Feds Drop Case Against Former Mayor Vince Gray

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Mayor Vincent Gray in 2014. | Photo by Timothy Riethmiller.

It appears that former District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray’s long political and legal nightmare is over.

The nearly five-year investigation into Gray’s victorious 2010 campaign against incumbent Mayor Adrian is over with no charges filed against Gray.

The office of the U.S. District Attorney, headed by Channing Phillips, who took over after then District Attorney Ronald Machen stepped down this year, issued a statement saying, “Based on a thorough review of the available evidence and applicable law, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has concluded that the admissible evidence is likely insufficient to obtain and sustain a criminal conviction against any other individuals.”  This means that Gray, although his name was not mentioned, will not face prosecution or charges.

The announcement amounted to a bittersweet victory for Gray.  Federal prosecutors, after all, did uncover a slush fund or “shadow campaign,” presumed to be headed by businessman Jeffrey Thompson, an ally of Gray.  Several Gray campaign aides have already been indicted and await sentencing, along with Thompson, who insisted in negotiations with the prosecutor that Gray knew about the “shadow campaign”.

The investigation into the campaign exploded at the start of Gray’s administration, dogging and shadowing him throughout his tenure, right up to and including his campaign for re-election.  Machen all alone suggested that Gray’s victory over Fenty was suspect and went to great lengths to prove it, snaring aides and Thompson—but without in the end being able to charge Gray.

What the investigation did manage to do was perhaps cause Gray to lose his re-election campaign against Muriel Bowser, who went on to become mayor. Three weeks before the Democratic primary—which is still tantamount to a guarantor of victory in the general election– Thompson pleaded guilty. Prosecutors and Thompson said in court and in public that Gray knew about the illegal funds that fueled his 2010 campaign.  At the time, while Bowser had been surging, the primary still appeared to be in the very least too close to call. That changed quickly with the late-campaign contratemps around Thompson.

While most observers would suggest that Gray’s tenure by and large was a successful one, he was in some ways wounded politically.  With the investigation making constant news as revelations about the “shadow campaign” continuing to erupt in the media and in the courts with every indictment, Gray was dogged by the press and the media about the campaign and had difficulty getting out the news about his policies and programs.

There is probably no question that a slush fund existed—but it also appeared then and appears now that prosecutors had no meaningful or solid evidence against the mayor.

There is an irony in that, of course, several.  Most District political observers suggest that even though it appears that illegal funds were being used, they were most likely unnecessary to defeat Fenty who had been behind in the in the polls for weeks leading up to the election. 

Gray obviously recognized the might-have-been aspects of what transpired, in terms of the 2014 election, in terms of how his tenure was affected.

In a statement released through his former campaign manager Chuck Thies, Gray said, “Here in the District and around the country, many people had had their faith in our justice system tested. Justice delayed is justice denied, but I cannot change history. I look forward to getting on with the next chapter of my life, which will no doubt be dedicated to service.”

The population increase and shift in the  city, and a building boom that came with it, as well the burgeoning reputation of the city as a destination spot can probably be traced back to Mayor Anthony Williams, Fenty and most certainly Gray, who can take considerable credit for the rise of the city. But it was also during his time in office that the investigation put a cloud of distrust over the government.  The convictions of three council members on other matters, did nothing to reduce that impression.

Mayor Bowser released a curt statement Dec. 9 in response to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia’s announcement on the 2010 mayoral election investigation:
 
“The U.S. Attorney is responsible for bringing cases and securing justice.  The new U.S. Attorney for the District has concluded that justice has been secured with seven convictions in the 2010 Gray mayoral campaign and a dozen in total. It is not my job to question his actions but to continue to do the job that the residents elected me to do: expand opportunity to more D.C. residents. And that’s what we do — not just today but every day.”

 

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