Christensen to donate tainted campaign contribution to charity


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ST. THOMAS - V.I. Delegate Donna Christensen said Tuesday that she will give thousands of dollars in tainted campaign contributions to charity.

Her name recently was linked to Washington businessman Jeffrey Thompson, who is under federal investigation in connection with illegal campaign contributions.

Two of Thompson's associates pleaded guilty in the last week to making contributions to elected officials for which they were later reimbursed by Thompson or his accounting firm, which has received hundreds of millions of dollars in local and federal government contracts, according to news reports.

Thompson's home and offices were searched last year, but he has not been charged with a crime. He is currently the subject of a grand jury investigation involving District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray's 2010 campaign, according to court documents and attorneys in a related case.

Christensen received at least $37,000 from Thompson-affiliated donors during the last election cycle, according to an Associated Press review of campaign finance records. That represents about 28 percent of the money she received from individual donors that cycle.

On Tuesday, Christensen released a statement saying that she could not have known contributions received through a Thompson fundraising event were illegal.

"For the length of my 16-year tenure in Congress, Thompson organized only two fundraisers on my behalf, the most recent of which was in February of 2011," Christensen said.

The event took place at a Washington, D.C., restaurant and most, if not all, of those contributing were in attendance, she said.

"I did not have any reason to believe that there was anything wrong with the checks that the campaign received, and they were all reported to the Federal Elections Commission as required by law," she said.

Christensen said that in the past, whenever the campaign received checks that were not allowed under the law, they were refused or returned.

Christensen said the first amount, $2,300, would be given to an as yet unnamed charity organization.

Federal election records show that Lee Calhoun, a Thompson associate, gave Christensen $2,300 in 2011.

Calhoun pleaded guilty last week to making that contribution - and a contribution for the same amount in his wife's name - on behalf of Thompson.

In court, Calhoun said he was reimbursed $160,000 for contributions he made to political candidates.

In addition to Calhoun, Philadelphia businessman Stanley Straughter has pleaded guilty to making an illegal contribution and admitted in court that he was reimbursed for at least $132,000 in contributions. Straughter and his wife also gave to Christensen, records show.

Christensen said most of the donors who gave her money at the Thompson-organized fundraising event in 2011 were people she had known for many years.

"I have known many of the donors personally dating back to the 80s and have spoken at issue-oriented events that they were involved in, particularly on Caribbean and African issues," she said. "For many years, I was the only person in Congress from the English-speaking Caribbean and in addition to my work for the Virgin Islands, I would also assist them in matters before the Congress."

Christensen said her campaign has never had an "excessive amount of funding," and most of what is raised is spent in the Virgin Islands for vendors, National Democratic Party dues, two paid part-time staff and for donations to community organizations for advertising or direct contributions.

"We will begin to donate all of the funds in question to designated charities, beginning with a donation of $2,300 to an organization which we will announce shortly," the delegate said.

Until last year, Thompson was a majority partner in the Washington-based accounting firm, Thompson, Cobb and Bazilio. A year ago, he sold his share in the company and it changed its name to Bazilio Cobb Associates.

Thompson, Cobb and Bazilio was the fiduciary of the V.I. Education Department, a $6.3 million contract that was awarded through a competitive bidding process and had approval by the U.S. Department of Education, according to Christensen.

Christensen did not return calls for comment. In her written statement, she said because of the ongoing investigation, she would refrain from further comment.

- The Associated Press contributed to this article. Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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