Former Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray will not face any charges in connection with the long-running federal investigation into his 2010 campaign.
The U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia announced at noon Wednesday that the investigation is over.
"My life's work has been dedicated to uplifting people," Gray said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. "I ran for mayor to serve District residents. Today's announcement from the U.S. attorney ends a lengthy investigation. Here in the district and around the country many people have had their faith in our justice system tested. Justice delayed is justice denied, but I cannot change history. I look forward to getting on with the next chapter of my life, which will no doubt be dedicated to service."
Twelve people pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the investigation, which uncovered evidence of more than $3.3 million in illegal contributions to various campaigns between 2006 and 2011.
One of those defendants, businessman Jeffrey Thompson, admitted to setting up an illegal $660,000 slush fund that aided Gray's campaign. Prosecutors said Gray knew about the money.
Gray lost his bid for re-election in last year's Democratic primary to Mayor Muriel Bowser. He has been under investigation for more than four years without being charged with or accused of a crime.
Gray has maintained his innocence throughout the investigation.
"The new U.S. attorney for the district has concluded that justice has been secured with seven convictions in the 2010 Gray mayoral campaign and a dozen in total," Bowser said in a statement.
She told News4 she wants to move on and said her calls for Gray’s resignation during the height of the investigation was because her main interest at the time was preventing the scandal from affecting city business.
She would not comment on the possibility of Gray running for the D.C. Council in 2016.
The Roots of the Investigation
The investigation began with minor mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown. When he ran against Gray and former Mayor Adrian Fenty in 2010, Brown gained a reputation for lashing out at Fenty during debates, but voters and the media didn’t take him very seriously.
After Gray’s victory, Brown got a job with a $110,000 salary in the new Gray administration as special assistant at the Department of Health Care and Finance, but it didn’t last long. He was fired after the media uncovered his criminal history. Then, Brown sat in the back at one of Mayor Gray’s news conferences, waiting to talk to reporters and launch a major political scandal.
"Gave me cash and money orders to maintain my campaign for mayor, cover living expenses and attack then-Mayor Fenty," Brown said.
He said he was paid by the Gray campaign to attack Fenty in return for the job, which is illegal under D.C. law.
Gray’s assistant campaign treasurer, Thomas Gore, used campaign cash to buy blank money orders, federal prosecutors said. He gave them to another campaign consultant, Howard Brooks, who used signatures of family and friends before delivering them to Brown.
When Brown went public with his allegations, Brooks and Gore tried to cover up what they did. Gore shredded a notebook in which the secret payments were recorded.
Brown disclosed copies of money orders that he said came from the Gray campaign. Some of the money orders had signatures of relatives of Brooks, but the names may have been forged.
The payments were small – $25, $100, $225 – but the crime was serious.
And that was just the beginning.
“The 2010 mayoral election was corrupted by massive infusion of cash that was illegally concealed from the voters of the District,” U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen said at one point.
The 'Shadow Campaign'
When Machen began investigating Brown’s allegations, his office unearthed what he called a "shadow campaign."
"On the outside, this shadow campaign looked like any other," he said. "There were paid consultants, canvassers who were put up in hotels and ferried around town in rented vehicles with paid drivers distributing thousands of yard signs, stickers and car magnets, but what made this shadow campaign sinister was how it was paid for."
The money came from a D.C. businessman, federal prosecutors said. News4 sources identified him as Thompson, who owns several companies, including DC Chartered Health Plan, which received more than $300 million per year from D.C. government – the single most lucrative government contract in the district, which has contributed to Thompson’s wealth.
Thompson wrote checks worth $653,000 to his longtime friend Eugenia Clarke Harris, federal prosecutors said. She pleaded guilty in July 2012 to funneling the money through her PR company so the shadow campaign could buy thousands of political T-shirts, yard signs and other campaign gear.
“These materials were purchased from the same vendors as the official campaign materials and were often delivered to the campaign headquarters,” Machen said.
Guilty Pleas Begin
On May 22, 2012, Gore became the first person to plead guilty in the investigation on one count of obstruction of justice and three counts of making campaign donations in the name of another person.
Two days later, Brooks pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators, telling a judge he was instructed to pay Brown for the attacks on Fenty. Brooks acknowledged in U.S. District Court giving $2,810 in money orders to Brown, but he did not reveal who told him to pay Brown.
June 10, 2013, former Council member Michael Brown pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from undercover FBI agents and agreed to cooperate in the investigation into Gray’s campaign and its connection to Thompson. Charging documents revealed he received $20,000 in off-the-books campaign contributions from Harris.
Lee Calhoun became the first Thompson insider to face charges in the investigation. He pleaded guilty June 20, 2013, to making false campaign contributions and accepting reimbursements for them. He made $160,000 in straw donations – including $76,000 to D.C. campaigns – over the course of 10 years.
A day later on the Kojo Nnamdi Politics Hour on WAMU 88.5 radio, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker revealed they checked their campaign finances and found donations from associates of Thompson.
Philadelphia businessman Stanley Straughter, who has done consulting work for Thompson, pleaded guilty June 24, 2013, to making $132,600 in political contributions for which he was reimbursed.
Also in June 2013, Council member Vincent Orange confirmed his campaign records were subpoenaed and he is cooperating with authorities. Last year, Orange acknowledged receiving "suspicious" contributions from Thompson.
A D.C. Council committee and a House of Representatives committee that oversees the district both investigated Sulaimon Brown's campaign allegations and hiring practices. Both concluded wrongdoing in the hiring of some individuals, that Brown’s hiring was unusual, but neither probe substantiated Brown’s allegation that he was hired as a political payoff.
In March 2014, Jeffrey Thompson admitted to setting up an illegal $660,000 slush fund that aided Gray's campaign. A few months later, Mark Long pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the District's Office of Campaign Finance by funding and concealing contributions that exceeded those allowed under campaign finance laws.
Five other people pleaded guilty to offenses directly involving or connected to the 2010 mayoral election.
Gray: Native Son, Longtime Politician
Gray is a native Washingtonian and graduate of George Washington University. He has spent most of his adult life in social services. In the early 1990s he was appointed by then Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly to be deputy mayor for human services.
Prior to winning the election in 2010, he served one term as D.C. Council chairman. Before that he served one term as the council member from Ward 7. In 2010 he gave up a safe re-election bid for council chairman to run for mayor because Fenty was so uncooperative and distant with the council and many citizen groups around the District.