Thompson’s D.C. Chartered Health Plan was by far the largest, handling $124.8 million in local and federal funds at the time, with scant oversight. The audit that followed the 2005 legislation found questionable business practices at Chartered and resulted in an unprecedented court settlement.
Long a prodigious political donor, Thompson, 56, is now a key figure in a federal investigation into campaign finance in the District. His home and offices were searched March 2 by federal agents, and his name appears on subpoenas delivered recently to several D.C. Council members.
That a single sentence in a 142-page bill could cost him so dearly — even after the provision was watered down with the assistance of well-connected lobbyists — illustrates Thompson’s stake in maintaining his political clout. Chartered now handles in excess of $300 million a year in taxpayer funds, and Thompson’s fundraising network can be traced to hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to District campaigns in the past decade.
“I don’t think anyone should be surprised that [Thompson] was heavily engaged in the process, because he had a lot at stake in the outcome,” said D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), who placed the audit language in fiscal 2006 budget legislation.
Thompson’s attorney, Brendan V. Sullivan Jr., has declined to comment on the federal investigation.
Former council member John L. Ray, who has lobbied the city government on Thompson’s behalf, said his contributions to health care for the city’s poor are underappreciated. “Chartered, at great risk, played a very important role in making this system what it is today,” he said.
But regulatory filings, audit reports, financial statements and lobbying records reviewed by The Washington Post show how deeply Thompson’s finances have become intertwined with politics.
Building an empire
Starting in the late 1980s, Thompson built his accounting firm — Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio & Associates — into one of the country’s largest minority-owned firms, in part by courting government clients for auditing, consulting and technology work.
But in the late 1990s, he saw a new government business opportunity. A political ally, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), was pushing to change the way District government handled health care for its neediest residents, relying more heavily on private companies to manage public health spending.
Thompson bought Chartered Health Plan in May 2000 in a $4 million bankruptcy sale. The company had been in the red for at least two years, but under Thompson’s control, Chartered returned quickly to profitability.
The company’s enrollment would grow from about 27,000 members at the time of the purchase to more than 59,000 by 2006. For 2006, the company was recorded a surplus of $6 million and paid its parent company — D.C. Healthcare Systems, solely owned by Thompson — a $1.54 million dividend, according to regulatory filings. In the next two years, the company would pay an additional $6.1 million in dividends.