Former Campaign Aide Pleads Guilty to Making a False Statement Regarding His Efforts to Thwart Federal Investigation into Allegations Involving 2010 Mayoral Campaign
Admits Giving $8,000 to Potential Witness to Leave Town
|U.S. Attorney’s Office August 13, 2013|
WASHINGTON—Vernon Hawkins, who worked on an off-the-books get-out-the-vote effort preceding the 2010 District of Columbia mayoral primary, pled guilty today to making a false statement to federal authorities investigating allegations involving his candidate’s campaign.
Hawkins, who was a volunteer advisor for the candidate, pled guilty to the felony charge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Among other things, he admitted that he helped provide a potential witness with approximately $8,000 to convince him to get out of town so that he would not be available to meet with federal agents investigating the campaign.
The guilty plea was announced by U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr.; Valerie Parlave, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office’s Criminal Division; and Thomas J. Kelly, Special Agent in Charge of the Washington Field Office of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI).
Hawkins, 74, of Washington, D.C., entered the plea before the Honorable Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. No sentencing date was set. The charge carries a statutory maximum of five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and other penalties. The federal sentencing guidelines for the offense will be determined later by the court.
Hawkins is among four people, all associated with the same mayoral campaign, to plead guilty to charges in a continuing investigation of campaign activities during the election.
Thomas W. Gore, 58, the former assistant treasurer of the campaign, was sentenced on July 26, 2013, to six months in prison and six months of home detention for obstruction of justice and other charges; Gore also must perform 200 hours of community service. Howard L. Brooks, 65, a member of the campaign’s finance and treasury teams, was sentenced last year to 24 months of probation and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service for making a false statement to the FBI. Business owner Eugenia C. Harris, 76, pled guilty in July 2012 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.
“Today. Vernon Hawkins became the fourth person to plead guilty to a felony for trying to cover up corruption in the 2010 mayoral election,” said U.S. Attorney Machen. “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.”
“Today, Mr. Hawkins admitted he knowingly lied to federal investigators in an attempt to influence the investigation into the 2010 District of Columbia mayoral election,” said Assistant Director in Charge Parlave. “Despite his attempt, the investigation continues and will not end until all those involved in illegal campaign activities are brought to justice.”
According to a statement of offense signed by the government as well as the defendant, beginning in the spring of 2010 and continuing through the November election, Hawkins was a volunteer advisor for the campaign of a person described in charging documents as “Candidate A.” Hawkins provided advice to the candidate and other members of the campaign on matters such as field operations, staffing and communications. He also had contact with others outside the official campaign, including a person identified in the court documents as “Executive A,” who was the majority owner of a business, and Harris.
During the campaign, Executive A, with assistance from Hawkins, Harris, and others, funded an unreported, off-the-books effort to support Candidate A by providing services and materials for get-out-the-vote activities. Harris arranged for, and paid expenses associated with, these services through her companies, Belle International Inc., and Details International Inc.
In approximately June 2010, Hawkins and Harris met to discuss this get-out-the-vote effort. During this meeting, they also discussed Executive A’s interest in supporting the campaign of Candidate A. Hawkins then drew up a plan and budget.
Sometime after this meeting, Harris and Hawkins met with Executive A about the get-out-the-vote plans. Later, there was a three-way telephone call among Hawkins, Harris, and Executive A to discuss the budget for an off-the books effort funded by Executive A to get out the vote. This budget included money for coordinators, canvassers, and drivers and for the rental of vans, among other expenditures. Harris later hired a consultant to coordinate this off-the books effort. In addition, another person became the transportation coordinator for the efforts funded by Executive A.
As the primary election approached, Hawkins’ role in the campaign’s get-out-the-vote effort diminished, and his role increased in the efforts being funded by Executive A.
The Federal Investigation
In 2011, a federal investigation began into financing and other activities involving the campaign of Candidate A in the mayoral election. Later that year, Hawkins became aware that individuals associated with the campaign of Candidate A, as well as people associated with the efforts funded by Executive A, were being contacted by federal investigators. The statement of offense details a series of actions that Hawkins admits took place in ensuing months.
In late November or early December 2011, the transportation coordinator told Hawkins that he had received a business card from a government investigator at his door. About one week later, Hawkins relayed this information to Harris. Hawkins and Harris met a few days after that and discussed the fact that people whom Harris had paid to provide services during the campaign were now meeting with representatives of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Hawkins and Harris discussed the need for these individuals—specifically the transportation coordinator—to be out of town for about two to four weeks to delay meetings with law enforcement.
Hawkins understood from this conversation that Harris had talked with Executive A about the need for such people, including the transportation coordinator, to be out of town for a period of time. He also understood that the consultant hired to coordinate the get-out-the-vote effort funded by Executive A already was away.
In or about December 2011, Hawkins and Harris attempted to persuade the transportation coordinator to leave town for an extended period of time so that he, too, would be unavailable to speak with federal agents. The transportation coordinator later raised concerns with Hawkins that he would miss business opportunities if he left town and that he needed that income.
Hawkins informed Harris about his conversation about income with the transportation coordinator. A few days later, she gave Hawkins an envelope, which he understood contained $4,000 in cash, to give to the transportation coordinator. Hawkins later provided the money to the transportation coordinator in a supermarket parking lot in Southeast Washington.
In or about January 2012, Hawkins again ran into the transportation coordinator, who wanted additional money to go back out of town. Hawkins later provided another envelope, also from Harris, containing what he understood to be $4,000 in cash, in the supermarket parking lot.
Finally, in August 2012, Hawkins, accompanied by his lawyer, participated in a voluntary interview with two FBI agents and representatives of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. During this interview, he stated that he did not know of anyone being asked or told to go out of town, that he never asked anyone to leave town so that they could not meet with investigators and that he did not help or assist with sending anyone out of town so they would not be able to speak with federal agents in this investigation. Hawkins made these false statements in an attempt to influence the federal investigation into the efforts funded by Executive A in the mayoral campaign.
The other guilty pleas also involved efforts to impede the investigation. Brooks admitted making a false statement to investigators, and Gore admitted to making false statements and shredding documents. In her guilty plea, Harris admitted that she caused others to shred and destroy a large volume of paper records maintained by her businesses. She also admitted causing others to destroy stored electronic records from her businesses because they could have revealed what took place in the mayoral election. Finally, Harris also admitted that she made arrangements in early 2012 to travel to Brazil for three months in order to evade federal investigators. Efforts were made toward renting a house in Brazil before the trip was cancelled.
In announcing the plea, U.S. Attorney Machen, Assistant Director in Charge Parlave, and Special Agent in Charge Kelly commended the work of those who investigated the case for the FBI and IRS-CI. They also expressed appreciation for the work done by those who handled the case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lionel André, Loyaan Egal, Jonathan Haray, Jonathan Hooks, and Ephraim “Fry” Wernick; former Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Chris Dobbie; Criminal Investigators Matthew Kutz, Mark Crawford, and Melissa Matthews; Legal Assistants Krishawn Graham and Nicole Wattelet; Paralegal Specialists Tasha Harris, Shanna Hays, and Corinne Kleinman; and Law Intern Lindsey Frye.
Finally, they acknowledged the work of Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellen Chubin Epstein, who is investigating and prosecuting this matter.