A member of D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2010 election team pleaded guilty in federal court Aug. 13 to lying to the FBI about an alleged $635,000 “shadow campaign” that is under federal investigation. Vernon E. Hawkins, a former high-ranking city official, also admitted he tried to derail the federal investigation by giving $8,000 to a potential witness so he would leave town and not be available for questioning by FBI agents.
Hawkins, 74, was a volunteer in Gray’s campaign. He pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of making false statements. Hawkins faces up to 16 months in prison under the terms of the plea deal, federal prosecutors said.
Hawkins admitted he helped coordinate an off-the-books “get out the vote” operation that was independent of Gray’s official campaign. Federal prosecutors allege the shadow campaign was paid for by Jeffrey E. Thompson, a former city contractor. In his written plea deal and in court, Hawkins said he worked on the shadow campaign with Jeanne Clarke Harris, a public relations professional who is a Thompson associate.
Hawkins is the fourth person who had pleaded guilty in connection with the investigation into Gray’s campaign.
On July 26, a federal judge sentenced the former assistant treasurer of the campaign, Thomas W. Gore, to six months in prison and six months of home detention for obstruction of justice and other offenses. In 2012, a federal judge sentenced Howard L. Brooks, 65, a member of the campaign’s finance and treasury teams, to 24 months of probation for making a false statement to the FBI. The judge also ordered Brooks to perform 200 hours of community service.
Also in 2012, business owner Eugenia C. Harris, 76, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to violate federal campaign finance law and to obstruct justice, one count of engaging in fraud and making false statements and one count of conspiring to violate District of Columbia campaign law. Harris is awaiting sentencing.
Gray has denied wrongdoing. He has declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
The investigation is continuing, according to Ronald C. Machen Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.
“Today, Vernon Hawkins became the fourth person to plead guilty to a felony for trying to cover up corruption in the 2010 mayoral election,” Machen said in a statement. “Vernon Hawkins was at ground zero of a scheme to design, staff and execute an off-the-books shadow campaign. After the election, he and his fellow campaign aides sought to impede our investigation by lying to the FBI, shredding documents, creating fake paperwork and sending witnesses out of the jurisdiction. This guilty plea takes us one step closer to understanding the extent of the deception that tainted the 2010 campaign.”