Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent C. Gray may or may not survive the corruption scandal that has engulfed his government. But if he falls, Ronald C. Machen Jr. will be known as the U.S. Attorney who brought him down.
A year into a probe of Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign, Machen last month won guilty pleas from two Gray aides that exposed just how underhanded the campaign had been.
More heads are likely to roll: The aides, Thomas W. Gore, a campaign fundraiser;, and Howard Brooks, are cooperating with federal officials. Gore pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to felony obstruction of justice and misdemeanor campaign finance charges on May 22 and within 48 hours Brooks, another key finance official, had also admitted to lying to the FBI, according to a report in The Washington Post.
The charges suggest federal prosecutors may offer leniency against the two in return for evidence against more prominent people.
Machen is also responsible for last week’s resignation and guilty plea from former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown, who had been under investigation for fraud. This, in addition to Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to put him in charge of a probe into national security leaks, continues to nurture his rising profile.
Machen, who took office in February 2010, is likewise examining Gray’s relations with the contractor Jeffrey Thompson, whose house was raided in March and D.C. Council members have been served with grand jury subpoenas seeking records of their dealings with Thompson, according to the newspaper.
Machen is also probing allegations of bid-rigging in awarding a lottery contract while Gray was chairman of the D.C. Council in 2008, according to The Post.
While Gray has denied any wrongdoing he has said little and hired prominent white collar defense lawyer Robert S. Bennett.
All of this has meant publicity for Machen, who is acting on revelations that first appeared in The Post. The paper’s editorial board has awarded him plaudits for his “pull no punches” style and the “seriousness” of his conduct.
Machen’s office opened an investigation after The Post reported last year that minor mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown claimed he had been paid by the Gray campaign to attack incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty during last year’s election battle, in a scheme to increase Gray’s chances of winning the mayor’s office. Brown also said he was promised a job in any Gray administration. He was later made a special assistant in the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance with an annual salary of $110,000.
Gore, the first to admit wrongdoing in the federal probe, pleaded guilty on May 22 to funneling payments to Sulaimon Brown. After reading The Post’s story containing Brown’s allegations, Gore then shredded a ledger containing a record of the payments.
“In 2010, the voters of the District of Columbia were deceived,” Machen said in a statement carried by the DCist blog. “Envelopes stuffed with fraudulent money orders prevented the public from knowing that one mayoral campaign was secretly financing the campaign of an opposing candidate,” Machen said.
The Sulaimon Brown investigation has involved police raids, making false statements to federal investigators, and grand jury subpoenas as well as shredded records and bogus money orders. It has confirmed the cynicism of many long-time District residents, who feared that Gray’s election would return them to Washington’s not so distant past of bad government, as exemplified by former Mayor Marion Barry.
“It does not sound like it is over — and that’s a shame, because we need to clear the air and clear this case off the books, and we need to set our government on the right course,” Anne Renshaw, president of the Federation of Citizens Associations of the District of Columbia, was quoted as telling The New York Times.
Post columnist Robert McCartney wrote last month that it was unlikely that the Brown gambit had had an effect that could have affected the outcome of the 2010 election, which Gray won in a landslide.