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D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown has resigned after federal prosecutors charged him with bank fraud yesterday.
Earlier in the day, the scene was chaos outside Brown's office as the council chairman finally emerged to face the crowd of reporters gathered outside. The frenzy intensified as reporters crowded around the chairman and his staffers and security guards pushed back in the narrow hallways of the Wilson building.
Brown declined to comment on the charge as he left. He sent a resignation letter just one day after telling reporters that he had no plans to resign.
In the letter, he acknowledged he had "made some very serious mistakes in judgment," adding that he chose to resign because of "the great respect that I have for the institution that is the Council of the District of Columbia."
It was Brown's first appearance since federal prosecutors filed a criminal information document charging Brown with one count of bank fraud shortly after noon. The document, which typically means a defendant intends to plead guilty, accuses Brown of overstating his income on applications submitted for a home equity loan and a loan for a boat: a 38-foot powerboat called "Bulletproof."
Brown's 2008 campaign for council chair has been under investigation by federal authorities for several months, though the bank fraud charge appears to be unrelated to any campaign activities.
Brown is now the second council member to be charged with criminal activity by federal prosecutors in the past six months. Former Council member Harry Thomas Jr. pleaded guilty to stealing public funds and is now heading off to prison for a 38-month sentence. Mayor Vincent Gray's campaign is also under investigation, and last month, two of his former campaign staffers pleaded guilty.
Brown's plea agreement hearing is scheduled for Friday morning. Bank fraud can carry a sentence of up to 30 years, but Brown is expected to face a much shorter sentencing recommendation from prosecutors.
Brown's departure from the council also creates more political uncertainty for the District. Several council members are eligible to replace Brown as chair, including Phil Mendelson, who said yesterday that the city needs leadership the public can trust.
"I think the fundamental issue right now is rebuilding the trust the government needs to have from the citizens, and right now that the citizens rightly feel has been betrayed," Mendelson said after the charges were filed.
Council member Mary Cheh was named interim chair, but the council will select a new interim chair in a special meeting June 13. Those eligible for the chairmanship are the council's at-large members: Michael Brown, David Catania, Phil Mendelson and Vincent Orange. Whomever is selected will serve until District voters decide who will be the next permanent council chair during the November elections.