PHILADELPHIA (CN) – Two political operatives pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges connecting them to a judge who took money to drop out of the 2012 election.
Donald Jones, 62, of Willingboro, New Jersey, and Kenneth Smukler, 57, of Villanova, Pennsylvania, were arraigned in Philadelphia on charges of conspiracy, causing unlawful campaign contributions and causing the filing of false reports to the Federal Election Commission. Jones faces an additional count of making false statements to the FBI.
Their Oct. 24 indictment came three weeks after former Municipal Court Judge Jimmie Moore pleaded guilty to a charge of lying to the FEC about the same matter.
A 66-year-old Democrat, Moore was elected to the court in 1999 but also launched unsuccessful campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 and 2016.
As part of his guilty plea, the former judge admitted that he had an outstanding debt in his first campaign, and dropped out of the primary race as per the terms of a $90,000 payment he accepted from his opponent to cover those losses.
Moore used the money to pay vendors and reimburse himself for loans he had made to his own campaign, but he falsified his record of that payment with the FEC.
Though the court documents do not identify Moore’s rival, the judge’s opponent in the 2012 race was was the incumbent congressman of Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady.
First elected in 1998, Brady is a powerful power broker in the city, having been chairman of the Philadelphia Democratic Party since 1986, and is the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House Committee on House Administration. He has not been charged with any crimes.
While Moore instructed his campaign manager at the time to create a company for the sole purpose of accepting and using the illegal campaign contribution, Smukler and Jones ran the political-consulting companies that routed those payments.
Prosecutors say Smukler and Jones willfully caused Moore’s campaign committee to omit the funds in reports filed with the FEC, leaving out mention of their political-consulting companies, Voter Link Data Systems and D. Jones & Associates.
As for the false statements charge against Jones, prosecutors say he told the FBI that Moore’s campaign manager, Carolyn Cavaness, had performed work in exchange for the opponent’s campaign funds that were routed through D. Jones & Associates.
Cavaness, a pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, pleaded guilty for her role in the scheme back in June. She performed no such work for D. Jones & Associates.
Reacting to the indictment, defense attorney Robert Trimble called his client Jones “a well-respected businessman and member of the political community in Philadelphia, and across the country.”
“He has always maintained his innocence from the very first contact from the government, and will continue to maintain his innocence,” Trimble said in a phone interview. “He didn’t do anything illegal.”
Representatives for Jones have not returned requests for comment left with his consultancy.
Rep. Brady has maintained his innocence throughout the investigations, categorically denying any illegal deals made with the Moore campaign.
His attorney, Jim Eisenhower of Dilworth Paxson, said that the Brady campaign simply purchased a poll from Moore, which is a common practice in politics.
The FBI conducted the investigation, with Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Gibson of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and Trial Attorney Jonathan Kravis of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section prosecuting the case.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Acting U.S. Attorney Louis D. Lappen for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania announced the indictment on Tuesday.
On the same day the charges against Smukler and Jones were unveiled, a federal judge handed a five-year prison sentence to former Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams for corruption.