WASHINGTON — A former campaign aide to District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray pleaded guilty Tuesday to lying to federal agents investigating campaign finance violations during the mayor’s 2010 campaign.
Vernon Hawkins, a volunteer adviser on Gray campaign, pleaded guilty in federal court to a single count of making a false statement.
In court, Hawkins acknowledged that he gave a person involved in a “get out the vote effort” money to go out of town for several weeks so that the person would not be available to meet with investigators. Hawkins later lied during a conversation with the FBI, saying he never asked anyone to leave town and did not help send anyone out of town so the person would not be available.
“It happened so fast. I wasn’t thinking,” Hawkins said in court of his lies to the FBI, though when pressed by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, he acknowledged that he knew the statements he made were wrong.
The person Hawkins gave money to was not identified by name in court papers but was said to own a catering business in the city.
Hawkins, 74, said in court that he was only the messenger delivering the funds to the person and not the one who came up with the idea to have the person go out of town. He said that idea originated with two other people who had wanted to see Gray elected.
One of those two was Eugenia “Jeanne” Clarke Harris, a public relations executive who last year pleaded guilty to making off-the-books payments for campaign materials, consultants, supplies and other expenses to support Gray.
Hawkins said the other person was a businessman unidentified in court papers, but Hawkins slipped in court and at one point called the man “Jeff.” Businessman Jeffrey Thompson is suspected of funneling illicit funds into the campaign which Harris then used. Prosecutors have described the effort as a “shadow campaign,” but Thompson has not been charged.
Hawkins acknowledged that he served as an intermediary between the two and the catering company owner, who had been transportation coordinator for a get out the vote effort funded by the businessman in support of Gray. Hawkins said that on two different occasions he handed over envelopes with money to compensate the man for leaving town. To make the exchanges, approximately $4,000 each time, the two met in the parking lot of a supermarket in southeast Washington, he acknowledged.
Hawkins is 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.
In addition to Harris, 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.
Hawkins faces up to 5 years in prison, but sentencing guidelines recommend between zero and 16 months. Lawyers did not set a sentencing date Tuesday, but both sides will return to court Nov. 12.
Hawkins said in a statement released by his lawyer, William Lawler, after his court appearance that he is sorry for his “mistake in not being fully transparent.”
“This was a serious lapse, but it is an isolated one,” he added, saying he has dedicated his life to public service.
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