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New details are emerging about the so-called "shadow campaign" to help D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray during his 2010 race.
On Tuesday, Vernon Hawkins, a longtime advisor to Gray and a coordinator for the shadow campaign, pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators. The 74-year-old admitted in federal court that he drew up the plans and budget for the illegal get-out-the-vote effort that was allegedly funded by a major city contractor.
And later, when news reports about the $653,000 shadow campaign surfaced and the FBI started an investigation, Hawkins attempted to impede the federal probe by persuading one of the shadow campaign operatives to skip town so the person would avoid FBI questioning. According to the government's evidence, Hawkins twice gave the person $4,000 in cash to help cover their expenses.
Hawkins admitted in court that he lied to the FBI about this—and now faces up to sixteen months in prison.
Hawkins wasn't charged with any crimes directly related to the shadow campaign, but his testimony and the court records released provide an inside look at how the the effort was orchestrated. For example, Hawkins recommended which vendors the shadow campaign should use, including a rental company at Dulles Airport that supplied vans.
"Vernon Hawkins was at ground zero of a scheme to design, staff, and execute an off-the-books shadow campaign," said U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ron Machen on Tuesday.
For Dorothy Brizill, a longtime activist and observer of D.C. politics, the plea hearing brings the investigation "closer to the doorstep of mayor Gray," but she says there are still many unanswered questions.
"The issue for me, is what we don't know definitively. He pleaded guilty to a minor offense, obstruction of justice, and hopefully between now and the time of his sentencing he will cooperate will shed more light on what happened on the shadow campaign. All roads lead to Jeff Thompson and mayor at this point," she says.
Jeff Thompson is the city contractor at the center of the FBI's investigation and the alleged funder of the off-the-books effort. According to recent revelations, Thompson may have illicitly funded other local campaigns dating back to 2006.
While Thompson hasn't been charged by prosecutors, Hawkins in court referred to Thompson by name, explaining to a judge that he tried to convince the shadow campaign operative to leave town because , in his words, "that's what Jeff wanted."