Millionaire businessman Jeffrey Thompson, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to contributing more than $650,000 to an illegal “shadow campaign” in support of Mayor Vincent Gray’s 2010 election campaign, quietly gave money to a project to produce a musical play and movie based on one of the gay-themed novels of internationally acclaimed black gay author E. Lynn Harris, according to an investigative report by the Washington Post.
In an April 15 story based on newly released court records related to the investigation into Thompson’s campaign contributions and interviews with people who know Thompson, the Post reports that Thompson invested in an effort by his former friend and associate Proteus Spann to turn Harris’ best-selling novel “Invisible Life” into a Broadway musical and feature film.
The Post story also reports that court documents the Post obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit and interviews with sources reveal that federal prosecutors learned that Thompson regularly gave money and gifts to young men with whom he had sexual relationships.
Among other things, the Post story says Spann stated in an interview with the Post that he was among Thompson’s associates who helped to arrange for young men to meet Thompson and that Thompson has long been a closeted bisexual man.
At the time Thompson pled guilty, then U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Ronald Machen, disclosed at a news conference that Thompson told investigators that Gray was aware of and cooperated with the illegal and hidden campaign operation orchestrated by Thompson. Machen’s disclosure generated widespread speculation, in the midst of Gray’s re-election campaign, that Gray would likely be indicted on charges in connection with Thompson’s actions.
Machen’s revelations that Gray was implicated in the campaign funding scandal is believed by nearly all political observers to be the reason for Gray’s defeat in the November 2014 election. Earlier this year, Channing Phillips, who replaced Machen as U.S. Attorney, announced the investigation into Gray’s possible ties to the illegal campaign activities had ended and no future indictments would be forthcoming.
Thompson was among 12 people to plead guilty to charges associated with the investigation, including seven who pled guilty to offenses directly involving or connected to Gray’s 2010 re-election campaign, according to U.S. Attorney spokesperson William Miller.
The Post story reports that Thompson’s sex life surfaced in the investigation because prosecutors were concerned that Thompson’s credibility as a witness could have been seriously damaged if Gray had been charged and brought to trial. Investigators, who learned of Thompson’s flings with young men, wanted to determine if any of them were underage, the Post reports.
Spann and others told the Post that none were, and that all of the men with whom Thompson had relations were of legal age.
The Post story says Spann has not spoken to Thompson since 2012, when federal agents raided Thompson’s offices and seized documents linking him to the then alleged illegal contributions to Gray’s 2010 campaign as well as multiple other campaigns for D.C. and federal candidates running for public office.
Spann said he was hurt “to have been cut off financially and emotionally” by Thompson after the start of Thompson’s legal problems.
In a 2013 interview with the Hollywood Reporter, which reported on Spann’s plans to make a film adaptation of “Invisible Life,” Spann said Thompson appeared to have withdrawn his financial support for the project after Harris’s mother filed a lawsuit against Spann challenging his legal right to Harris’s novels.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, an unnamed financial benefactor to the project was fearful of being linked to the project through publicity generated by the lawsuit. A court eventually ruled in Spann’s favor and confirmed he had obtained legal rights to the Harris novels.
“But Spann, who is African American and bisexual, said he understands why Thompson went to great lengths to shield his personal life,” the Post story reports. “Spann lamented what he said ‘a gay or bisexual black man still goes through, especially in the financial world,’” the Post story says.
“There’s no way that an out black man in America could have become as successful as Mr. Thompson has been in the business world and the political clout he had,” the Post quoted Spann as saying.
The Washington Blade’s attempts to reach Thompson and Spann for interviews were unsuccessful.
Branden V. Sullivan Jr., Thompson’s attorney, declined to comment, saying he and his law firm Williams & Connolly never talk to the media about pending cases. Although Thompson has pled guilty to various illegal campaign activities the case remains open until his sentencing by a U.S. District Court judge in June.
Spann did not respond to a message left for him through Facebook.
Some LGBT activists are likely to consider it ironic that Thompson would contribute money, before withdrawing his support, for Spann’s project to produce Harris’s novel “Invisible Life” into a theater production and movie.
Similar to several of the other 10 novels that Harris wrote, “Invisible Life” is about the life of an outwardly straight black man married to a woman who leads a secret gay life on the “down low” while struggling with his sexuality.
Veteran D.C. bisexual activist A. Billy S. Jones said that based on the Post story it would be hard not to compare Jeffrey Thompson to one of the characters in “Invisible Life” or many of the author’s other novels, 10 of which made the New York Times best-sellers list.
Jones said he and his friends were unaware of Thompson’s apparent hidden life.
“From my circle of friends, we are as surprised, shocked, and titillated as the rest of the community,” Jones said.