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Ex-Campaign Aide to D.C. Mayor Gray to Plead Guilty

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WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — A former campaign aide to District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray has agreed to plead guilty to lying to federal agents during an investigation into campaign finance violations, according to court papers filed Monday.

Vernon Hawkins, a volunteer adviser for the mayor’s 2010 campaign, lied to the FBI last year when he said he never asked anyone to leave town to avoid a meeting with federal authorities, prosecutors said in charging him with a single count of making a false statement. In fact, Hawkins in December 2011 persuaded and paid an unidentified catering company owner to go out of town for “an extended period of time” so that the person would be unavailable to meet with prosecutors and FBI agents, court papers allege.

Prosecutors say the money came from Eugenia “Jeanne” Clarke Harris, who pleaded guilty last year to her role in a wider-reaching scandal: funneling $650,000 in unreported funds from a district businessman into the Gray campaign.

The U.S. Attorney’s office charged Hawkins through a document that typically indicates a defendant’s plans to plead guilty. A plea hearing was scheduled for Tuesday morning in U.S. District Court. The felony charge carries a maximum five-year prison sentence, though Hawkins will likely receive a far shorter sentence by virtue of pleading guilty instead of going to trial.

Hawkins’ lawyer, William Lawler, declined to comment Monday.

The charge is an outgrowth of an ongoing federal investigation into Gray’s campaign that is examining illicit and unreported funds pumped into the operation as well as payments by campaign workers to a minor candidate, Sulaimon Brown, intended to encourage him to remain in the race and launch negative attacks against then-incumbent Adrian Fenty.

Gray has denied any wrongdoing, has not been charged with a crime and has resisted calls for his resignation. His spokesman didn’t return a call seeking comment Monday. He defeated Fenty in the Democratic primary and cruised to election in the general election.

The catering company owner, though not identified by name in the court filing, is described as the transportation coordinator for a special get-out-the-vote effort that was funded by a business executive and has been under investigation by the FBI. Businessman Jeffrey Thompson is suspected of funneling illicit funds into the campaign, an effort prosecutors have described as a “shadow campaign,” according to lawyers and court documents. He has not been charged, and his lawyer did not return a phone message seeking comment Monday.

Hawkins was a volunteer adviser on Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign, assisting on field operations and communications, and served on his earlier campaigns for the D.C. Council.

He becomes the fourth mayoral campaign aide to face criminal charges arising from an ongoing investigation into campaign finance violations that prosecutors have said tainted Gray’s 2010 victory.

One ex-aide, Howard Brooks, was sentenced to two years of probation for lying about under-the-table payments made to a minor candidate to encourage him to stay in the race, and another, Thomas Gore, received a 6-month prison sentence for shredding evidence of those payments. Harris, another aide, is awaiting sentencing after her guilty plea last year.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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