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Took $55,000 In Bribes From Undercover Federal Agents
Former D.C. Council member Michael Brown today pleaded guilty to one count of bribery, agreeing to serve 37 months in prison for taking $55,000 from federal agents posing as D.C. businessmen seeking preferential access to city contracts.
According to a document laying out the government's case, Brown, 48, met with the undercover agents eight times between July 2012 and March 2013, taking bribes in the form of rolls of hundred-dollar bills. During their first meeting, the agents gave Brown $15,000 in a duffel bag that included a Washington Nationals hat and two t-shirts; a month later, he took $10,000 stuffed inside a Washington Redskins mug. In a number of text message exchanges, Brown referred to the bribes as a "piece of the piece."
That money—plus $30,000 handed to Brown at subsequent meetings—was given under the expectation that Brown would help the businessmen become a Certified Business Enterprise, a designation for small, local and minority-owned businesses that gives them preferential access to D.C. contracts.
And help he did—according to prosecutors, Brown said he would call the Department of Small and Local Business Development to help move their application to the top of the pile, and at a symposium he hosted in November 2012 even introduced the two agents to the head of department. In one exchange of text messages before that event, Brown said: "I always look out 4 u."
Brown was confronted by federal agents after a meeting in March 2013, where he had been handed $15,000 in bribes and a $5,000 bonus. Only weeks later, Brown, who had been defeated by Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) in the November 2012 election, dropped out of the race for an open At-Large seat on the Council. At the time that he dropped out, Brown cited family issues as the motivation.
Under terms reached with prosecutors, Brown has agreed to serve 37 months in prison, though a judge at his October 3 sentencing could increase or decrease that sentence. He also agreed to pay $35,000 in restitution; the remaining $20,000 was confiscated when he was confronted by the federal agents in March.
During a press conference on Monday afternoon, U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ron Machen said that Brown had been motivated by greed and had acted under the assumption that he simply would not have been caught. "Michael Brown made the audacious choice to sell the public trust for cold, hard cash," he said.
"We didn't target Michael Brown," said Machen. "Mike Brown targeted himself by making it known that he was willing to accept cash for his political influence. We just gave him the opportunity and followed through on it."
The documents also charged Brown with an unrelated campaign finance violation for illegally taking $20,000 for a 2007 campaign from an unnamed conspirator thought to be Jeffrey Thompson, a former D.C. health care contractor who has become embroiled in the scandal surrounding Mayor Vince Gray's 2010 campaign.
Brown, the son of late U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, is the third former legislator to be embroiled in legal scandal in the last two 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.
This isn't Brown's first run-in with the federal government. In 1997, he was charged with a campaign finance violation, and in recent years the IRS placed liens on his property for late payment of taxes.
Brown did not speak to reporters yesterday, but his attorney Brian Heberlig said that the former Council member would return. "This will not be the final chapter for Michael Brown. He has a lot to offer, he has learned from his mistakes and if he's given another opportunity, he will continue to do good works as he's done his whole career."
Last week Gray—himself still under federal investigation for his 2010 campaign—proposed changes to the city's CBE program, the same one that ensnared Brown.
As for Machen, he said that the investigations would continue. "As I watch Michael Brown take these bribes and peddle influence on these tapes, it is clear that many people have not gotten the message. If you doubt our resolve—don't."