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Is ex-councilmember Michael Brown a committed crook on a “crime creep,” or is he a good person who repeatedly finds himself breaking the law? Ahead of Brown’s sentencing hearing next Thursday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and his defense team traded memos yesterday over whether Brown should receive the 43 months in prison that the government has recommended.
Prosecutors’ response to Brown’s attorneys doesn’t reach the rhetorical heights of their previous effort, but it’s clear they don’t believe that the former councilmember accepted bribes from FBI agents posing as would-be city contractors—-the scheme that ultimately led to his downfall—-just because he needed to pay his mortgage and creditors. Instead, prosecutors claim that Brown was on a “crime creep,” starting from his misdemeanor campaign finance charge in 1997 to his shadow campaigns and, ultimately, his bribe-taking.
Besides, Brown wasn’t even paying his mortgage, according to prosecutors.
“Such a depiction would carry more weight if [Brown] actually paid his mortgage or other monthly bills, tax liens, or other creditors with the money received from [undercover agents],” prosecutors write. Instead, they say Brown put the bribe money to use bankrolling his “expensive lifestyle.”
Letters arguing that Brown used his position as an at-large councilmember to help the less fortunate are undercut, prosecutors write, by the fact that he seemed more occupied with getting a “piece of the piece” of the bribe in his last months in office. And then there’s the fact that he could only help the less fortunate because he won one race—-and lost another—-with the illicit help of confessed shadow campaign mastermind Jeff Thompson:
While [Brown] certainly deserves a measure of credit for his positive contributions to the community, the value of his community service as a public official must be weighed against the simple facts that he obtained the political office through campaign finance fraud and used it ultimately as the instrumentality of the bribery scheme at issue. In other words, it is difficult to give extraordinary credit to [Brown’s] service as a member of the D.C. Council when he corruptly obtained it and used it to further his criminal conduct.
In their response, Brown’s defense argues that Brown should receive less than 43 months, based on his character and his refusal to reveal unnamed methods that investigators used to catch him.
Brown’s team also claims that Brown’s admission last February of receiving $100,000 in off-the-books help from Thompson for his 2008 at-large campaign helped secure Thompson’s March guilty plea.
Brown didn’t mention that crime to prosecutors despite pleading guilty to bribery and other Thompson help in 2013. When prosecutors pressed him to admit to the 2008 shadow campaign last February—-an omission prosecutors attributed in earlier court documents to Brown’s reluctance to taint his one successful election—-the new revelation tacked on six months to Brown’s recommended sentence:
With Mr. Brown’s admissions in his charging documents, the government sent a clear and unmistakable message to Mr. Thompson: a former D.C. Councilmember has acknowledged your secret payments to his campaign and directly implicated you in criminal wrongdoing. This evidence implicated Mr. Thompson in a way that mere documents could not.
Still, Brown’s attorneys concede, his help against Thompson, coming eight months after his initial guilty plea, “did not come in the manner the government would have preferred.” U.S. Attorney’s Office memo: [documentcloud url=”https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1165487-michael-brown-sentencing-response.html”] Brown defense team memo: [documentcloud url=”https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1173327-brown-defense-response.html”]
Photo by Darrow Montgomery