‘The Governor’ of D.C.

‘The Governor’ of D.C.

‘The Governor’ of D.C.

The rise of Jeffrey E. Thompson and the fall that has rattled District politics

Published on July 14, 2013

Jeffrey E. Thompson wasn’t on the list for the private party at the Bombay Club, a refined Indian restaurant a short distance from the White House, where presidents and celebrities have nibbled on naan.

The exclusive, 21-seat event was limited to Anthony A. Williams — the District’s chief financial officer — and the top 20 fundraisers and advisers who had helped him win the Democratic primary for mayor. The victory celebration had already begun on that September night in 1998 when Williams arrived with the relatively unknown Thompson trailing behind.

Above: Jeffrey Thompson, above right, came to the District from humble beginnings, started what became one of the country’s premier African American accounting firms and became a wealthy D.C. power player. Then came revelations about a “shadow campaign” and a wide-ranging federal investigation, with Thompson at the center of the political storm.

In the video: Reporter Nikita Stewart explains Thompson’s significance in D.C. politics and connections to key figures. (Washington Post illustration; photo of Thompson by Jason Miccolo Johnson)

Max Berry, chairman of Williams’s campaign, discreetly pulled Thompson aside before he entered the intimate dinette, somewhat hidden to the left of the main dining room.

“I’m sorry,” Berry told him. “You’re not on the list.”

Thompson, tall and impeccably dressed, snapped back: “The mayor invited me.”

He had arrived at the table of District politics. He would not be brushed off.

“We had to add a chair,” Berry recalled.

Jeffrey Earl Thompson was already a man of many distinctions. A Jamaican immigrant who came to the District in 1975, he had co-founded one of the country’s premier African American accounting firms: Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio and Associates (TCBA).

He would go on to own D.C. Chartered Health Plan, a profitable health-care firm that managed services for 100,000 residents who were uninsured or on Medicaid.

“I always admired him,” said Williams, who describes Thompson as his friend. “He came from nothing.”

He was also a champion political fundraiser who over two decades used his wealth to extend his influence, in and out of politics. He described himself as “the Governor” of the District, even though he had never been elected to public office and few outside government knew his name.

His near-anonymity ended when federal investigators began focusing on his political spending, leading to a March 2012 raid on his homes and offices. They were on the trail of a “shadow campaign,” a hidden $653,000 operation investigators say was solely funded by an unindicted, unnamed co-conspirator to help Vincent C. Gray win the 2010 Democratic mayoral primary over incumbent Adrian M. Fenty. Court documents indicate that unnamed person is Thompson.

“It’s sad to see. It’s tragic. It’s sad that he put himself in this position. It’s sad he got bad advice or didn’t listen to advice.”

—Anthony A. Williams, former D.C. mayor, who describes Jeffrey Thompson as his friend

As investigators looked more closely, they uncovered additional layers of alleged political deception by the man who publicly supported one candidate while apparently funding another in secret. Court documents that cite an unnamed person fitting Thompson’s profile describe a kingmaker running an operation that delivered hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal “straw donor” campaign contributions to sway elections in the city and beyond.

Thompson’s rise and fall have upended D.C. politics, reordering political alliances and affecting everything from how candidates raise money to who might be the city’s next mayor.

This account is based on thousands of pages of court and city documents and more than 100 interviews, including more than a dozen with close associates and relatives of Thompson, some in his ancestral home in Jamaica.

Thompson, 58, has not been charged. His attorney, Brendan V. Sullivan Jr., declined to comment Friday and said he has a policy of not speaking to the media about pending matters. Friends of Thompson say he is holding up well under the strain, continuing to attend social events and accepting well-wishers, even as he has had to sell his accounting firm and has seen his health-care firm fall into receivership.

But the FBI has traveled as far away as Los Angeles interviewing members of Thompson’s network of a few hundred friends, associates and employees.

That group was cobbled together from Thompson’s various worlds: his mother, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews; dozens upon dozens of employees and their relatives from Chartered and TCBA; entrepreneurs who tapped him for advice and money; random producers, directors, actors and actresses in New York and Los Angeles; and close associates in the District, including his hairdresser.

Rarely did those worlds meet. What they had in common was Thompson’s money. They depended on him for their livelihoods and even no-interest loans based on little more than handshakes. Thompson depended upon the good graces of elected city officials who approved his lucrative contracts, which paid him millions. It was a constant circle of money, and it had protected his interests for years.

But Thompson feared that what he had built was vulnerable under Fenty, who had succeeded Williams and refused to pay obeisance to Thompson. He feared that a Fenty reelection in 2010 would cost him his $322 million Chartered contract. That was when, friends said, he made his fatal mistake.

“It’s sad to see,” Williams said. “It’s tragic. It’s sad that he put himself in this position. It’s sad he got bad advice or didn’t listen to advice.”

From Jamaica to D.C.

The beach-side Little Ochie restaurant in Alligator Pond, Jamaica, is alive day and night. The beach and recreation area was a favorite spot of Jeffrey Thompson’s when he was growing up in nearby Bull Savannah. (Michel du Cille/The Washington Post)

He came from working-class beginnings in Bull Savannah, a small, hilly town in Jamaica’s St. Elizabeth parish. Aunt Pearl Elliott Dunkley remembered him being a bit sickly, or “fragile.” His friends recalled a shoeless boy running the dirt roads reddened by bauxite, swimming, catching crabs and shooting birds with slingshots.

He was the youngest of 11 children born to Myrtle and Charles C. Thompson. His father was a farmer, a worker at the local bauxite factory and a truck driver who was well respected for being one of the first in town to travel long distances, friends and relatives said.

“It was a firetruck, an ambulance, a taxi,” Bull Savannah’s Beverton “Teddy” Roye, who remains one of Thompson’s best friends, said of his father’s truck. “If anybody got sick, you had to call Master Charlie.”

Derrick Rochester, Thompson’s cousin, said the elder Thompson drove workers each morning to the bauxite factory.

“He would drive out at 5 a.m. to come pick us up, and he would never be late,” said Rochester, a highly decorated, retired member of Parliament and trade unionist.

Jeffrey Thompson’s love of numbers began when he was a young boy working in the shop of his maternal grandparents, Wintworth and Edith Elliott.

“He was a young grandson, so he got a lot of attention, a lot of nurturing,” Dunkley said of Thompson.

The Elliotts operated the shop like a general store, extending credit to their customers.

“Nothing written down,” said Dunkley, 79. “There was a lady who had 24 children. Every Christmas I couldn’t wait to hear if she had a new baby.”

People could repay them a year or more later, Dunkley said. Other relatives said some people went to their graves owing the Elliotts.

Thompson’s eventual journey to the United States was a necessity, friends and family said. Bull Savannah, which currently has a population of about 7,000, did not yet have a public secondary school that students could easily attend for free. Entrance into the local boarding schools — Munro College for boys and Hampton School for girls — was an impossible feat for children of Thompson’s background, friends and relatives said.

“No fault of ours, we didn’t make it,” Roye said. “You made it if you were able to pay your way in.’”

Thompson, Roye and Levi Lewis — classmates who faced a premature end to their education — were saved by a program that Rochester started. In two classrooms with glassless windows and cement floors at Junction Secondary School, the boys took accounting while most girls took secretary courses.

In the early 1970s, Myrtle Thompson was so distraught after losing two of Thompson’s siblings — a daughter from natural causes and a son assumed drowned in the Caribbean — that she moved to the District to be with relatives, Dunkley said. She worked as a domestic.

Jeffrey Thompson, his father and his other siblings followed a few years later. Thompson once pinpointed the date when he moved to the District as Feb. 15, 1975. He was weeks shy of his 20th birthday.

His family lived in an apartment at 16th Street and Columbia Road NW, said his brother Barry Thompson, 70, a former construction worker who said Jeffrey has helped him financially through the years.

Barry said his younger brother started his climb in that crowded Columbia Road apartment. “That’s where he built his foundation. He would start every night. He would get juice out of the fridge and start studying,” he said. “You work hard. You study hard. . . . He was tremendous in what he did.”

Jeffrey’s educational certificates from Jamaica did not transfer, so he earned a GED and enrolled at the University of the District of Columbia.

“At that time, he told me point-blank he was going to open his own business,” classmate Roxroy Anderson said. “He wasn’t too keen on working for anybody.”

To pay his way through school, Thompson worked as a bookkeeper for the National Rifle Association. His father found concierge work at the Mayflower, the downtown hotel. In 1979, mother, father and son jointly bought a modest rowhouse on Farragut Street NW for $55,000. They borrowed $50,500.

Starting out

Thompson

Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio
and Associates (TCBA)

Ralph Bazilio
University of the District of Columbia graduate

Tanya R. Curtis-Haley
Original partner, left company in 1994

Michael J. Cobb
Tulane University graduate, replaced Curtis-Haley

In May 1980, Thompson, now 25, was among the graduates from UDC’s business school to be honored at its ninth annual awards dinner. Thompson stood out, not just for his ambition but also for his posture and natty attire.

“He didn’t just dress tall,” Anderson said. “He walked tall.”

He interned at Mitchell & Titus, a top minority-run accounting firm and a New York-based affiliate of Ernst & Young.

After college, he became the financial services manager of the Washington Business Development Center under a Commerce Department minority business program. Thompson later said that while at the center he secured “over $23 million of debt and equity financing for numerous minority-owned businesses in the Washington metropolitan area.”

In 1983, he co-founded TCBA. Ralph Bazilio, a UDC graduate from Guyana with an immigrant background similar to Thompson’s, became his partner. At one time, the C in TCBA was for Tanya R. Curtis-Haley. She left in 1994 and formed her own firm.

Starting out

Thompson

Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio
and Associates (TCBA)

Ralph Bazilio
University of the District of Columbia graduate

Tanya R. Curtis-Haley
Original partner, left company in 1994

Michael J. Cobb
Tulane University graduate, replaced Curtis-Haley

Thompson and Bazilio found another C in accountant Michael J. Cobb, a Tulane University graduate whose father had co-founded Independence Federal Savings Bank, one of the largest minority-owned banks in the country.

While in his 30s, Thompson landed an influential client: the venerated Dorothy I. Height, longtime president of the National Council of Negro Women. The young accountant and the civil rights icon soon became close friends. Former city administrator Robert C. Bobb described their relationship as “mother and son,” remembering how Height once doted on Thompson during lunch at the Capital Grille.

Height gave Thompson instant status; he gave her organization financial assistance. Years later in 1996, Height’s group wanted to purchase its $11 million headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue. Thompson later said he raised the down payment in 15 minutes.

Rising up

Thompson

TCBA client Dorothy I. Height introduced him to …

Alexis Herman, who recommended him to …

Donna Brazile, who asked him to help …

Eleanor Holmes Norton resolve her tax issue.

Through Height, Thompson met Alexis Herman, who within a few years would become White House public liaison, then secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Thompson and Herman were both visiting an ill Height one evening. Thompson offered Herman a ride, which turned into dinner and eventually romance. (Herman declined to be interviewed for this article.)

“They were in love,” Barry Thompson said.

Rising up

Thompson

TCBA client Dorothy I. Height introduced him to …

Alexis Herman who recommended him to …

Donna Brazile who asked him to help …

Eleanor Holmes Norton solve her tax issue.

Jeffrey escorted Herman to the 1994 state dinner for Nelson Mandela. He mixed with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and Harry Belafonte as Whitney Houston sang and everyone dined on halibut with sesame crust and bibb salad.

Herman, known as a problem solver, helped Thompson gain a reputation for being one, too.

In 1990, Eleanor Holmes Norton was the front-runner to become D.C.’s non-voting delegate when she and her then-husband, Ed, ran into troubles over unpaid income taxes.

Donna Brazile, Norton’s good friend, called Herman, who recommended Thompson’s firm, according to Brazile’s autobiography. He took charge. “Jeff, an accountant with a Caribbean accent, talked fast while Ralph, his partner, sat taking notes, reviewing Ed’s materials and listening,” Brazile wrote.

The Nortons quickly wrote a check for $25,000, and she went on to win the seat, which she still holds.

It is unclear when Thompson and Herman, who married her current husband in 2000, broke up. Friends say Thompson today is guarded about his social life. But he bought Herman’s Crestwood home in January 1995 for $366,000 and continued to run in the circles to which she introduced him.

In June 1997, Clinton spoke at the Democratic National Committee dinner in the Crystal Ballroom at the Sheraton-Carlton Hotel. Thompson was one of contributors he thanked.

Two decades after his father found work in a hotel, Thompson was a VIP guest.

A power player emerges

Jeffrey Thompson urged Anthony Williams, above, to apply for the job of chief financial officer for the District. Williams’s successful tenure as CFO helped launch his political career – with two terms as D.C. mayor. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

While Thompson was spending the 1980s and early ’90s expanding his accounting firm to several cities and being schooled in the ways of Capitol Hill, the city was becoming crime-ridden and heading for financial collapse.

The FBI busted Mayor Marion Barry in January 1990, recording him smoking crack in a Vista International Hotel room. The grainy video of the arrest would play over and over on national television.

Barry’s fall and comeback took place during the same period that African Americans were gaining power nationally. Lawyer and lobbyist Ronald H. Brown, elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee, was part of a group of black politicos crucial to Clinton’s 1992 election.

Clinton, called “the first black president” by prizewinning author Toni Morrison, appointed more African Americans to high-level positions than any president. Among them was Anthony Williams, a bow-tie-wearing lawyer whom Clinton tapped to be the chief financial officer of the Agriculture Department.

During a meeting at the USDA, Williams was introduced to Thompson.

They had an immediate affinity.

Getting political

Thompson

Mayor Marion Barry
Thompson volunteered on Barry’s mayoral transition team and recommended Anthony Williams for D.C. chief financial officer in 1994.

Anthony A. Williams
Elected mayor 1998.

Thompson acts as a kitchen cabinet adviser to Williams.

Though Williams was far more educated, with a degree from Yale and two from Harvard, they shared a love of accounting, were not that far apart in age and had been reared in large families in working-class circumstances.

Williams, although perceived as aloof, had a taste for self-deprecation and slapstick, able to embrace the contemptuous nickname “Mr. Bow Tie.” He once livened up a party at the Argentine ambassador’s home by jumping fully clothed into the pool.

Marion Barry proved to be another ally. He emerged from a six-month prison sentence for cocaine possession to stage a major political comeback, winning a council seat in 1992 with 70 percent of the vote and a fourth term as mayor in 1994.

Getting political

Thompson

Worked for Barry on his mayoral transition team.

Mayor Marion Barry
Thompson recommended Williams for D.C. chief financial officer in 1994.

Anthony A. Williams
Elected mayor 1998

Thompson acts as a kitchen cabinet adviser to Williams.

He tapped Thompson to be on his mayoral transition team.

The city’s financial crisis had worsened to a $722 million deficit, and Congress created a financial control board to take over the city’s budget. The mayor had the power to appoint a chief financial officer to oversee the budget and report to the board, but only Congress had the authority to remove the CFO.

Barry selected Thompson to serve on the search committee for the vital position. “He contacted me about the CFO job, and the rest is history,” Williams said.

Thompson personally delivered Williams’s résumé.

Williams was eventually credited with dramatically turning around the city’s finances and was drafted by concerned residents to run for mayor. And Thompson was there for the ride.

But the usual politicos were not used to Thompson.

His attire alone distinguished him. “When I first met him, he was always well dressed in a vested suit,” said Max Berry, 77, a longtime fixture in D.C. politics who led Williams’s fundraising team as campaign chairman. “Always a funny-looking hat, like he was from Mississippi or on a Mississippi riverboat, something out of a Mark Twain novel. . . . Very old-fashioned but in good taste.”

Thompson wasn’t just a bull in a china shop. He was the china-shop owner. He believed in ceremony, decorum and an adherence to formalities. His critics considered him pompous.

“I’ll probably regret this as soon as I say it, but I knew from the moment I met him I was never going to be his best friend,” Berry said. “He’s what you would call a bit politically flamboyant.”

“He would always say, ‘The Governor is adding value.’ If you didn’t know him, you would think it was egomaniacal.”

—Max Brown, deputy chief of staff for Mayor Anthony Williams

Once, during a fundraiser, Thompson held court at the Hay-Adams hotel, according to a political consultant who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing federal investigation. “I walked in, and there was Jeff at the head of the table. Beautiful china. All of a sudden, ding, ding, ding,” the consultant said, hitting a plate with a knife to demonstrate. “He had on a top hat — I swear. He took it off and said, ‘Gentlemen.’ He passed the hat around, and people filled it with checks.”

Max Brown, 48, who worked as counsel to Williams when he was city CFO and who served as deputy chief of staff when he was mayor, described Thompson as a kitchen cabinet adviser to Williams.

Thompson talked about himself in the third person. “He would always say, ‘The Governor is adding value,’ ” Brown said. “If you didn’t know him, you would think it was egomaniacal.”

In one breath, Brown described Thompson as “kind,” “generous” and “ruthless.”

By the mid-1990s, Thompson still had much to prove. The accounting firm was thriving, stretching into five cities from the District to Los Angeles. He was wealthy, but he sought more.

His moment arose through another man’s misfortune.

By 2000, retired Army Col. Robert L. Bowles had spent years creating and building D.C. Chartered Health Plan, which had a contract to manage health care for some of the city’s poorest residents. Hoping to expand, Bowles teamed with Reston-based PHP Healthcare. When that company went bankrupt, “we became collateral for the lender,” said Bowles, who has a doctorate in business and health-care administration. “In the end, the liquidating trustee decided to sell the company.”

Thompson would be the new owner.

Bowles said his effort to buy back the company was rejected.

“It was extremely painful. You build a company . . . I had built a company that became a family,” he said, trailing off.

Thompson paid $4 million for it in May 2000.

Correction: The original article stated D.C. General was the only acute-care hospital east of the Anacostia River. The hospital was located west of the river and mainly served residents in the eastern part of the city. The article has been updated to reflect this.

The value of Chartered soared in 2001 after Williams and the financial control board closed the city-run D.C. General, the only acute-care hospital serving poorer residents who mainly lived on the eastern side of the city, and created the D.C. Healthcare Alliance, a program for uninsured, low-income residents who did not qualify for Medicaid or Medicare. Chartered would play a key role in setting up the program and would later provide the care for the patients under a city contract.

Within years, the company, which had about 25,000 enrollees under Bowles’s ownership and $26 million in annual revenue, grew to serve 100,000 residents and was bringing in $322 million a year under its city contract. From 2006 through 2008, Thompson’s solely owned holding company received $7.7 million in dividends, records show. Chartered also paid millions in contracts to other Thompson businesses, such as TCBA and RapidTrans, a shuttle service for patients.

“He paid Dr. Bowles $4 million for Chartered and built it into a $300-million-something enterprise,” Marion Barry said. “He’s one of the few black people in the United States who built this kind of [managed-care company]. . . . That takes quite a bit of skill.”

Spreading the wealth

Bull Savannah Primary School sixth-graders, from left, Britannia Johnson, 11, Daniella Hall, 11, Britney Ellis, 13, and Britany Durrant, 12. Jeffrey Thompson donated about $30,000 to the Jamaican school he attended as a youth. (Michel du Cille/The Washington Post)

Thompson could now afford the finer things — tailored suits, Taittinger champagne, a vintage burgundy Jaguar and Wizards floor seats.

More importantly, the money gave Thompson enormous power and an extraordinary ability to extend generosity to his friends and family, from the District to Jamaica. In his home town, he donated about $30,000 to the primary school he attended, for a computer lab, library, parking lot and canteen renovation.

Seven or eight members of Thompson’s large extended family have earned doctorates, in areas such as psychology, sociology and medicine, said his aunt, Dunkley, who has a doctorate in education from Columbia University. But Thompson is, by far, the most successful financially.

When he visited Jamaica, it was as if Santa Claus had come. He would stand at the gate of his parents’ home, listening to the hardships of residents and passing out money. “It’s like a holiday when he comes down here,” said Sydney Elliott, 91, his uncle.

Throughout the year, he contributed to residents selected for him by Seaview Baptist in Bull Savannah. “Persons are without a job; some are needs, like operations. We discuss it,” said the Rev. Paul Neil, pastor of the church.

Sometimes the giving was more personal.

Last year, he paid for doctors’ visits for the cancer-stricken midwife who had delivered him, Dunkley said. He partially paid for her funeral when she died.

Levi Lewis, his former classmate, said he went into farming after retiring from his longtime career as a police officer. He lost thousands when a contract was canceled in 2009. “When he came, I told him. . . . He gave me $6,000 in U.S. money,” Lewis said, adding that he has never had to repay Thompson.

Local folklore has it that a con artist once bilked a woman by telling her that Thompson had sent her some money but that she had to pay to get it, said Beryl Rochester, his cousin’s wife.

In the United States, through loans and investments, he quietly provided thousands of dollars to local entrepreneurs who did not have access to capital or regular bank loans.

Among them was Dawn Kum, the founder and chief executive of the Village Academy of Washington, D.C., a private school for students with learning disabilities. Thompson allowed Ian Thorne, his hairdresser, to operate rent-free in a building he owned in Southeast.

Thorne did not return calls seeking comment. In a brief interview, Kum described Thompson as an “investor.”

One of the things Thompson did on his way up was hire people with connections. Kim Dickens, who donated a kidney to Marion Barry in 2009, was a consultant to Chartered. Richard B. Willett, who had introduced Thompson to Williams at the Agriculture Department, was a senior principal at TCBA. Jeanne Clarke Harris, who played a key role as a bank executive in Thompson’s purchase of Chartered, became a principal at RapidTrans, the transportation firm.

Barry said Thompson’s willingness to hire people with political ties should be commended.

“I have friends who wouldn’t do that,” said Barry, who recalled that Thompson gave his son, Christopher, a mailroom job. “He was bighearted.”

That bigheartedness extended to campaign coffers around the country and in the Caribbean. He supported African American candidates, such as Kasim Reed, now mayor of Atlanta, and others with whom he shared a political affinity, such as the Clintons.

Holding on

Thompson

Mayor
Adrian
M. Fenty

Initially backed Linda W. Cropp for mayor.

Later, Thompson threw a fundraiser for Fenty, once it was clear late in the primary that Fenty would win.

Entered into contracts with Fenty fraternity brothers Sinclair Skinner and Omar Karim, paying them for community relations work, according to people with knowledge of the agreements.

Thompson’s D.C. Chartered Health Plan hired Athena Cross-Edge, Fenty’s sister-in-law, as an executive in 2008.

But he was also strategic. “When Jeff decided to take Chartered into Maryland, he asked me to introduce him to the governor,” said Ivan Walks — Kum’s ex-husband and a former city health director — who met Thompson when he bought Chartered.

Together, they co-hosted a fundraiser for Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) at the downtown TCBA offices in 2010.

“The governor came,” Walks said. “Everybody wrote checks.”

Thompson expected the checks from his invited guests to be sizable, said a former senior Chartered executive who requested anonymity to speak freely.

Thompson would amble around a room filled with 50 or so guests and collect the checks himself. His niece Bridgette Thompson, who was also his secretary, would follow him with a container.

He would take notice of the amounts of the checks, signaling his approval by placing the big ones in his coat pocket and indicating his disapproval by placing less generous checks in Bridgette’s container, the former senior executive recalled. Thompson, who insisted on meeting the candidates he backed, would deliver the large checks personally.

One of the politicians Thompson supported was then-D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), who was endorsed by Williams and was seen as his logical successor.

In 2006, Thompson threw a fundraiser and bundled thousands of dollars in contributions for Cropp in her race against Fenty, then a Ward 4 council member, in the Democratic primary. But when it became clear late in the primary that Fenty was going to win, Thompson threw a fundraiser for him.

After Fenty won, Thompson entered into contracts with two of Fenty’s fraternity brothers, Sinclair Skinner and Omar Karim, paying them for community relations work, according to two people with knowledge of the arrangement. And Chartered hired Athena Cross-Edge, Fenty’s sister-in-law, as an executive in 2008.

Holding on

Thompson

Mayor
Adrian
M. Fenty

Initially backed Linda W. Cropp for mayor.

Later, Thompson threw a fundraiser for Fenty.

Entered into contracts for community relations with Fenty fraternity brothers Sinclair Skinner and Omar Karim, according to people with knowledge of the agreements.

Chartered hired Athena Cross-Edge, Fenty’s sister-in-law, as an executive in 2008.

(Skinner declined to comment. Brian K. McDaniel, Karim’s attorney, declined to comment. Cross-Edge, who no longer works at Chartered, did not return calls.)

But Fenty did not need Thompson.

Thompson’s belated support made it difficult for him to get close to Fenty. “I definitely remember him being frustrated with not getting a meeting with Adrian,” said Ben Soto, Fenty’s campaign treasurer. “I vividly remember being at a Wizards game and he was blowing up my phone.”

A new dynamic

Adrian M. Fenty is former mayor of the District. An unindicted, unnamed co-conspirator who fits the description of local businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson allegedly funded a secret $653,000 operation to help Fenty’s opponent Vincent C. Gray get elected in 2010. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

Thompson’s troubles began in 2005 after council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) ordered an audit of all managed-care firms. “It made sense to take a look to make sure we were getting value for our money,” Catania said.

The audit findings were jarring: Chartered Health Plan was paying double the going rate to Thompson-owned clinics and to RapidTrans, his transportation firm.  The city sued, alleging $7.7 million in “excessive” expenses.

Thompson settled, wiring the city $12 million in September 2008 and agreeing to an additional $5.25 million in charitable contributions. He also had to agree to stricter reporting standards for a five-year period.

He realized he needed a stronger political ally in the mayor’s office, friends said.

He met privately with Vincent Gray in spring 2010, through the auspices of Jeanne Clarke Harris. She and Thompson had been business associates and friends from their days a decade earlier working on the Chartered deal. Gray was on her shortlist of birthday party guests each year.

Gray, an affable D.C. Council chairman nearly 30 years older than Fenty, was seemingly the antithesis of the mayor, whose hard-charging, somewhat cold style alienated many constituents, especially African Americans. As he had with so many other politicians, Thompson laid on the charm.

“He did not want the sitting mayor to find out he was supporting his opponent. If somehow the sitting mayor won, he would be in some serious contractual problems.”

—Jeanne Clarke Harris, a longtime business associate of Thompson’s, during a court hearing

The two men met at Harris’s Massachusetts Avenue apartment, according to a close friend of Thompson’s and a second person with knowledge of the investigation — both requested anonymity because of the ongoing case. Mark Long, who is Harris’s godson and worked as Gray’s driver during the campaign, waited in another room, both people said. Long did not return calls for comment.

At some point, Harris excused herself and left the men alone, and they had a one-on-one conversation, according to a person close to Gray who requested anonymity to speak freely.

At the meeting, Thompson promised to give Gray’s campaign financial support, according to Thompson’s friend. But Thompson told Gray that he did not want to support him publicly, the friend of Thompson said.

“It was supposed to be a loan,” the friend said. “He was trying to hide from Fenty. He was hedging his bets.”

The friend said the loan was supposed to be reported after the election.

Harris would later allude to Thompson’s motivation during a court hearing: “He did not want the sitting mayor to find out he was supporting his opponent. If somehow the sitting mayor won, he would be in some serious contractual problems.”

Robert S. Bennett, Gray’s attorney, declined to comment.

However, the person close to the mayor said there was no discussion at the meeting of a loan or of illegal contributions in any form. “Thompson said: ‘I want to raise money for you. . . . I have to be careful here because these Fenty people are telling people that they will be dead [if they contribute to Gray],’­ ” the person said.

Later, Thompson gave Gray bundled contributions that “the mayor believed were legitimate contributions,” reporting them as required, the person said.

The ‘shadow campaign’

The tenure of D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, above, has been clouded since his victory in the 2010 election, which prosecutors say was tainted by illegal activity. Court documents assert that mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown was paid to disparage incumbent Adrian Fenty on the primary campaign trail and that there was also a clandestine $653,000 effort to help Gray get elected. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

The “shadow campaign” was housed in an office adjacent to Gray’s Sixth Street NW official headquarters and coordinated to use the same vendors, court documents would later allege.

The shadow version gave the official campaign resources to pay for 200 umbrellas, 6,500 T-shirts and 120,000 pieces of literature to hang on doors, along with field workers and hotel accommodations for some of them.

Meanwhile, Thompson publicly supported Fenty, up until the ballots were counted.

On primary night on Sept. 14, 2010, Thompson attended a watch party at the Fenty headquarters, housed in a vacant building that was formerly the home of the Curtis Chevrolet dealership. Somber supporters were coming to the realization that the polls leading up to the vote were accurate. Gray was going to win.

Stumbling

Thompson

A meeting took place at Jeanne Clarke Harris’s apartment between Thompson and Gray, according to several sources.

Mayor
Vincent
C. Gray

Straw contributors
Some money went to Gray campaign.

No allegations have emerged in court documents that Gray was aware of the shadow campaign or the straw donations.

Court documents allege an unnamed, unindicted co-conspirator fitting Thompson's description funded a parallel operation to the Gray campaign.

Shadow campaign
$653,000

Court documents allege that unnamed person was also making campaign contributions in the names of others.

Later that night, Thompson left for the Washington Court Hotel to celebrate with buoyant Gray supporters.

After the primary, he met with Gray in his council office to advise him on the budget and on how to assemble a kitchen cabinet group of advisers.

Gray’s election produced a windfall for Thompson. When Gray took office in early 2011, his administration revisited a long-running contract dispute with Chartered over rates for dental care. The Fenty administration had asked the contract appeals board to dismiss Chartered’s request for $14.9 million, but the Gray administration later agreed to give Chartered $7.5 million to “avoid further expensive and time consuming litigation,” city records show.

In March 2011, Judy Banks, the mayor’s interim human resources director, wrote Gray an e-mail: “I was talking to Jeff Thompson the other day . . . we both think the one way to unite the citizens is to get every bank (including the World Bank), grocery store, federal agency, district agency, jewelry store, restaurant, and city owned business to adopt a DC Public School.”

Gray wrote back, “That is a wonderful idea Judy.”

The new mayor did not get much of a honeymoon. Gray’s first months in office in 2011 were rocked by allegations of nepotism, favoritism and excessive salaries.

Then came the criminal allegations. Sulaimon Brown, who had been a minor mayoral candidate, told The Washington Post that he was paid cash and money orders and was promised a six-figure job by the Gray campaign if he disparaged Fenty on the campaign trail.

A federal investigation immediately followed. Campaign workers told the FBI about the shadow campaign, saying it was managed by Vernon Hawkins, Gray’s close friend and an executive of a church nonprofit that benefited from Thompson’s philanthropy, according to several people with knowledge of the investigation. Hawkins has not been charged, and his attorney declined a request to comment.

By summer 2011, FBI agents were asking about Thompson.

He was aware they were talking to his friends. He urged Harris to go to Bahia, Brazil, for five years, according to court documents. “Then it was three months,” Harris would later say. “The answer to both was no.”

In January 2012, one year into Gray’s term, Harris approached Gray and asked him to amend his campaign finance report and disclose the funding from Thompson, said three people with knowledge of the meeting. Gray has acknowledged meeting with Harris, but he has declined to detail their conversation, citing the investigation. His aides, however, have said he directed Harris to report any undocumented expenditures to the Office of Campaign Finance. Mark H. Tuohey, Harris’s attorney, declined to comment for this article.

But the funding, totaling $653,000, was never reported.

Correction: The original article contained several references to Thompson fitting the description of an unnamed, unindicted co-conspirator alleged in court documents to be linked either to unreported campaign spending or donations made in the names of others. In one of the references, the “un” was inadvertently dropped before “indicted.”

In addition to the shadow campaign, the FBI had discovered a secret behind Thompson’s fundraising. Court documents say an unnamed, unindicted co-conspirator fitting Thompson’s description was allegedly making campaign donations in the names of others.

Stumbling

Thompson

Meeting at Jeanne Clarke Harris’ apartment between Thompson and Gray, according to several sources.

Mayor
Vincent
C. Gray

Straw contributors
Some money went to Gray campaign.

No allegations have emerged in court documents that Gray was aware of the shadow campaign or the straw donations.

Court documents allege an unnamed, unindicted co-conspirator fitting Thompson's description funded a parallel operation to the Gray campaign.

Shadow campaign
$650,000

Court documents allege that unnamed person was also making campaign contributions in the names of others.

Suddenly, nearly every employee, associate, friend and relative of Thompson was under scrutiny. Several people with knowledge of the investigation said some of Thompson’s alleged “straw donors” were willing participants, sometimes taking a fee for the use of their names; others were simply reimbursed; and some had no idea their names were being used.

Los Angeles talent agent Clearance Cheatham, who campaign records show gave $6,000 as an individual to District candidates from 2006 through 2011, said he was interviewed by the FBI and Internal Revenue Service this spring.

“All I know is there is an investigation,” he said. “I don’t want to get involved in craziness. I have my own crazy.”

In March 2012, the FBI and the IRS raided the offices of Thompson and Harris, who pleaded guilty four months later to acting as a straw donor and admitted her role in orchestrating the shadow campaign. She is awaiting sentencing.

In June, Lee A. Calhoun, a TCBA employee, pleaded guilty to making $160,000 in contributions in his name and in the names of relatives with the knowledge that the money was coming from an unnamed person who fits Thompson’s description.

‘Straw donors’: Jeffrey Thompson fits the description of an unnamed, unindicted co-conspirator who allegedly made campaign donations in the names of others.

His guilty plea was followed by one from Stanley L. Straughter, a Philadelphia businessman who worked as a contractor for Thompson’s firm. He admitted to making $132,600 in illegal political donations under his name, his company’s name and the names of relatives.

Bazilio Cobb Associates, as the company is now known, disclosed in June that an internal investigation showed that donations were made in the names of employees, relatives and friends who where reimbursed at Thompson’s direction. The firm said the individuals “were ensnared by the aggressive solicitation of campaign contributions.”

In May, the city-appointed receiver of Chartered sued Thompson and D.C. Healthcare Systems, his holding company, alleging that he had illegally transferred $17 million from the company. Thompson’s attorney on the case, David B. Killalea, did not respond to a request for comment.

‘Don’t worry about me’

Barry Thompson walks toward his home in Bull Savannah, Jamaica. He says he is angry that so many people his brother Jeffrey helped are turning on him. “To me, those kinds of people, I don’t even want to associate with them,” he said. (Michel du Cille/The Washington Post)

The investigation has taken a toll on Thompson’s large extended family, which he had looped into his network of contributors.

Investigators have leaned heavily on his niece, Bridgette, who read and answered all of his business e-mails, according to interviews of former employees and to Thompson himself in an unrelated deposition. A new mother, she said in a brief phone conversation that she was busy taking care of her baby and could not talk.

Barry Thompson is angry that so many people Thompson helped are turning on him. “To me, those kinds of people, I don’t even want to associate with them,” he said.

Unlike his brother, Barry returned to live in Jamaica, where he owns a bar called Blueberry Hill that is attached to his Bull Savannah home. Thompson’s mother, Myrtle, 95, lives next door in a sprawling, single-story home hidden by a forest of mango and sweetsop trees.

Myrtle, who is ill and rarely emerges from her house, is unaware of the investigation, said his aunt, Dunkley. “He’s protected us,” she said of Jeffrey. “He doesn’t want us to be worried.”

Last month in Jamaica, over a genteel lunch of Parmesan-crusted fish, shrimp-and-lobster salad and Bombay mangoes, Dunkley expressed the concern that a whole community feels for Thompson.

“I hope he gets this settled so he can get back to what he loves — helping the community,” she said.

The investigation has curtailed his visits. He last flew down after his father died in October. More than 500 people attended the funeral at Seaview Baptist Church. A roadblock had to be erected in a town where many of the roads are still dirt paths. Friends said he did not talk of his troubles.

Beverton Roye said Thompson had assured him earlier that he would prevail. “He said: ‘Don’t worry about me. I’m going to be all right. I’m clean,’ ” said Roye, who is chief public health inspector for St. Elizabeth parish. “Those are the exact words he said to me.”

The usually media-shy Thompson basked in the spotlight each year during the televised, black-tie NAACP Image Awards. For more than a decade, TCBA had been the accounting firm that tabulated the results. But last year, the NAACP used other accountants.

President Obama, Gov. O’Malley, Del. Norton and Del. Donna M. Christensen, who represents the U.S. Virgin Islands, have returned contributions they believed were associated with Thompson. Sen. Timothy M. Kaine (D-Va.) also returned money that had been given to his gubernatorial campaign.

TCBA is now BCA. Thompson sold his 79 percent interest to Ralph Bazilio. He has sold some of his properties, including the salon that he allowed his hairdresser to use.

Lawyer Charles Parsons sued Thompson when he tried to renege on the sale of the salon. “His assets are being stripped, and here I was, one of the strippers,” Parsons said.

Parsons said he met with Thompson in person three or four times. They settled in March. Parsons noticed that Thompson never showed up in his tailor-made suits.

“I thought he would be a very arrogant guy. . . . He’s had so much money sloshing around the gas tank,” Parsons said. “The fact of the matter is he wasn’t without his charm. He saw the humor in things. He laughed. He was laughing at a time when his world was coming down.”

Jennifer Jenkins and Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

Editor’s picks

A look at Jeffrey Thompson's Jamaica

The D.C. power player’s path to success began on the dirt roads of the small coastal town of Bull Savannah.

”A

”Over

Credits