With allegations of cronyism, nepotism and corruption shrouding Mayor Vincent Gray a mere three months into his term, public sentiment toward the new administration is turning sour.
But Gray and his staff may have to face more than voters’ displeasure if former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown’s pay-to-play allegations are proven true. With several government agencies investigating the matter, the mayor and his cohorts also face potential legal consequences.
“Our position is the truth, which is, Mayor Gray didn’t know of any pay-offs,” said Robert Bennett, Gray’s newly-hired lawyer, best known for his legal representation of President Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. “The mayor did absolutely nothing wrong.”
Brown, who joined former Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) and Gray in the 2010 race, alleges Gray’s staff promised him a job in exchange for remaining in the race and waging brutal attacks against Fenty. He claims he was also paid, receiving money for his campaign.
Brown—who also faces legal ramifications if his claims are true—was fired from his $110,000 government job at the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance after details of a criminal record surfaced. Now four agencies are assessing the claims: the FBI, D.C.’s Office of Campaign Finance, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of D.C. and the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Wesley Williams, spokesman for the Office of Campaign Finance (OCF), said the alleged campaign wrongdoing is under review. “The Office of the General Counsel and the Audit Division are reviewing the allegations against both the Gray for Mayor Committee and the Sulaimon Brown for Mayor Committee,” he said.
Williams said there are six potential violations Gray and Brown could face including, “filing a false report of receipts and expenditures with the Office of Campaign Finance.”
Many of the violations have associated charges including: accepting a contribution made by one person in the name of another, $2,000 per infraction; making a contribution in the name of another person, $2,000 per infraction and accepting legal tender of $25 or more, $500 per infraction.
Brown told the media Gray’s staff gave him thousands of dollars in envelopes and false names were made to report expenditures.
A “purchase, payment, distribution, loan advance, deposit, gift of money” are all inclusive of an expenditure, according the Office of Campaign Finance website. Expenditures “must be disclosed and identified” as well.
Interview requests have been made on behalf of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, according to the committee’s spokesman Frederick Hill. Recipients include Howard Brooks, Gray’s campaign consultant; Geri Mason Hall, the mayor’s former chief of staff that resigned last week and Lorraine Green, Gray’s campaign chairman.
“The cooperation of key witnesses will expedite the committee’s efforts,” Hill said.
The committee can investigate Gray under “House Rule X,” which states that the group can oversee municipal affairs of the District of Columbia, clashing with D.C.’s fight for autonomy. “Just as many state governments have some jurisdiction over matters involving cities in their respective states, the federal government plays a similar role for the District of Columbia since it is not a part of any state,” Hill said. He added that the D.C. Inspector General and D.C. Attorney General’s refusal to investigate the matter due to conflict of interest concerns prompted response from the committee.
During the investigation, Hill said the committee will specifically determine if public funds or the promise of public positions were used to reward behavior that was illegal or unethical. “The committee intends to publicly present its findings,” he said.
FBI Special Agent Katherine Schweit said the agency can “neither confirm deny the existence of an investigation.” However, according to reports, Brown said he has met with the FBI. And on March 9 the U.S. Attorney’s Office of D.C. issued a statement saying, “The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI are aware of allegations, including information appearing in the media, involving the 2010 mayoral race in the District of Columbia.”
Peter Nickles, the former general counsel for Mayor Fenty and attorney general for D.C., said if Brown’s statements are true, the city will be severely affected. “If the allegations are true, the mayor would be forced to resign,” he said. “The credibility of the city’s leadership is at stake.”