Judge sentences former Ward 1 D.C. Council candidate to 60 days in jail and $10,000 fine

Jeff Smith, a former Ward 1 D.C. Council candidate, was sentenced to 60 days in jail Thursday for accepting more than $140,000 in donations and making false and misleading reports to the city’s Office of Campaign Finance.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Anita Josey-Herring also ordered Smith, 40, to pay $10,000 in fines, placed him on a year of probation and ordered him to complete 400 hours of community service after his release. Smith is scheduled to report to the D.C. jail Sept. 4.

“You used illegal means to gain a political advantage. You undermined the transparency of the election process, which leaves voters without accurate information,” Josey-Herring said. “A flawed election process erodes the confidence in the election process.”

Prosecutors say that Smith, with the help of D.C. businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson, made “false and misleading reports to the Office of Campaign Finance.” In March, Thompson pleaded guilty in federal court to funding a “shadow” campaign to help Vincent C. Gray (D) win the 2010 mayoral election by pumping more than $660,000 in donations into the campaign. As part of his cooperation, Thompson implicated Smith. Thompson’s sentencing has not been scheduled.

Gray has denied any wrongdoing and said Thompson lied.

Smith becomes the third D.C. candidate in recent months to be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for having unlawful financial connections with Thompson.

In June, Kelvin Robinson, 53, pleaded guilty to conspiring with Thompson to conceal tens of thousands of dollars in political spending during Robinson’s 2010 primary campaigns for an at-large council seat and then the Ward 6 seat. Robinson is to be sentenced in October.

And former D.C. Council member Michael Brown, who was sentenced to three years in federal prison in May, also admitted to accepting money from Thompson.

Smith, who pleaded guilty to the charges in June, had served as executive director for D.C. Voice, a nonprofit group seeking education reform. According to prosecutors, Smith received about $88,000 of the total from Thompson via an unnamed Charter School known as “Charter School A,” whom Thompson made the checks out to through a “pass-through” scheme. The school’s president then wrote cashier’s checks to an unnamed company operated by Smith’s campaign manager, and Smith then used the money for his campaign. Prosecutors said three checks were passed between Thompson, the school, the company and Smith’s campaign.

Josey-Herring said she believed that Smith has been punished professionally as a result of his arrest. Smith, represented by a public defender, is now unemployed.

And with a felony conviction, it is likely he will lose his law license, which he earned after being honorably discharged from the Army and then graduating from Howard University’s law school.

The judge described Smith as a “follower” of Thompson’s who should have used better judgment.

“You were tapped to run for Ward 1 city council and was funded to do it. But as an adult, and a lawyer, you took this on. You made a decision that it was important for you to be successful and that you would take the risk. But that risk has caused you significant loss.”

Before the judge issued her sentence, Smith — at times his voice shaking — criticized Thompson and said the two of them never conspired. “Jeff Thompson should be here. Not me,” Smith said. “My campaign was not a fraud. Jeff Thompson was a fraud.”

Smith also criticized the local prosecutor, who he said threatened to charge his mother, brother and friends if he did not plead guilty to conspiracy charges.

Smith also said he entered into an oral agreement in which he was promised immunity if he cooperated and helped identify others who committed crimes in the city, whom prosecutors have gone after.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Hooks angrily objected to Smith’s accusations and said that no such threats were made against Smith’s family and that prosecutors didn’t promise not to prosecute Smith if he cooperated.

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Keith Alexander covers crime, specifically D.C. Superior Court cases for The Washington Post. He has covered dozens of crime stories from Banita Jacks, the Washington woman charged with killing her four daughters, to the murder trial of slain federal intern Chandra Levy.

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