Chair of city panel resigns, admits role in campaign fraud scheme

The 33rd annual Odunde festival opened with a reception at City Hall yesterday. Guests included (from left) Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell; Stanley Straughter, festival chairman; Lois Fernandez, festival founder, and Charles Koffi, ambassador from the Republic of Cote d'Ivoire.

Stanley Straughter, who until recently was chairman of the Philadelphia Commission on African and Caribbean Immigrant Affairs, has pleaded guilty in federal court to accepting repayments for political donations in a scheme to circumvent campaign-contribution limits.

Straughter, 71, is the third person to plead guilty in relation to the case of Jeffrey Thompson, a Washington political operative who allegedly orchestrated a web of donors whom he would direct to make campaign contributions and repay. Thompson was not named in court documents but has been identified as the target of the broader probe by numerous D.C. media outlets.

Straughter admitted to knowingly violating the law for accepting at least $132,600 in repayments, court documents show. The donations for which Straughter plead guilty were for the campaigns of U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and U.S. House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington.

He faces up to a year in prison and has agreed to cooperate with investigators.

"Mr. Straughter recognizes and acknowledges that getting reimbursed from a corporation was unlawful," said Straughter's attorney, Steve McCool. "He accepted responsibility for that conduct yesterday in court, and his poor judgment does not change the fact that he's had a long and distinguished career helping people."

Mayor John Street appointed Straughter to the immigrant commission in 2005, when it was created. He did not receive a city salary.

Mayor Nutter's administration did not respond immediately to questions about Straughter's status with the city.

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who has worked closely with the commission and Slaughter, said he stepped down two weeks ago because of the coming scandal.

"He's been a capable committed wonderful person," Blackwell said. "We're saddened" by the news of the guilty plea, she said.

Straughter funneled some of the repayments through his Philadelphia firm Oak Lane Consulting Group, according to court documents. He has previously worked for D.C. accountants Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio & Associates, where Thompson was majority owner before the federal probe came to light last year. His name has been removed from the business.

Straughter has donated to many local campaigns, including those for: Blackwell and fellow Council members Curtis Jones Jr. and Marian Tasco; state Sens. Vincent Hughes and LeAnna Washington; state Reps. Cherelle Parker and Dwight Evans; and District Attorney Seth Williams.

None of his local donations were part of the guilty plea.