D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange said Tuesday he needed help raising money during the initial weeks of his campaign last year, but had no reason to suspect until recent days that his campaign accepted numerous money orders that appear to have been bought at the same time and have similar hand-writing.
The disclosure by Orange, who is seeking re-election in the April 3 Democratic primary, follows reports that contractor Jeffrey E. Thompson collected $26,000 in money orders within three days of each other last March to buttress Orange’s campaign.
On Monday night, in response to requests from reporters and his primary opponents, Orange released copies of 30 money orders and three cashier’s checks. Orange said Thompson solicited the donations, which total about 8 percent of the money he raised for his campaign last year.
Many of the money orders came from several companies controlled by Thompson and from donors from both the District and other states, including California and Georgia. A review of the documents shows four batches of money orders were purchased from Western Union on March 10 and contain sequential order numbers.
Though they come from different donors, the handwriting on several of the money orders appears similar.
Orange also accepted 10 U.S. Postal Service money orders of $1,000 each. Several of them also appear to have similar font type in the purchaser’s part of the form.
In an interview Tuesday, Orange said all the money orders came from funds raised by Thompson, whose company, Chartered Health, has a $322 million contract with the District to manage Medicaid services.
On March 2, FBI and IRS agents raided Thompson’s home and office as part of an ongoing federal investigation into District campaign finance. Thompson, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, has declined comment.
Federal officials also raided the home of Jeanne Clarke Harris, an associate of Thompson. Harris has also declined comment.
Orange said he asked Thompson to help him raise money after the D.C. Democratic Committee rebuffed him by appointing former council member Sekou Biddle to fill a vacant council seat.
Orange went on to successfully unseat Biddle in an April special election.
“I started to run, and met with Jeff, and he said he would assist with fundraising efforts,” Orange said. “The next report was due March 10…We received the package. My people entered the information in, to make the midnight deadline.”
Orange, an accountant, said the money orders were part of $191,000 he raised during the period. Neither he nor his staff had reason to believe they were “suspicious” because of Thompson’s good reputation.
A few weeks later, he said, the District Office of Campaign Finance requested that he send them additional information on about 70 donations, including many of the money orders. Orange said he complied, and was later told the office found nothing improper.
“There was no reason for me to go back looking through campaign finance reports because everything was in order,” Orange said. “They have auditors, they looked at it, and concluded it was done to acceptable auditing standards.”
A spokesman for the Office of Campaign Finance did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
But Orange is now requesting that the office investigate the contributions, saying he determined over the weekend that the money orders were “suspicious and questionable.”
Three of the $1,000 money orders came from three women with the last name of Butts who live in Georgia. Orange says he does not know the women.
Tiffany Butts, identified in campaign records as a law assistant at Georgia State University, declined to comment on Tuesday on the $1,000 donation attributed to her. Carrietta Butts, a career counselor at Georgia State University, also declined comment on the $1,000 donation with her name on it. Alexia Butts, a interior design assistant at Savannah College of Art & Design, whose name was on another $1,000 donation, was not available to comment.
According to an obituary in the Washington Post, Carrietta Butts is Harris’s sister, and Tiffany and Alexia are Harris’s nieces. Harris was a consultant to Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s (D) campaign, which is also under federal scrutiny.
Records accompanying several of the contributions list phone numbers for donors that are no longer in service, including one for a $1,000 donor who works for a maintenance company in the Watts section of Los Angeles.
Other donors Tuesday defended their donations, saying they sent money orders because they did not want use a check.
“I am a supporter. My mom is a retired school teacher and has worked in the District for years and we are just supporting him,” said Russell Binion, who gave two separate $500 money orders purchased on the same day. “He has done so much for schools…It’s my money, every bit of it.”
Binion, who works in sales at Grubbs Pharmacy in Northeast, said he often uses money orders as a form of payment. “It can be money orders, it can be checks, it just depends,” Binion said.
Richard Evans, owner of job training firm in the District, also donated two separate $500 money orders purchased on the same day.
“I’ve known Vincent for over 20 years,” Evans said. He said he paid in money orders because his company was new so he “didn’t want to use starter checks.”
Staff writer Nikita Stewart also contributed to this story.