Year of convictions doesn't end D.C. corruption probes

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder,Vincent Gray,Corruption

For the District's government, 2013 began much like 2012 did: The mayor's campaign is under federal investigation, and lawmakers are the subjects of legal scrutiny.

"It definitely impacts the functioning of our government," said Ward 6 D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells. "You've got to have an effective, strong government that people have confidence in for any city to be successful, so this will eventually create a bigger drag."

The probe of Mayor Vincent Gray's 2010 campaign will mark its second birthday in March, and recent court filings show the investigation and its fallout will stretch into the summer.

Three people have pleaded guilty to felonies, though prosecutors have not publicly filed charges against anyone since July.

12 months of scandal
-- January: Ward 5 D.C. Councilman Harry Thomas resigns and pleads guilty to stealing more than $350,000 in public money intended for youth programs.
-- February: In a deposition, former District investigator Robert Andary testifies that Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham "was using his opposition to the lottery to get something."
-- March: Federal agents raid the home and offices of Jeffrey Thompson, the city's largest contractor and a major campaign donor.
-- May: Thomas is sentenced to 38 months in prison. Later, two aides to Mayor Vincent Gray's 2010 campaign are charged with felonies and plead guilty.
-- June: D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown resigns amid pleading guilty to bank fraud and a misdemeanor campaign finance charge.
-- July: A third Gray campaign aide pleads guilty in federal court, and prosecutors detail the existence of a "shadow campaign" that benefited Gray. The mayor acknowledges the 2010 campaign was "not the campaign we intended to run."
-- October: Ahead of sentencing, Brown receives a curfew after skipping three required check-ins with authorities. A Gray campaign consultant, Howard Brooks, receives a sentence of probation.
-- November: A judge sentences Brown to a day in custody and six months of house arrest.
-- December: In an emotional speech, Graham defends his conduct on the lottery contract even as other city officials refuse to discuss it. Prosecutors also announce they closed their investigation of Brown, though they tell city officials that action "should not be interpreted as a clean bill of health" for Brown's 2008 campaign.

The deliberate speed of the investigation has prompted Gray to say he'd like for the probe to conclude quickly, though he has also said the investigation is not interfering with his ability to do his job.

U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. -- whose prosecutions forced former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown and former Ward 5 Councilman Harry Thomas Jr. from office in 2012 -- has defended his pace, despite the repeated calls from District politicians for a quick end to the Gray probe.

"We obtained felony pleas from two D.C. Council members and three mayoral campaign operatives this year, but we have much more to do in 2013," said Machen spokesman Bill Miller. "Our responsibility is to conduct these investigations promptly and thoroughly, and we have devoted significant resources to ensuring that we carry out that responsibility."

Miller declined to comment on when the corruption probes might be complete.

One of Machen's predecessors, Joseph diGenova, said he thought Machen was acting appropriately.

"The people who are criticizing are the typical glad-handing morons who sit on the sidelines and think they know everything there is to know about good government," diGenova said. "But while it was happening, they did nothing."

And because corruption probes nationwide often stretch for years, diGenova said he hopes Machen continues at the same speed.

"The longer it is, the better, because the agony of this makes people think twice about being the thieves they tend to be in D.C.," diGenova said. "I hope he takes as much time as it takes, and the longer the better because these folks need to suffer."

The probe could wind up affecting power brokers beyond Gray: As a part of their investigation, authorities are looking at campaign contributions from Jeffrey Thompson, a city contractor, to more than a dozen current and former elected officials.

Although the Gray investigation has taken on the highest profile, it is not the only probe ensconcing the John A. Wilson Building.

Federal prosecutors last spring issued a set of subpoenas focused on the handling of the District's $38 million lottery contract, and authorities indicated they were investigating whether bribery played a role in the deal.

No one has been charged in the criminal investigation, but a former city official who reviewed the matter said Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham's actions had "overtones of pay to play."

Graham has emphatically denied any misconduct and said there has been "no suggestion" of impropriety on his part.

The District is saying little about the investigation because of a related civil suit that is pending, but at-large Councilman David Catania has predicted the lottery matter could ultimately embarrass the District, especially if the civil case goes to trial.

"It will be a circus," Catania said recently. "Barnum & Bailey is going to be filing a trademark infringement case against us as 'The Greatest Show on Earth.' "

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner