Lee Calhoun pleads guilty in straw donor scheme

A 65-year-old businessman pleaded guilty Thursday in connection with a wide-reaching straw donor scheme in which the accused hid the true source of contributions to candidates running for D.C. mayor, D.C. council and other races.

Lee Calhoun, 65, of Silver Spring, pleaded guilty to hiding the true source of a campaign contribution, a misdemeanor. He has agreed to cooperate in a continuing investigation.

"I would write checks for myself or relatives" Calhoun told Judge Colleen Kollar Kotelly Thursday, "and get the money back as advance on bonus on my pay stub."

He is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 26.

Authorities say Calhoun used his name and relatives’ names to hide the source of more than $200,000 in campaign contributions and did it for an unnamed executive. He contributed to races ranging from the U.S. president to local council races.

Calhoun is a former employee of Jeffrey Thompson, the D.C. city contractor suspected of financing a $600,000 shadow campaign for Mayor Vincent Gray's election in 2010.

On Thursday, another associate of Thompson, Stanley Straughter, also pleaded guilty in federal court. On his public Linkedin page, Straughter is listed as the director of international business development for Thompson’s firm, formerly known as Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio and Associates or TCBA.

The FBI in March 2012 raided Thompson's offices. He has helped finance campaigns for several D.C. politicians.

Calhoun’s lawyer, Edward MacMahon, told the Associated Press that Calhoun works for TCBA. The firm, which authorities raided as part of the investigation, changed its name after Thompson left and sold his ownership stake.

“Today’s guilty plea reveals how a D.C. accounting firm was converted into an assembly line for illegal campaign contributions,” said U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen in a statement. “For a decade, the firm and its CEO made illegal campaign contributions through straw donors to an array of federal and D.C. politicians. The firm used a special accounting system to keep track of the thousands and thousands of dollars it was plowing into political campaigns.”

According to Calhoun's lawyer, he's just the tip of the iceberg. There will be many more guilty pleas this summer.

"People who trusted Jeffrey Thompson did things, made contributions on his behalf, all being brought through this system,” McMahon says. “Many of them dealt with the same way Mr. Calhoun was today."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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