New Allegations Filed Against Ex-D.C. Lawmaker
WASHINGTON (AP) — Former District of Columbia Councilmember Michael Brown, who has already pleaded guilty to accepting bribes, could face a longer prison sentence because of new campaign finance violations that accuse him of taking secret contributions during a 2008 run for office, federal prosecutors say.
A court filing Friday accuses him of accepting more than $100,000 from a donor who agreed to secretly fund his successful bid for an at-large Council seat. An amended plea agreement calls for a sentence of up to three years and seven months, a stiffer punishment than the two sides had previously agreed upon.
The new allegations are the latest legal woes for Brown, who last June pleaded guilty to accepting tens of thousands of dollars from undercover FBI agents posing as businessmen from Maryland. That plea called for a maximum sentence of three years and one month, but he could get a longer sentence under the new deal with the government. The new campaign-finance violations were discovered after his bribery plea.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers asked a judge in a joint filing Friday to schedule a new plea hearing. He is scheduled to be sentenced in April.
His attorney, Brian Heberlig, declined to comment Friday.
New court documents say Brown met prior to the 2008 election with an unidentified “co-conspirator” who agreed to support the campaign behind the scenes but said he could not do so publicly “based on the contemporaneous political dynamics.”
The person, who is not named in the documents, agreed to support Brown’s campaign by helping to solicit contributions from donors and agreed to contribute to Brown’s campaign committee at amounts higher than the individual contribution limits. Brown understood from the conversation that the contribution would not be disclosed to campaign finance officials, prosecutors say.
The donor made and disbursed more than $100,000 in in-kind contributions in October and November 2008, aid that was concealed and misrepresented in campaign filings, according to prosecutors.
The allegations are part of a much broader investigation into federal campaign-finance violations in the D.C. government. The 2010 campaign of Mayor Vincent Gray has been under federal investigation for virtually his entire term, with U.S. Attorney Ron Machen saying the campaign benefited from the infusion of more than $650,000 in illegal, unreported funds. The mayor has denied wrongdoing or any knowledge of the illicit funds and is seeking re-election.
Brown won election to the council in 2008 but lost his re-election bid in November 2012. He abruptly dropped out of another council race last spring, citing personal and family problems that he said needed immediate attention, after discovering that he had been caught in an undercover FBI sting.
As part of his initial plea agreement, Brown admitted — but was not charged for — concealing the origins of $20,000 in secret campaign contributions during an unsuccessful 2007 bid for a council seat. Prosecutors say he conspired with Eugenia Clarke Harris, a former campaign aide to Gray who pleaded guilty in 2012 for her role in what prosecutors have dubbed a “shadow campaign” to help elect the mayor.
Harris was a close associate of Jeffrey Thompson, who is suspected of funneling illicit funds into the mayor’s campaign. While he is not named in court documents as the suspected source of the funds, he has been identified in open court and by attorneys for his associates. Several of his associates have pleaded guilty to felonies — some for their involvement in what prosecutors called the “shadow campaign” for Gray; others for making straw contributions on Thompson’s behalf to candidates for local and federal office.
Thompson’s attorney did not immediately respond to a telephone call seeking comment Friday. In the past, the attorney has declined to comment on the case.
Michael Brown’s father, Ron Brown, was the first black person to serve as chairman of the Democratic Party. Ron Brown served as commerce secretary under President Bill Clinton and was killed in 1996 when a plane carrying him and 34 others crashed in Croatia while he was leading a trade mission.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)