Prosecutors have spent much of the past year fighting with Thompson and his attorneys over the government’s right to review documents seized in the March 2012 raids. A March 2013 federal appeals court ruling said investigators could begin reviewing the documents, but the matter could still be appealed to the Supreme Court.
The newly disclosed Brown donation scheme contains elements common to the 2010 Gray campaign allegations.
Thompson, until recently a major city contractor, did not want his name attached to Brown contributions, because his business activities required him to “publicly support different candidates based on contemporaneous political dynamics,” according to the plea deal signed by Brown.
Harris, during her July plea hearing, similarly said that Thompson sought to shield his identity as a Gray donor to avoid angering incumbent Adrian M. Fenty.
“He did not want the sitting mayor to find out he was supporting his opponent,” Harris said in court. “If somehow the sitting mayor won, he would be in some serious contractual problems.”
Brown’s plea deal describes how Thompson and Harris made secret payments for the benefit of political candidates. While the Gray campaign benefited from the shadow campaign and straw donations, Brown also received money directly, through secret wire payments.
Brown admitted taking that money and depositing it in his campaign account, reporting it to authorities as a personal contribution. There are no legal limits on the amount candidates can contribute to their own campaigns.
What is also novel about the Brown prosecution is that it represents the first time prosecutors have alleged that Thompson directly interacted with a political candidate to arrange the illicit donations.
Court documents spell out that Brown — the son of former U.S. commerce secretary and Democratic National Committee chairman Ronald H. Brown, who died in 1996 — knew Thompson through “family connections and mutual friends.”
Brown described in his plea deal that, in a meeting at Thompson’s office in the spring of 2007, the two men discussed how Thompson would not publicly contribute to Brown’s campaign. Brown would later sign an agreement with Harris describing the $20,000 payment, sent from Thompson through a company owned by Harris, as a loan. In his plea deal, Brown acknowledged that the agreement with Harris was a “pretext intended to provide a legitimate, albeit misleading basis” for the payments.
Robert S. Bennett, who is representing Gray in the ongoing investigation, said Tuesday he believed there is “no message” contained in the Brown plea to the mayor or Thompson.
U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. on Monday declined to address the state of his office’s investigation into Thompson or the Gray campaign. But he said that an absence of outward activity did not mean the probe has stalled, and he said the investigation would continue to move swiftly.
“All of these investigations are extremely fast in pace,” he said. “Even the investigations you’re talking about with the mayor, they’re still moving very, very quickly.”
Nikita Stewart and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.