The D.C. Board of Elections determined that the campaign irregularities in D.C. Council Chair Kwame Brown's campaign constitute something illegal that should be further investigated, according to the Elections Board chair.
With the swift gavel Elections and Ethics Board Chairman Togo West, the controversy surrounding Brown's 2008 campaign finances was handed off to the U.S. Attorney.
"The Board concludes that this matter is appropriate for referral to the U.S. Attorney and it does so," says West.
An audit released this year found Brown's committee had failed to report nearly $260,000 in contributions and expenditures and steered nearly $240,000 to a firm owned by Brown's brother who, according to investigators, has not been able to document how most of the money was spent.
Kwame Brown's brother, Che Brown, also filed for bankruptcy just before that audit was released, as WAMU first reported.
Kwame Brown's attorney, Fred Cooke, says he was actually the one who proposed sending the case to federal authorities.
"Our view is, let's just cut to the chase, and let's get the matter resolved," says Cooke.
The Board essentially agreed, but concluded the hearing by saying Brown's re-election committee was in apparent violation of D.C.'s campaign laws.
The decision to bypass the Elections Board in the short-term helps Brown avoid paying any civil fines. But after the hearing, the elections board chairman scoffed at suggestions Brown had been let off the hook.
"The referral to the U.S. Attorney is considered the bigger of the sanctions," says West. "Don't you know what a referral means? It means we think there's criminal activity that needs to be looked into."
Brown joins other top D.C. officials facing federal probes. Investigators are looking into the allegations of misconduct by Mayor Vincent Gray and his campaign staff during last summer's mayoral race.
And Ward 5 Council member Harry Thomas Jr. is being sued by the city for allegedly misusing $300,000 of city funds.
For West, the answer to at least some of the ongoing ethics problems is more resources.
"Get me some more auditors so that I can flood the place with auditors like the way the FBI does," says West. "You want to improve ethics policing in the District of Columbia? Get me some more auditors in the Office of Campaign Finance."
The head of the OCF says the city has only four auditors, and help isn't exactly on the way. OCF's budget has been slashed by nearly 20 percent since 2009.