Michael Brown’s Plea Deal Points to Another Investigation
Michael Brown wanted "a piece of the piece," and he wanted it badly. Text messages and transcripts introduced in federal court today reveal the former at-large councilmember repeatedly asking to receive portions of what became a $55,000 bribe, in exchange for helping Maryland businessmen obtain fraudulent Certified Business Enterprise status. "It's not cheap to get people on top of the pile," he warned the businessmen in a December phone conversation.
Of course, those businessmen were actually two undercover FBI agents, and Brown was on tape. With Brown pleading guilty to bribery charges today in federal court, the District is facing its third sitting or former elected official pleading guilty in a year and a half for actions they took while in office—and according to U.S. Attorney Ron Machen, the motivations have been the same for each one.
"Michael Brown, like Harry Thomas and Kwame Brown before him, was motivated to commit this crime by greed and a sense of self-entitlement," Machen said at a press conference following Brown's plea. Machen was flanked on one side by visual proof of Brown's corruption—video stills of him accepting mugs filled with cash, and in one picture, stacks of $100 bills held together with rubber bands.
Brown's defense team and prosecutors asked for a sentence of up to 37 months on the charge. He'll be sentenced on Oct. 3, and U.S. District Court Judge Robert Wilkins warned him today to expect to be incarcerated immediately after the hearing. That could be the end of it—Machen says no one else will be charged in the bribery sting. But Brown's sentencing date holds the possibility of more charges for public officials, because prosecutors asked for sentencing nearly four months from now to ensure that Brown will cooperate with at least one other criminal investigation.
Brown's plea suggests that his own case intersects with the big one looming over D.C. politics —Machen's investigation into the "shadow campaign" backing Mayor Vince Gray's 2010 campaign for mayor and its alleged financier, Jeff Thompson.
In his statement of offense, Brown admits to taking money for his unsuccessful 2007 run for the Ward 4 Council seat from a D.C. businessman described in documents as "Co-Conspirator 1." The unnamed man didn't want to be tied to the money because he was also backing at least one other candidate, so he instead passed $20,000 to Brown via longtime Thompson associate Jeanne Clarke Harris. Harris, who pleaded guilty in July 2012 to her role in the shadow campaign, gave Brown the money in two wire transfers. In turn, he listed the campaign contribution as a personal contribution.
Machen declined to comment today on how much information Harris or Brown are providing to law enforcement (LL's predecessor reported on Friday that Brown was discussing Thompson). He was similarly tight-lipped about the Gray investigation, saying only that it is "moving very very quickly" when compared to similar corruption investigations in other parts of the country.
Machen seems to have an eye on speeding the Gray inquiry up, though. When questioned on why Brown was allowed to run in two separate at-large races before being forced to drop out last April, Machen conceded that he prefers to have investigations done before elections. "We try to be mindful of the political dynamics, but we need to make sure we build a strong case first," Machen said.
Photo courtesy the U.S. Attorney's Office