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Bob Brady aide casts doubt on claim that $90K payoff to rival was legit

Donald "D.A." Jones, a former strategist for U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, said the 11-term congressman knew campaign finance laws barred him from directly sending a sum that large to his 2012 primary opponent, former Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Jimmie Moore, to convince him to drop out of the race.

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

A former strategist for U.S. Rep. Bob Brady testified Monday that he helped the congressman and his top political guru illegally funnel $90,000 to a campaign opponent six years ago and then helped them cover it up.

Donald "D.A." Jones – a veteran of dozens of Philadelphia Democratic campaigns, including several for the 11-term congressman – said Brady knew campaign finance laws barred him from directly sending a sum that large to his 2012 primary opponent, former Municipal Court Judge Jimmie Moore, to persuade him to drop out of the race.

So, Jones said, they concocted a story to disguise the payoff as a series of legitimate campaign expenses.

"I was asked the question, how can they move money to Jimmie Moore legally?" Jones said, recalling a meeting with the congressman and his strategist, Ken Smukler, after Moore had suspended his campaign. "I told them I had no idea."

Jones' testimony came as federal prosecutors wound down their case in Smukler's ongoing trial for alleged violations of campaign finance law. It also provided the most direct evidence to date suggesting that both Smukler and Brady knew their 2012 transaction with Moore was improper.

And yet, only one of them is charged with a crime.

Several government witnesses have implicated Brady in six days of testimony, saying that although Smukler carried out the details of getting the $90,000 to Moore, the congressman at least had broad knowledge of the transaction.

But while prosecutors indicted Smukler and Jones last year, they allowed the statute of limitations to run out on Brady and have declined to discuss that decision.

Brady, who is set to retire next month after two decades in Congress, has remained silent since Smukler's trial began. It remains uncertain whether Smukler intends to testify as the proceedings enter the defense stage on Tuesday.

Outside court, both men have consistently maintained that they did nothing wrong. They claim that the $90,000 they paid Moore's campaign was not an illegal campaign contribution and instead was meant in large part to buy exclusive access to polling that the former judge had commissioned before dropping out of the 2012 race. They hoped to suppress its findings, which highlighted Brady's weaknesses with African Americans in his district.

But prosecutors have sought to poke holes in that theory, stressing throughout the trial that Brady had already had the poll slipped to him months before Moore suspended his campaign. Moore testified last week that Brady and Smukler never raised the idea of exclusivity when they were negotiating the $90,000 payment.

And in several hours of testimony that began Wednesday, Jones, 63, of Willingboro, backed up that story, saying he never heard any mention of exclusivity either. Jones told jurors he couldn't fathom why Brady would have felt threatened by Moore, no matter what the poll said.

"He had no political juice within the district," Jones said of the former judge. "He couldn't raise money. I thought he was a clown."

While much of what Jones said during his two days on the witness stand seemed to cast doubt on Brady, the implications for Smukler remain uncertain.

In cross-examination Monday, Smukler's lawyer, Brian McMonagle, repeatedly pointed to instances in Jones' account that he claimed showed his client intended to do things the right way.

For instance, when the Brady campaign wrote Jones a check to pass on to Moore's campaign manager – a transaction that prosecutors say was meant to cover unpaid work she had done for Moore's campaign – Smukler advised Jones to give the woman a consulting job and find her a way to legitimately earn the money, McMonagle said. It was Jones who refused and sent the check to her anyway.

"She didn't do any work for it," Jones said. "I didn't have anything for her to do, and I was not going out of my way to find something."

McMonagle also sought Monday to deflate the impact of Jones' guilty plea last year, a decision that made the campaign strategist the only member of the Brady camp to admit he committed a crime tied to the 2012 race.

Under the terms of his deal with prosecutors, Jones pleaded to one count of lying to the FBI about employing Moore's campaign manager. In exchange, the government agreed to dismiss all other charges – including the same campaign finance violation counts for which Smukler is on trial.

(Jones also has admitted his guilt in an unrelated case in which he confessed to illegally lobbying members of Congress on behalf of a Missouri-based nonprofit.)

But McMonagle stressed Monday that, Jones has never entered a legal admission of guilt to any count that would confirm that he, Brady, and Smukler conspired to violate campaign finance laws.

As if anticipating that attack, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Gibson began his questioning of Jones with a simple question: "Did you commit crimes with Ken Smukler?"

"Yes," Jones replied. "I did."