (Already convicted former D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown is shown to have taken even more money — $200,000 — than anyone had thought.)

U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen was blunt in his news conference Monday: Anyone who illegally benefited from Thompson’s pockets had better voluntarily come in to meet with prosecutors. “We aren’t going away,” Machen said.
And neither is this scandal.

■ Catania jumping in. At-large D.C. Council member David Catania intends to announce a run for mayor this week.

In the wake of the stunning scandal news, Catania plans to formally file for the November general election as an independent and run, no matter who wins the April 1 primary.

The Thompson scandal shows corruption running deep in city politics. Catania plans to say we’ve had enough of this gang of leaders.

■ Motorcade madness. Do we all have to suffer when the president wants a burger for lunch? Or gives a speech at a downtown hotel? Or when he visits a local school?

The emotional issue of presidential — and other — motorcades routinely snarling business and inhibiting freedom of movement here reared itself this past week when Gray publicly expressed outrage with the U.S. Secret Service for creating gridlock downtown.

The Secret Service, to its credit, said it would review its procedures.

Let everyone stipulate that the president, vice president and visiting heads of state require security in a dangerous world. Secure movement requires planning, clockwork precision and, yes, disruption of routine daily flow.

But how secure is a motorcade route when city police cars show up and park at every intersection 20 minutes or more before the limos arrive? Talk about signaling impending movement to people who may mean harm and are looking for opportunity.

We’ve never understood the noisy parade of motorcycle police that herald — alert the bad guys to? — a motorcade’s imminent arrival.

We’ve seen enough motorcade preparations. We’ve seen many well-meaning officers watching the motorcade rather than the crush of vehicles and pedestrians jammed up at those intersections. What security is that? Any of those cars, trucks or vans could contain opportunities for violence that could occur in a flash.

And what about traffic control? If a secure motorcade is necessary, why isn’t it necessary to do perimeter traffic control to divert traffic rather than just block it? If you’re going to shut off busy 14th Street (one of the mayor’s complaints), why not commit additional police and traffic controllers to nearby major intersections to avoid inevitable gridlock?

Given the frequency of sirens and flashing lights — not just in motorcades but in daily doses from dozens of police departments that operate in our city — is anyone worried that the general public is becoming inured to such theater? (And we’re not even talking about those few officers who flip on emergency lights/sound just to get through traffic themselves. That is a particular disservice to the police officers who are doing their jobs.)

■ Mini-motorcades. The nation’s capital is filled with two- and three-car motorcades escorting this official or that. Usually the motorcades include a couple of hulking, dark-colored SUVs with blue and red lights hidden in the grille and taillights.

We do a lot of driving around town, and it seems these mini-motorcades would be a lot more effective and safer if they didn’t flout traffic laws, straddle lanes or park so illegally that they actually draw attention to themselves.

Is there some security guidebook about how not only to protect your human cargo, but also how to avoid hot-dogging tactics that aggravate citizens, cause needless traffic problems and seem designed to flaunt how important someone is rather than keep them safe?

We’d like to read it.

■ Tough job. The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder wrote about the difficult protection world in February 2011, available at

Ambinder stressed that the Secret Service can’t do its job without help from local law enforcement.
That’s particularly true here in the District. The whole city would benefit from better coordination and respect from all security forces for the very public — not to mention the way of life — that security is supposed to help and protect.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

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