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Former Bob Brady aide is headed to federal prison for paying a challenger to drop out of the race

Jones pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI in a case stemming from a $90,000 payment to a political challenger.

Donald "D.A." Jones, leaves the federal courthouse in Philadelphia on Oct. 25, 2017.
Donald "D.A." Jones, leaves the federal courthouse in Philadelphia on Oct. 25, 2017.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

A former political strategist for ex-U.S. Rep. Bob Brady was sentenced to a year in federal prison on Monday for his role in a scheme to pay a 2012 primary challenger $90,000 to drop out of the race.

Donald “D.A.” Jones, 64, told U.S. District Judge Jan E. DuBois that the case destroyed the reputation for integrity that he’d worked his whole life to build.

“I express my remorse, my shame, and my embarrassment to my family, and to anyone who has ever viewed me as an honorable man,” he said.

Jones was also sentenced for his role in an unrelated corruption case in Missouri, where he was illegally paid close to $1 million for political work he did for a charity, then used the money for lobbying lawmakers in Washington. He also admitted to kicking back almost a third to an Arkansas lobbyist and a former Arkansas state representative.

Prosecutors asked DuBois to consider a sentence that was shorter than federal guidelines, citing Jones’ “significant” cooperation with authorities in the Missouri case and Philadelphia. His attorney, Alan J. Tauber, requested that Jones serve no prison time. Jones will likely end up serving about 10 months, Tauber said.

DuBois said he received numerous letters in support of Jones and commended his work organizing voters and advocating for the disenfranchised. But he said the Missouri case complicated Jones’ situation, noting Jones accepted more than 40 checks from the charity that he knew were illegal.

“You can’t do what you did and escape with a slap on the wrist,” he said.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain described Jones as “a prolific schemer who defrauded a charity of nearly $1 million to use in illegal political campaign activity and for kickbacks.”

“To his credit, he eventually took responsibility for his crimes," McSwain added, “but today he was held accountable.”

Jones, of Willingboro, pleaded guilty in December 2017 to charges of lying to federal agents in a case that convicted a former judge, another top Brady aide, and threatened to ensnare the congressman himself.

In May, Brady’s top political strategist, Ken Smukler, was sentenced to a year and a half in federal prison for flouting campaign finance laws by coordinating unlawful contributions and falsifying finance reports for candidates in back-to-back congressional races.

The congressman’s 2012 opponent, former Municipal Court Judge Jimmie Moore, and the judge’s former campaign manager both pleaded guilty in the case. Moore was spared prison time as DuBois sentenced him last week to two years of probation for accepting the payment and falsifying campaign finance records to disguise where it came from.

» READ MORE: Aide to U.S. Rep. Bob Brady pleads guilty in probe of payoff to 2012 campaign rival

Brady, who was once one of the longest-serving congressmen in the state and has been the head of Philadelphia’s Democratic Party for decades, was not charged as part of the Justice Department investigation into the $90,000 payoff. After serving for 20 years in Congress, he did not run for re-election in 2018; his term ended in January.

During Smukler’s trial, several government witnesses implicated Brady, testifying that although Smukler carried out the details of getting the money to Moore, the congressman knew of the transaction.

Jones admitted he had conspired to hide payments from Brady’s campaign and later had lied about it to the FBI, a charge that carries a maximum prison term of five years.

According to the plea agreement, Moore agreed to drop his primary campaign against Brady in 2012 after the congressman pledged to help him retire some of his campaign debt, including more than $80,000 the former judge had lent his own campaign.

Because federal campaign contribution limits at the time capped the amount one candidate could give another campaign at $2,000 for a primary election, Smukler and Jones agreed to funnel the money from Brady’s campaign coffers to Moore’s by routing it through their consulting firms.

Days after pleading guilty in the Brady case, Jones told a federal judge in Missouri about the payments he received when working for a Springfield substance-abuse nonprofit group. His cooperation made Jones a target in a murder-for-hire plot orchestrated last year by Milton Russel Cranford, a prominent Arkansas lobbyist who had received kickbacks and wanted Jones to stop talking to investigators. Cranford was sentenced to seven years in prison last month for bribing three former lawmakers.