Philadelphia official pleads guilty in DC campaign finance probe

PHILADELPHIA - June 24, 2013

Stanley Straughter pleaded guilty in federal court in Washington to a misdemeanor campaign finance violation. Straughter, 71, has done consulting work for businessman Jeffrey Thompson, and he was part of a large network of donors associated with Thompson who contributed to candidates for federal, state and local offices, often giving the maximum amount on the same day.

In addition to running the consulting firm, Straughter chairs Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter's Commission on African and Caribbean Immigrant Affairs.

Another donor affiliated with Thompson pleaded guilty last week to a similar charge and admitted he was reimbursed for $160,000 in campaign contributions.

Thompson is also suspected of funneling $650,000 in illegal funds into District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray's 2010 campaign, according to court documents and attorneys in a related case. U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen has called the effort a "shadow campaign" that tainted Gray's victory over then-incumbent Adrian Fenty, and three campaign aides have pleaded guilty to felonies.

Thompson, whose Washington home and offices were searched last year, has not been charged with a crime, and his attorney has repeatedly declined to comment on the allegations. He sold his stake in the accounting firm, now known as Bazilio Cobb Associates.

Gray has denied wrongdoing.

Records show that Straughter and his wife contributed to numerous Thompson-backed candidates, including Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008. The guilty plea involved contributions in 2010 to the late Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.

The true source of the funds, according to prosecutors, was Thompson's firm, which has received hundreds of millions of dollars in local and federal government contracts. Between 2006 and 2012, Straughter was reimbursed for $58,600 in federal contributions, $49,000 in contributions to city politicians and at least $25,000 in donations to state-level campaigns, court documents show. The contributions were made in the name of Straughter, his wife and his Philadelphia-based company, Oak Lane Consulting Group in East Oak Lane.

Straughter declined to comment after the hearing. His attorney, Steven McCool, declined to discuss his client's relationship with Thompson or why he participated in the scheme.

"He's spent his life helping the underserved here and abroad. He exercised poor judgment, and unfortunately that brought him here today," McCool said. "But it doesn't change the fact that he's a good and he's a decent man, and he's going to continue to cooperate with the government."

Straughter faces a maximum of one year in prison and a $50,000 fine. His sentencing has not been scheduled.

More than 100 people with links to Thompson have made contributions to city, state or federal campaigns. The attorney for Lee Calhoun, the first donor to plead guilty in the scheme, predicted that many people would face similar charges.

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