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Ex-Associate Of D.C. Businessman Pleads Guilty To $160,000 In Straw Donations

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Calhoun gave $160,000 in straw campaign donations over the course of almost a decade.
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Calhoun gave $160,000 in straw campaign donations over the course of almost a decade.

A Maryland businessman has admitted in federal court that he was reimbursed for $160,000 in campaign contributions by his boss, who's at the center of a wide-ranging political corruption investigation.

Lee Calhoun works for an accounting firm previously owned by Jeffrey Thompson, a D.C. businessman who once held the city's biggest contract. Although Thompson was not mentioned by name in court, Calhoun said he was reimbursed by the owner of the company for contributions made in his own and relatives' names to various candidates for federal and local office.

Calhoun pleaded guilty to a single county of making straw donations in 2011 to Del. Donna Christensen of the U.S. Virgin Islands. He also admitted that the straw donation scheme orchestrated by Thompson dates back to at least 2002, and that in that time he made $76,000 worth of straw donations to D.C. candidates and $83,400 in contributions to federal candidates.

To conceal the providence of the money, the donations coming from the unnamed "Executive A"—thought to be Thompson—were listed on tax forms as salary increases and bonuses for Calhoun.

A similar straw donation campaign was directed towards Mayor Vincent Gray's 2010 mayoral campaign, which benefited from $653,000 in illicit contributions. Three people have pleaded guilty in that case.

“Today’s guilty plea reveals how a D.C. accounting firm was converted into an assembly line for illegal campaign contributions,” said U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ron Machen in a statement.

“For a decade, the firm and its CEO made illegal campaign contributions through straw donors to an array of federal and D.C. politicians. The firm used a special accounting system to keep track of the thousands and thousands of dollars it was plowing into political campaigns. This prosecution demonstrates the depth of our commitment to investigate and uproot criminal schemes intended to hide illegal campaign contributions – schemes that if left unchecked can threaten the very integrity of our democratic process.”

Calhoun's defense attorney, Edward McMahon, hinted that it wouldn't be the last time someone appeared in court in relation to the scheme.

"What your going to see in this courthouse for awhile—probably for the summer—is people that trusted Jeffrey Thompson, did things, made campaign contributions on his behalf, all being brought through this system and many of them being dealt with the same way Mr. Calhoun was today," he said.

On Thursday afternoon, that came true: prosecutors filed a criminal information against Philadelphia-based contractor Stanley Straughter for participating in a straw donation scheme in 2010 similar to that which Calhoun was involved in.

Calhoun has agreed to cooperate, and will be back in court on September 26.

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