D.C. Council members scramble to review campaign finances in wake of subpoenas

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson’s 2010 campaign received 15 sequentially numbered cashier’s checks that had been solicited by a city contractor. Mendelson (D-At Large) collected 15 checks from contractor Jeffrey E. Thompson in September 2010. Only two of those were sequentially numbered cashier’s checks. This version has been corrected.

March 14, 2012

D.C. Council members scrambled Wednesday to review years of financial records as federal investigators intensified scrutiny of officials’ ties to a city contractor who has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local political campaigns.

In a move that jolted the city government, more subpoenas arrived Wednesday from a federal grand jury seeking information related to donations from Jeffrey E. Thompson, who holds a city contract to provide Medicaid services for up to $322 million a year.

Federal investigators appear to be zeroing in on donations and gifts from Thompson, companies under his control, and his associates, including public relations specialist Jeanne Clarke Harris. Thompson and Harris, whose homes and offices were recently raided by federal investigators, have declined to comment.

Council members Phil Mendelson (D-At large), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) confirmed Wednesday that their campaign treasurers were served subpoenas for years of records related to Thompson, Harris and Thompson’s firms.

The three said they are fully complying with the request. “We found nine checks, and that is it,” Evans said. “There is nothing much else we can do but turn them over to the U.S. attorney.”

A day after the subpoenas were issued for some council members’ campaigns, considerable uncertainty remains about the scope of the federal probe.

Council member David A. Catania (I-At large) was unavailable for comment, and his campaign treasurer did not return a call seeking comment. In a statement Wednesday night, council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) said her campaign “was eager” to cooperate with the investigation but declined to say whether she had received a subpoena.

Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) said: “The U.S. attorney is conducting a far-ranging investigation. I’m not going to say anything while the investigation is going on.”

“I believe . . . someone is innocent until proven guilty,” he added.

Other council members said they had not received subpoenas related to Thompson.

Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) said members are trying to understand where the investigation is headed. “It’s unclear what’s going on,” Brown said. “There is a process that is playing itself out, and, to be honest, it’s just a lot of speculation until someone comes out and says what’s going on.”

Investigators launched a probe last year after The Washington Post reported that Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) had accepted money-order donations above the legal limit. He denied any wrongdoing.

Thompson, owner of Chartered Health Plan, has personally contributed more than $200,000 to federal campaigns and other committees in the past decade, according to records.

In the aftermath of the raids on Thompson’s home and office, council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At large) has had to explain $26,000 in money orders and cashier’s checks he said his campaign received last year from donors with ties to Thompson.

Several of the money orders, in $500 or $1,000 increments, had sequential order numbers. They appear to come from different donors, but the handwriting on several appears similar. According to tracking numbers, some of the money orders were purchased in the District but made out in the names of donors with addresses in California or Georgia.

Orange said he only recently discovered the irregularities and considers them “suspicious and questionable.” On Wednesday, the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) announced it is auditing Orange’s 2011 campaign.

Other council members are also scouring campaign records to review donations from Thompson.

Mendelson said he has discovered two cashier’s checks for $1,000 each from his 2010 reelection campaign that could require further scrutiny. After Mendelson asked Thompson to help him raise money, the businessman delivered 15 checks in September 2010. The two cashier’s checks were made out from different donors but had sequential order numbers, Mendelson said.

“It’s just an unfortunate situation,” Mendelson said. “It just darkens the ethical cloud that city hall has been under.”

The subpoenas seek documents relating to Thompson; Chartered Health Plan; his partners at his accounting firm, Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio & Associates; and records related to Harris and her public relations firm, Details International. They also seek information on “gifts or payments, whether monetary or in-kind,” from donors who made “maximum legal contributions.”

According to a council staffer who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter freely, Harris would occasionally visit the John A. Wilson Building with a representative from a national food store chain and deliver gift cards from the grocer.

Alexander said that the cards were usually delivered around Thanksgiving and that members could give them to needy constituents. Alexander said that Harris never asked for anything in return but that she assumed she was working on behalf of a developer.

“I thought it was directly for constituents,” she said. “If it was a gift for me, I would have to report it, but it was not a gift for me.”

Brown said he did not accept the cards last year, because the council’s general counsel advised against it.

Mark H. Tuohey III, Harris’s attorney, declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

In addition to Thompson’s donations, the OCF audit of Orange’s campaign in part centers on $16,488 in expenditures listed as “various” without detailed explanations, according to records obtained by The Post. Orange said he is working to reconcile the expenditures and receipts from his campaign account.

Orange and one of his former campaign workers, Yvonne Moore, also pushed back on allegations made by Vicky Wilcher, who told The Post this week that Orange paid her for campaign work last year through Moore to avoid reporting the work to OCF.

Moore denied the allegation Wednesday, saying that they are friends and that payments were for personal reasons.

“I’m always giving Vicky money, but it has nothing to do with the campaign,” Moore said. “Vicky is like my daughter. This has nothing to do with Vincent Orange.”

Staff writer Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.
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