May 25, 2012

There was no way to know it at the time, but we were eyewitnesses to a fraud, bought and paid for by the 2010 mayoral campaign of then-D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray.

I am referring to two candidate debates that I witnessed during the Democratic mayoral primary that year. The first took place Aug. 3 during the Lamond-Riggs Citizens Association mayoral forum at Plymouth Congregational United Church on North Capitol Street. I served as moderator.

The next evening a debate occurred at the Ward 4 candidate’s forum in the St. George Ballroom and Conference Center on 16th Street NW.

Among the Democratic mayoral candidates at both events were then-Mayor Adrian Fenty, Gray, and Sulaimon Brown, a minor figure whom I had met briefly a year earlier.

Brown put on a show each evening, castigating Fenty at every turn. No charge was left unhurled; the meaner and more outlandish, the better. Stirring up the crowd with zingers, Brown portrayed Fenty as an ingrate who had turned his back on the folks who put him in office.

Fenty repeatedly declined my invitation to respond to Brown’s personal attacks during the ­Lamond-Riggs debate. Meanwhile, Gray smiled serenely as the drama unfolded.

Likewise at the Ward 4 debate: Brown swung wildly, Fenty absorbed blows and Gray grinned like a Cheshire cat.

Brown told me before the Ward 4 debate that he was going to “stir things up a little bit and have some fun.” That he did to a fare-thee-well.

Both encounters were reported in my Oct. 22, 2011, column, “Is Mayor Gray telling us the truth?

As we were leaving the ­Lamond-Riggs forum on Aug. 3, I asked Gray what he thought Brown was up to. Gray smiled, shrugged and said, “I wish I knew.”

Now we know the answer — at least as to what Sulaimon Brown was up to.

Documents released in federal court this week show that Brown was a saboteur, paid with money from the Gray campaign to stay in the race and disrupt Fenty’s reelection efforts.

Members of the Gray campaign pulled off the scheme by diverting funds from Gray’s coffers to Brown in exchange for the little-known candidate’s assaults.

When Brown was beating up on Fenty at the August 2010 forums, he had already been paid.

It’s all there in the guilty pleas filed by Gray campaign assistant treasurer Thomas W. Gore and campaign consultant Howard L. Brooks. Both men admit to the scheme.

Gore provided Brooks with money orders that he had purchased with contributions to Gray’s campaign.

Brooks hand-delivered money orders worth hundreds of dollars to Brown, who deposited them in his campaign’s bank account in July.

By the time the two forums rolled around, Brown was good to go.

That, at least, is what’s on the record. More is likely to come out. The Gray 2010 campaign had a ton of money sloshing around (“excessive or unattributed cash contributions” is the way federal prosecutors described it). Some of the dough was put to no good, as in the purchase of Brown’s services.

Where did the cash come from? What did they do with the rest? And by “they,” I mean more than Gore and Brooks.

Both men are soldiers, not generals. They don’t give orders but carry them out. The prosecution’s statement of the offense says that in “late June, 2010 . . . Gore, Person A, and . . . Brooks met, and defendant Brooks was instructed to make payments” to Brown.

Will “Person A,” the decider, please step forward?

Gore and Brooks were loyal until they got caught in their lies by the FBI. Trapped, they copped pleas and agreed to spill their guts to the government.

But they aren’t harmless creatures; they inflicted damage on the District’s political system.

They helped perpetrate an unpardonable act of deception on our city.

Citizens who gathered at mayoral forums and debates throughout the District had no way of knowing that Brown was being paid to carry Gray’s water.

Little did the voters know that while Gray was berating the ethics of the Fenty administration, Gray’s operatives were conducting a dishonest and corrupt campaign on his behalf.

Since Post reporter Nikita Stewart broke the story in March 2011 of Brown’s assertion that he had a deal with the Gray campaign and the alleged use of campaign funds, Gray has steadfastly denied any quid pro quo between his campaign and Brown. Gray maintains that he was unaware of any payments to Brown by his campaign. He said as much to my face on at least three occasions.

In a Post interview in March 2011, Gray asked, “Did we ask him to do something on behalf of my candidacy, and did we give him something?” “The answer,” he said, “is unequivocally no.”

That answer, we now know, was unequivocally false.

Did Gray know better when he spoke?

That’s what the feds, and this city, want to know.

kingc@washpost.com