The scheme was intended to evade legal limits on political contributions, and it is among the largest such “straw donation” conspiracies ever alleged in D.C. government.
Harris’s attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., declined to comment ahead of Tuesday’s plea hearing. Thompson has not been charged, and his attorney, Brendan V. Sullivan Jr., did not return a call for comment.
The charges came four months after federal agents raided the homes and offices of Thompson and Harris, seizing dozens of boxes of documents and hundreds of thousands of electronic records. Authorities’ interest in Harris and Thompson, long known as a major campaign financier to Gray (D) and several other current and former D.C. officials, opened a new and expansive front in a federal probe once thought to be limited to Gray’s campaign.
Harris was charged in a criminal information, a legal document that cannot be filed without the consent of the defendant. It generally signals a plea agreement. Harris is scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday for a plea hearing before the same judge who has been handling most of the defendants in the ongoing investigation into Gray’s campaign.
None of the politicians who benefited from the alleged scheme are named in the document charging Harris. But the document refers to “Candidate A” and describes the person as a 2010 mayoral candidate whose campaign has been investigated by federal authorities. Three people with direct knowledge of the investigation identified Candidate A as Gray. Gray declined to comment.
Gray’s 2010 campaign has been the subject of an ongoing federal probe dating to the spring of 2011.
The charging document also identifies a “co-conspirator” with whom Harris had a “close friendship and professional relationship” and together developed the straw donation scheme. The three people with knowledge of the probe said the “co-conspirator” is Thompson — the sole owner of D.C. Chartered Health Plan and the majority owner of accounting firm Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio & Associates, two District-based companies that do hundreds of millions of dollars of business with the city government yearly.
Monday’s charges are the first related to the Gray investigation that go beyond the allegations of Sulaimon Brown. Two Gray campaign aides have pleaded guilty to taking part in a scheme to pay Brown, a fringe mayoral candidate, to attack then-incumbent Adrian M. Fenty (D), who was Gray’s main opponent in the race.
In addition to the campaign finance violations, the charging document alleges that Harris took “steps to impede federal officials” from obtaining information in their investigation of Gray.