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‘The offer of all offers’: Ex-Brady challenger describes $90K payoff that bought him out of the race

A onetime challenger to U.S. Rep. Bob Brady said that Philadelphia's veteran congressman promised him "the offer of all offers" – including a $90,000 payoff, a government job, and a pledge to step down from the seat he had held for more than a decade — to convince him to drop out of the 2012 Democratic primary.

U.S. Rep Bob Brady (left); former Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Jimmie Moore (right)
U.S. Rep Bob Brady (left); former Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Jimmie Moore (right)Read moreFile Photos

A onetime challenger to U.S. Rep. Bob Brady said Philadelphia's veteran congressman promised him "the offer of all offers" – including a $90,000 payoff, a government job, and a pledge to step down from the seat he had held for more than a decade — to persuade him to drop out of the 2012 Democratic primary.

But in the end, said Jimmie Moore, Brady's rival six years ago, the congressman delivered only the money — and only under duress.

"I did not trust Mr. Brady," Moore said in testimony over two days this week in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia. "He didn't do any of that."

Moore's acceptance of that alleged deal led to the starring role he now plays as a convicted government cooperator in the ongoing trial of Ken Smukler, a longtime Brady aide accused of violating federal campaign finance laws to deliver the congressman's promised payout.

And much of what he described over four hours on the witness stand Monday and Tuesday, although eye-opening, was not illegal — including Brady's purported pledge to retire in 2014, anoint Moore as his successor, and help him pay down campaign debts.

Yet Moore's account offered a rare glimpse of Brady as backroom bargainer, deploying tactics that have earned him a reputation as one of his party's preeminent deal-makers during three decades at the helm of the city's Democratic machine.

It also may have implicated the congressman in a crime.

"We knew sending that amount of money from his campaign and putting it into mine was not something we could do," Moore testified.

Federal campaign laws set a $2,000 limit on what one candidate can give another's campaign in a primary election. So, Moore said, they came up with a way to hide both the source and reasons for the $90,000 payment Brady eventually made.

Asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric L. Gibson whether he had done anything illegal, Moore responded: "I did."

Brady and his lawyer declined to comment Tuesday on Moore's testimony. The congressman – who is set to retire from Congress at the end of his 10th term next month — has consistently maintained he did nothing wrong since the FBI investigation into the transaction burst into public view last year.

Prosecutors were at one point pursuing a case against him and have accused him in court papers of complicity in Moore's misdeeds.

They ultimately allowed the statute of limitations on potential charges against him to run out last year and have declined to comment on their investigation of him since.

Even as Moore left the witness stand Tuesday, it remained unclear just why Brady would have offered so much to buy his opponent out of the 2012 race – especially one who appeared as weak a challenger as Moore.

Moore, a former Municipal Court judge, described his campaign in court this week as a threadbare operation that was bleeding money by the time he agreed to drop out.

"When I entered the race, I knew it was an uphill battle," he said. "I was going up against an incumbent who had been there for, what, 15 years? He was the chairman of the Democratic Party in the sixth largest city in America."

At the end of 2011, Moore had less than $4,000 on hand after pouring tens of thousands of dollars of his own money into the race, federal campaign-finance records show. At the same time, Brady reported $758,000.

It was under that financial pressure, Moore told jurors, that he accepted an invitation from former Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr. — whom he described as a father figure and political mentor – to meet with Brady to discuss Moore's possible exit from the race.

And it was at that summit – held in Goode's office at the First Baptist Church of Paschall in Southwest Philadelphia — that Brady made his alleged offer.

"Congressman Brady said he was going to step down within two years, and that he'd be my finance chair to help me raise money" to succeed him, Moore said. "He said he'd get me the [party] endorsement and he'd get me a job in the interim."

Moore told jurors that he was the one who first proposed a cash payout, as he was desperate at the time to pay off his campaign debts. Brady eventually agreed, he said, and within days Moore had suspended his campaign.

But when months later none of the congressman's promises had come to fruition, Moore said, he turned to Goode for help.

"Dr. Goode was the glue in this situation," he said. "I did not trust Mr. Brady. … I leaned on Dr. Goode to make sure that everything that was represented to me was going to happen – particularly the money."

Days later, Moore said, he was summoned to meet with Brady aide Smukler at a hotel on City Avenue. There, he testified, Smukler instructed him to come up with "dummy invoices" for the sale of a poll Moore had commissioned during his campaign and promised to hire one of Moore's campaign staffers to a no-show job.

Brady has described the $90,000 at issue as payment in a legitimate purchase — meant to buy exclusive rights to Moore's polling data, which exposed some of the congressman's political weaknesses.

But Moore testified Monday that he always understood the deal to be part of their cover-up. Brady said nothing about exclusivity in their discussion, he said. And even if he had, Moore maintained that he would not have agreed to it.

"That poll was my bible," he said. "That's like one of the [Eagles'] coaches telling the Patriots about the Philly [Special]. You absolutely wouldn't do that."

As for Smukler, he has maintained throughout the four days of his trial that he played no part in negotiating whatever deal his boss struck with Moore six years ago and that he doesn't view his own role in funneling money to Moore through his political consulting firm as unlawful.

Smukler's lawyer, Brian McMonagle, sought Tuesday to cast the former judge as an opportunist who now was agreeing to say whatever federal prosecutors wanted as part of a plea deal he cemented last year while admitting he was guilty of campaign violations.

McMonagle played audio of Moore, secretly recorded by the former judge's onetime fiancée and campaign chairwoman, Carolyn Cavaness, in which he repeatedly stated he didn't believe that his deal with Brady was a crime.

"I didn't do anything illegal. I didn't steal any money," Moore said on the tapes. In hopes of calming a distraught Cavaness, who had been approached by the FBI that afternoon, he added later: "Don't sweat the funk."

But on the witness stand Tuesday, Moore sought to clarify, explaining that he was only trying to calm Cavaness down. As for himself, he said: "I knew I was skirting the law. I thought it was going to be some sort of civil penalty. But I knew what I was doing was wrong."

Testimony is expected to resume Wednesday morning.