(June 7, 2012) Washington D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown resigned his seat June 6 after he was charged with bank fraud for lying about his income on loan applications.
Brown also faces a misdemeanor charge of making an unlawful cash campaign expenditure in connection with his 2008 re-election campaign for an at-large council seat.
Brown, 41, was the youngest man on the council and is fourth D.C. elected official in recent months to face an investigation into possible wrongdoing. According to the Associated Press, Brown is expected to plead guilty to the charges at a hearing June 8.
Brown was charged with a single count of bank fraud by federal prosecutors, and resigned following a closed session with the council. The following day, prosecutors filed the second charge, alleging that Brown allowed a relative to open a bank account during his 2008 campaign, and that the relative used campaign funds in September 2009 to make a payment “in excess of $50.”
A council meeting has been scheduled for June 13 to select an interim chair.
According to court records, Brown “knowingly and willfully devised a scheme and artifice to defraud Industrial Bank to obtain money, funds, credits, assets, securities, and other property owned.”
A spokesman with the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the investigation. Brown’s legal counsel, attorney Frederick Cooke Jr., could not be reached for comment.
“I’ve made some serious mistakes in judgment,” Brown wrote in a statement. “This has nothing to do with the council.”
Brown has also been investigation for alleged illegal activities regarding misuse of campaign funds.
“The unmitigated gall for an elected official to make laws that put others in jail while willingly violating them for personal gains,” said Ron Moten, a resident of Ward 7.
Moten is running as a candidate against Councilwoman Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) who also faced an investigation last year for allegedly misusing her constituency funds for her campaign. She was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Former Councilman Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) plead guilty to embezzling $350,000 in federal funds targeted for youth programs, and was sentenced in May to a 38-month jail term.
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is also under investigation for allegedly paying a candidate in the 2010 mayoral election to speak out against then-Mayor Adrian Fenty. The opponent, Sulaimon Brown, claimed he was given money and promised a lucrative job by Gray in exchange for taunting the incumbent mayor at forums and other public events during the campaign season.
Responding to the charge against Brown, Gray in a written statement said he was “shocked” by the news.
“I served with him my entire time on the council,” said Gray, who preceded Brown as council chair. “Never would I have imagined something like this would occur.”
Other local leaders said Brown’s downfall points to a possible trend present among the federal investigations.
“What is wrong with this picture is that it seems Blacks are being targeted,” said longtime Ward 8 advisory neighborhood commissioner Anthony Muhammad. “Many residents are asking why the focus of the U.S. Attorney General’s office seems to be on Black elected officials. Is the attorney general going after Black officials to gain White support should he decide to run for his position in two years?”
In accordance with the Home Rule Act, Councilwoman Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), the current chair pro tempore, will convene the entire council for a special meeting June 13 to adopt a resolution to elect an interim chair and a interim chair pro tempore. Under the Home Rule Act, both positions will be selected from among the at-large members. After their election, Cheh will step aside as chair pro tempore. The meeting will be open to the public
At-Large members Michael Brown, Phil Mendelson, Vincent Orange and David Catania will compete for the two positions. According to The Washington Post¸ political insiders said it appeared Mendelson had the support necessary to become the next council chair.
Under the Council rules, the interim chair would become Chair of the Committee of the Whole, and would retain his role as chair of their existing standing committee. Also, the interim chair cannot hold outside employment, will be eligible to receive an increase in compensation at the rate of the chairman, and will serve in that role until a special election has been held to select a permanent replacement. D.C. Board of Elections officials said it was not clear when that election might take place.
“I want to reassure everyone that the work of the Council will continue uninterrupted,” Cheh wrote in a June 6 statement. “We will move forward focused on the business the people elected us to do.”
D.C. residents met news of the charge against Brown with disappointment.
“It is unfortunate that the chair is experiencing these difficulties. However, integrity must play a part in being a public servant,” said Debbie Smith-Steiner, a Ward 5 resident.
“Lying about your income to buy a house is not uncommon,” she added. “However, what Kwame did was outrageous. Claiming that your $353,000 home is worth $800,000, then taking the equity to buy a yacht—come on now.”
Weary from all the negative publicity surrounding their elected officials, others worried whether Congress may take adverse actions against the District.
“The walls keep tumbling down,” Muhammad said. “Who is next?”