Finally — let me repeat that word — finally, Jeffrey E. Thompson was in a federal courtroom Aug. 15 to receive his sentence. Three months in jail. What a joke. He got off very easy. But more about that later.
The U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly should be embarrassed by her unbelievably lenient sentence. More about that later as well.
First, since no cameras are allowed in federal court, allow me to paint the scene. Thompson, the confessed felon, arrived at the federal courthouse about 12:30 p.m. for the 1 p.m. hearing. He was dressed in a conservative navy blue suit, white shirt, straight collar and yellow gold tie. One of the uniformed guards greeted him kindly and wished him “good luck.”
Thompson went up the elevator with his three lawyers in tow to the sixth floor where he was to await his fate. The courtroom was 28-A. Posted outside the door for all to see was the official notice, “U.S. Government vs. Jeffrey E. Thompson.”
Seated on a bench outside the courtroom were a group of his friends and supporters and, I assume, family members. He greeted each of them warmly. One would have thought he was at a political function. He then sat at a long table inside the courtroom. He took out a yellow legal pad and started writing.
When the two government lawyers walked in he gave them a deferential nod. At 1:08 p.m., the clerk announced, “All rise,” and Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly walked in. She stared straight ahead and did not even glance at the defendant.
The judge first explained the intricacies of the plea agreement. The agreement provided for no more than a maximum of six months in prison. But I am told that the judge could have thrown out the agreement at any time and sentence Thompson to more time if she so desired.
What next followed was the government prosecutor’s time to present the criminal case against Thompson. Michael K. Atkinson, dressed in an undertaker blue-black suit, proceeded to give an oration which I can only describe as surreal, perverse and — above all — absurd.
Now, remember, this is supposedly the prosecutor. He began by describing the confessed felon as an “American success story” and, for local flavor, a “D.C. success story.” He pointed out that Thompson’s company at one time was one of the two largest companies owned by an African American in the entire country (DC Charter).
Atkinson chronicled its corporate history. Purchased for $4 million, it grew to be worth more than $300 million. Even more superlatives followed. Thompson was the District’s largest contractor. And then frosting on the cake: Thompson had a “long and sustained career.”
After that glowing testimonial, the government prosecutor meticulously detailed the corrupt and criminal acts of Thompson. These criminal misdeeds included the 2006 D.C. mayoral campaign and the 2010 D.C. mayoral campaign and the 2008 presidential campaign. Then, Atkinson, the federal government prosecutor, again decided to praise the confessed felon.
He talked about how Thompson had shown “extraordinary effort” and “acceptance of responsibility.” There were 17 debriefings, some lasting “the entire day.” One phrase kept repeating itself. Thompson “held up his side of the bargain.” Atkinson even congratulated Thompson for snitching on two others, whose names were given in open court.
The closing salvo was truly beyond belief. Atkinson showed a blown-up picture of Thompson earlier pleading guilty, walking out of the courthouse building with hands held up, and declared that this was a picture of him “publicly surrendering.” He lamented that Thompson “lost his business, his fortune, his reputation, his social standing” and that he was a “ghost of a man.” Since he “paid a steep price,” Atkinson continued, Thompson doesn’t need to be incarcerated. He had suffered such “profound public humiliation” that incarceration was “not necessary or helpful.”
To sum it up, federal prosecutor Atkinson said that Thompson’s downfall would be a deterrent to others. Because of all of this, the government was asking for six months’ home detention. Not one minute of jail time. I really expected Atkinson to close by saying, “The defense rests.”
It was now time for the actual defense team to make its case. Alex G. Romain of Williams & Connolly, the famed Brendan Sullivan’s law firm, was the presenter. (It is widely remarked that Sullivan himself never appears in court with a guilty client — bad optics. Sullivan lets others in the firm appear instead.)
Romain told the story of his client’s “fall from grace,” that he was the “youngest of 11 children,” that his mentor was civil rights and women’s rights icon Dorothy Height and that he was the “financial backbone of his extended family.” Because of all of this, Thompson should receive just 24 months of probation and 1,200 hours of community service.
Then, Thompson himself addressed the court. First, his hands were in his pocket. He must have thought that did not look good, so he placed them on the lectern. He apologized to everybody under the sun. He asked for “God’s mercy” and for the “mercy of the court.”
The judge announced a short break of 15 minutes. After the break, the judge reappeared. She took a brief glance at Thompson. She then gave a bio of the defendant, saying he “owns a home in D.C.” and has assets of $3 million and liabilities of $4 million.” She added that he has a “monthly income,” that he is a “naturalized U.S. citizen and that his 98-year-old mother “resides in Jamaica.”
Then, Kollar-Kotelly meticulously detailed the extent of the criminal enterprise. There were 75 conduits set up to disguise the contributions. These illegal contributions were given to 15 D.C. candidates. There were 32 conduits set up to illegally give contributions to 13 federal candidates. This tally included $653,000 to set up a “shadow campaign” for a D.C. mayoral candidate (Vincent C. Gray) and $608,750 given to set up a shadow campaign in 2008 for a presidential campaign (Hillary Clinton). Both Clinton and Gray deny knowledge of or participation in either undertaking.
She then described how Thompson had shredded documents and “schemed with Ms. Harris [Jeanne]” to compose “false tax returns” and “made arrangements for Ms. Harris to travel to Brazil.” She said that all of Thompson’s acts were “a very serious offense.” And then came the faint conclusion that six months’ home detention was “not sufficient.” She would give him three months of incarceration.
After pronouncing sentence, she almost fondly looked to him and said, “Sir, good luck to you.” Thompson mouthed an appreciative thank-you.
The judge had carefully listed and detailed the manipulation, the obstruction of justice and the massive corrupting of our entire political system. And the price is three months in prison? Oh, I forgot the 36 months of supervised probation.
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly allowed him to surrender himself at a later date. It was all done with almost deference and respect. It was, in a word, sickening. What a miscarriage of justice.
This same judge had sentenced others — Thomas Gore and Vernon Hawkins — who were mere bit players in this drama to six months in jail.
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly gave Thompson not even a slap on the wrist. Shame on her and the federal government prosecution team. Their action in no way whatsoever will be a deterrent for future Jeffrey Thompsons.
It was a very sad day for justice in the nation’s capital.