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Former D.C. Legislator Charged With Taking $55,000 From Businessmen

Third D.C. Legislator Accused of Illegal Actions

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Brown served on the D.C. Council from 2008 to 2012, and dropped out of a race for an At-Large seat earlier this year.
WAMU/Jared Angle
Brown served on the D.C. Council from 2008 to 2012, and dropped out of a race for an At-Large seat earlier this year.

Former D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown has been charged with bribery for allegedly accepting $55,000 from federal agents posing as D.C. businessmen looking for help in winning city contracts.

According to a criminal information filed this morning by U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ron Machen, Brown accepted the money starting in July 2012. In exchange for the money, Brown said he would help the agents become a Certified Business Enterprise, a designation that offers small local businesses owned by women or minorities preferential access to government contracts.

In exchange for his guilty plea, prosecutors are asking that Brown pay restitution of $35,000.

According to the Washington Post, Brown yesterday admitted to supporters on a conference call that he accepted the money from the men and would plead guilty in order to avoid going to trial. NBC Washington reports that he took the money in 2012 while in office, and that he took the money because of marital problems.

Once again the Council, which has striven for a year to regain stability, is damaged by the specter of continuing corruption.

“Michael Brown made a serious lapse in judgment at a time when he faced severe financial difficulties," said Brian Heberlig, one of Brown's attorneys, according to the Legal Times. "He has accepted full responsibility for his mistakes, cooperated with the authorities, and intends to plead guilty to the information filed today. He has apologized to his friends and family and asks his former constituents for their forgiveness as well.”

This won't be the first time Brown, the son of late commerce secretary Ron Brown, has pleaded guilty—in 1997, he admitted to campaign violations related to late Senator Ted Kennedy's re-election bid. Brown has also had liens placed against him by the IRS for unpaid taxes.

Brown lost his re-election bid to Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) last November, and during that campaign reported that a former staffer had stolen $114,000 in funds from his campaign treasury. No charges have yet been filed in that case. Brown entered the race for an open At-Large seat earlier this year, but later dropped out, citing family issues.

Brown will be the third former legislator to be embroiled in legal scandal in recent years. In early 2012, former Ward 5 Council member Harry Thomas, Jr. admitted to stealing $350,000 in city funds, and was sentenced to three years in federal prison. Later that year, former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown pleaded guilty to felony bank fraud and misdemeanor campaign finance violations.

In a statement, D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson called the accusations against Brown "disturbing and unfortunate."

"Even though elected officials are no better than ordinary people, citizens have a right to hold us to the highest standards. The present news is a reminder that our government has not lived up to those expectations. Once again the Council, which has striven for a year to regain stability, is damaged by the specter of continuing corruption. It is my hope that those of us who have been elected to serve will see the news of Mr. Brown's plea as stimulus to redouble our efforts to improve ethics and regain the public's trust," he said.

Many violations of city laws and ethical regulations are less obvious than outright bribery, though. As we reported in our recent Deals for Developers series, city developers who donate large sums to local campaigns have gotten billions in subsidies from the government over the last decade. Additionally, yesterday Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) was accused of accepting $6,800 worth of gifts from two city contractors in violation of ethics rules.

Earlier this week Mayor Vincent Gray—himself still under federal investigation for his 2010 campaign—proposed changes to the city's CBE program, the same one that ensnared Brown.

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