Opinion writer

The feds remain in hot pursuit of corruption in the District, but in doing so, are they resorting to means fair or foul? The question never arose until this spring. Now it can’t go away.

By way of background, over the past two years, seven people with ties to businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson or affiliated with the 2010 campaign of Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) have pleaded guilty in federal court to crimes related to that campaign. The tally reached eight in March when Thompson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate D.C. and federal campaign finance laws.

Now, a ninth character, former D.C. Council candidate Kelvin Robinson, is on the scene. This week, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. charged him with conspiring to defraud the city by receiving, concealing and failing to accurately report more than $33,000 in campaign contributions that were effectively from Thompson — a sum that far exceeded individual contribution limits.

Robinson is scheduled to appear in court on May 28. He’ll get to have his say.

Until the prosecution leveled charges against Robinson, he was identified only as “DC Council Candidate B . . . an announced candidate for . . . the Ward 6 seat, during the 2010 District of Columbia election cycle” in Thompson’s sworn Statement of Offenses, also signed by prosecutors.

That’s because, as Machen’s spokesman told me in a May 1 e-mail, the Justice Department has a policy of “not publicly identifying uncharged individuals.”

It makes sense. Every criminal defendant is entitled to the presumption of innocence. Implicating a citizen in criminal conduct without affording him or her a forum for vindication violates the protection of due process.

As Robinson was uncharged at the time of Thompson’s hearing, so, too, were “DC Council Candidate C” and “DC Council Candidate D.”

According to the Statement of Offenses, they had secret and illegal dealings with Thompson:

●Council Candidate C, identified only as an announced candidate for the Ward 1 seat during the 2010 election cycle, allegedly agreed that Thompson would provide financial support to this candidate, including through unreported and excessive in-kind contributions to be paid through others in coordination with and in support of Candidate C’s campaign committee.

●Council Candidate D, a candidate in the April 2011 special election for an at-large seat on the council, is alleged to have met Thompson on March 10, 2011, at Thompson’s offices. Earlier that day, according to prosecutors, Thompson had purchased money orders to use for conduit contributions to Candidate D’s campaign. That evening, Candidate D filed a report with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance that contained information about checks, money orders, credit cards and donation forms received from Thompson. Thompson’s Statement of Offenses said: “The majority of contributions reported as received by [Candidate D’s] Campaign were for contributions reimbursed directly and indirectly by Thompson.”

What’s more, around the same time, Thompson said he agreed to make and disburse unreported in-kind contributions for a get-out-the-vote “shadow campaign” in support of Candidate D, in an amount in excess of the District’s contribution limits. Thompson said he gave through two companies about $148,146 to fund this shadow campaign.

The Statement of Offenses also contained this allegation: “During the campaign for the special election, Thompson understood that DC Council Candidate D was aware of Thompson’s funding of the excessive and unreported get-out-the-vote campaign.”

Still, Candidates C and D remain unidentified because, unlike Robinson, they have not been charged.

Thompson, too, remained unnamed by prosecutors until his court appearance and guilty plea in March. He had been identified in court documents only as “Executive A, a resident of the District of Columbia, . . . a named partner, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, and the majority owner of Company A” or “Co-Conspirator #1,” who was the sole owner of “Company A” and the majority owner of “Company B.”

The due process rights of Executive A and Council Candidates B, C and D were protected by Justice Department policy. Not so for “Mayoral Candidate A.”

“Mayoral Candidate A is Vincent Gray,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Atkinson told the court during Thompson’s March proceedings. Machen’s office told me that the judge had instructed prosecutors to identify Candidate A and that Justice Department policy is “not controlling on the Court.”

Prosecutors said in court that Gray knew about Thompson’s conspiracy to pump more than $660,000 in illegal contributions into the 2010 mayoral campaign. Gray says that is untrue and that Thompson is lying.

The government’s claim that Gray had detailed knowledge about the illegal 2010 fundraising operation was publicly leveled three weeks before the April 1 Democratic primary in which Gray sought reelection. I didn’t support Gray’s reelection because I didn’t believe he had been forthcoming with voters about the 2010 campaign. Still, that does not negate his constitutional rights. Gray, uncharged, was named by the government and received no chance either to confront the evidence or his accusers or to defend his reputation in a court of law. He was defeated.

Fair or foul?

Read more from Colbert King’s archive.