The reelection campaign of D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday gave federal prosecutors copies of two batches of checks totaling $33,025 after discovering irregularities in how the campaign contributions were handled.
Campaign officials became suspicious of the first 13 checks, totaling $13,025, because they recalled that Gwendolyn M. Hemphill, the campaign's former co-chairman, had failed to deposit them for several months after they were collected, prompting officials to return them to donors in October, according to sources close to the campaign who spoke on the condition of anonymity. City election law allows five days for checks to be turned over to a campaign's treasurer.
The scandal involving the Washington Teachers' Union, of which Hemphill was a top official, has prompted Williams campaign officials to scrutinize her role in the campaign, particularly with regard to her handling of political funds, the sources said.
Campaign officials have no evidence of wrongdoing by Hemphill as co-chairman, the sources said, but they note that she had a lead role in collecting and processing checks from fundraisers in the campaign's early days, before the controversy involving the mayor's fraudulent nominating petitions erupted in July. Federal officials are investigating that matter as well.
The campaign also turned over documents from a second incident, in which a civic group called African American Women Accessing Resources for Empowerment held a fundraiser for Williams in July but deposited $20,000 worth of checks in the group's account. Officials for the group, which brought the matter to the campaign's attention last month, said it was a mistake. The campaign yesterday began returning that money to the donors.
Max N. Berry, the Williams campaign's other co-chairman, said officials were cooperating with prosecutors on both matters.
"I do think it should be investigated to make sure there wasn't any impropriety," Berry said. "It might be that there was nothing wrong, just some sloppy actions."
Hemphill, speaking through her attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., said she recalled that some undeposited checks were discovered by the campaign after several months but that she was not responsible for the checks.
"She didn't collect any such checks, and her only instructions were to deposit checks made payable to the campaign," Cooke said. "She doesn't know what happened to the checks, because she wasn't there anymore. It's untrue that she collected or solicited those checks."
Hemphill left the Williams campaign in October, shortly before the teachers union scandal became public.
She is one of three former top officials with the teachers union who are under investigation for allegedly misspending millions of union dollars for clothes, travel and luxury items. An audit by the American Federation of Teachers, the parent organization for the Washington Teachers' Union, said Hemphill helped convert teachers union checks into cash. The audit put the total amount of misappropriated union funds at more than $5 million.
The union and the campaign both had accounts at Independence Federal Savings Bank, where bank personnel committed "unusual actions," the auditors said. The audit said the bank often cashed checks that had been altered, with the original payee's name scratched out and the name of the union's chauffeur written in.
In the case of the 13 contribution checks, the sources close to the campaign said Hemphill gave them to campaign treasurer Thomas Murray in late August or early September. Ten of the checks, each worth $1,000, were written in mid-April.
The checks, which were never deposited, were returned by the campaign Oct. 31.
Several of those who wrote checks recalled attending a fundraiser in a private home near Foxhall Road NW in mid-April with about a dozen guests. Patrick O. Fasusi, an anesthesiologist who owns a surgery center on Georgia Avenue NW, said Hemphill and the mayor attended the event. He was surprised to receive the returned check in the fall but wrote a new one to the mayor's campaign.
"These things should have been taken care of in time," Fasusi said.
Another person who attended the event, Raynard Jackson, could not recall who asked him to make a contribution to Williams's reelection campaign.
"I have never experienced anything in my life where I gave a campaign money and they returned it back to me," said Jackson, who runs a political consulting firm based in the city. "They asked me to give another check. A note was enclosed. I totally disregarded it."
In addition to the checks from the April event, the campaign submitted copies of a $1,000 check from March, a $25 check from February and a $2,000 check from December 2001.
The second incident that was brought to the attention of the U.S. attorney yesterday involved eight checks totaling $20,000. They came from an event July 18, but the amounts of the checks, $2,500 each, exceeded the $2,000 limit set by city election laws. In addition, the money somehow ended up in the bank account of African American Women Accessing Resources for Empowerment, which is based in the city.
Sources close to the campaign said they learned of the checks in December when officials from the group alerted campaign officials to the problem and sent a check reimbursing the campaign for the $20,000.
Campaign officials have consulted the city's Office of Campaign Finance, which said they need return only the amounts above the $2,000 limit. But because of the unusual nature of those contributions, the campaign yesterday refunded the checks directly to the contributors.