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Former At-Large Councilmember Michael Brown—-the son of former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and a man who once aspired to be mayor—-will serve 39 months in prison on a bribery charge, a federal judge ruled today.
Brown, in court almost a year after he first pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from undercover federal agents in exchange for help getting them District contracts, apologized to a long list of people, including his constituents, his family, and other councilmembers.
“I should have resisted the culture of corruption running rampant in our city, and I should have done so steadfastly,” Brown told Chief District Court Judge Richard W. Roberts.
Roberts apparently wasn’t swayed, sentencing Brown within the 37 months to 43 months guidelines that the prosecution had requested. Brown’s lawyers had asked for less than 37 months. Brown will also serve two years of supervised release.
In his remarks to Roberts, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Atkinson portrayed Brown as a habitual criminal who didn’t just take bribes in 2012 and 2013. Instead, Atkinson said, he was on a “crime creep” that was revealed in 1997 when he plead guilty to a misdemeanor campaign funding scheme, and continued when he took illicit money and campaign help from District contractor and shadow campaign mastermind Jeff Thompson in 2007 and 2008. Brown also allegedly received a payment from Thompson in 2006 to drop out of the mayoral race, but he hasn’t been charged.
“Mr. Brown was seen as comfortable swimming in the polluted waters of the political gutter as he did under the bright lights of D.C. Council meetings,” Atkinson said. Atkinson also asked Roberts to consider how Brown’s corruption could have jeopardized the District’s home rule.
After promising not to engage in “Oedipal psychobabble,” Brown attorney Reid H. Weingarten went on to portray Brown as a son who had never fully processed his famous father’s death in a 1996 plane crash. After being caught in the campaign finance scheme, Weingarten said, Brown planned to outdo his father in one area by winning elected office.
“Then Michael entered into the world of [Thompson alias] Uncle Earl,” Weingarten said. “And once again, it was a world that he wasn’t ready for.”
Indeed, Thompson’s shadow campaigns left Brown facing a more significant sentence than he would have otherwise. While Brown’s initial June 2013 plea deal included the admission that Thompson had illicitly boosted his 2007 Ward 4 Council run against Muriel Bowser, it wasn’t until this January that, after being confronted with evidence, Brown admitted receiving more than $100,000 worth of help from Thompson in his successful 2008 at-large run. Because of Brown’s reluctance to reveal that scheme, prosecutors requested another six months in prison.
Weingarten, who said Brown’s help with the Thompson investigation called for leniency, still couldn’t explain why his client had held back the 2008 revelation from prosecutors while admitting to other crimes. Brown, Weingarten pondered, could have been in denial or have a bad memory.
“I don’t have a great answer,” Weingarten said. “And if I did, we wouldn’t have eaten the last six months.”
In fact, according to prosecutors, Brown’s omissions continued even after he admitted to the 2008 shadow campaign. It wasn’t until Thompson himself started cooperating with authorities, going on to plead guilty in March, that the alleged 2006 payments were revealed. Atkinson told the judge that it was “startling” to learn about one of Brown’s alleged crimes from Thompson.
“There’s just no denying he has a history of dishonesty,” Atkinson said.
Weingarten declined to comment on whether Brown will be charged over the 2006 campaign. But Brown’s attorney predicted that one thing is certain—-even when he returns from prison, he won’t be back in the Wilson Building.
“Michael Brown is done in public life,” Weingarten said. “That is for sure.”
Even if Brown is done with government, he could pass some of his imprisonment with another District politico. Weingarten requested that Roberts consider sending Brown to a minimum security prison camp in Montgomery, Ala.—-the same place where fellow disgraced former Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. is serving his own sentence.
File photo by Darrow Montgomery