DC Council chair resigns after bank fraud charge

June 7, 2012 • National News

FILE – In this May 12, 2011 file photo, Washington D.C. City Council Chairman Kwame Brown testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. Brown was charged Wednesday with lying about his income on loan applications, becoming the second person on the panel in the last six months to face accusations of criminal wrongdoing. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The chairman of the District of Columbia Council resigned Wednesday effective immediately after being charged in federal court with lying about his income on bank loan applications.

The bank fraud charge against Kwame R. Brown, one of the most influential power brokers in the D.C. government, is the latest allegation of criminal wrongdoing to roil local politics in the nation’s capital. It means further shakeup on the council.

Councilmember Phil Mendelson confirmed to The Associated Press that Brown had resigned. He had submitted a resignation letter by the end of the day.

“I have made some very serious mistakes in judgment for which I will take full responsibility,” Brown wrote in a letter Wednesday to the Council secretary, a copy of which was obtained by the AP. He added later, “I have behaved in ways that I should not have. I was wrong, and I will face the consequences of that conduct.”

Council chair pro tempore Mary Cheh said in a statement Wednesday night that she wanted to assure D.C. residents “the work of the Council will continue uninterrupted.” She said she would convene a special council [auth] meeting for June 13 to elect an interim chair.

Brown becomes the second councilmember to face criminal charges since January. His departure comes as federal authorities continue investigating the 2010 campaign of Mayor Vincent Gray.

The 41-year-old Brown was charged in a criminal information, a document that generally signals that a defendant has agreed to plead guilty. A plea hearing is set for Friday in U.S. District Court in Washington.

On Wednesday, he declined to answer questions or comment on the case following a closed-door meeting with fellow councilmembers. Brown’s lawyer, Frederick Cooke, declined comment, and the U.S. Attorney’s office said it would have no comment.

Brown is charged with a single count of bank fraud, accused of overstating his income by tens of thousands of dollars on applications submitted for a home equity loan and for a boat. Though federal bank fraud carries up to 30 years in prison, Brown is likely to receive a much shorter sentence for his cooperation with prosecutors.

Federal authorities had also been investigating Brown for alleged financial improprieties in his 2008 campaign, but Wednesday’s charge is unrelated and focuses solely on his personal financial dealings.

“I’m shocked by the news; I am disappointed and saddened,” Gray, who preceded Brown as council chairman and served alongside him, said in a written statement. He added, “I served with him my entire time on the Council. Never would I have imagined something like this would occur.”

Political consultant Tom Lindenfeld, who is friends with Brown, said the criminal charge did nothing to clean up perceived municipal corruption since it dealt with Brown’s personal, rather than public, life.

“I think that if we’re going to take people who have been arrested out of office, it should (be for) public corruption, and I don’t see it here,” he said.

Either way, the charge and Brown’s resignation create further tumult in D.C. politics.

It comes six months after then-Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $350,000 in government funds earmarked for youth sports and arts programs. He resigned and was sentenced to more than three years in prison.

Thomas was replaced on the council in a special election last month.

Two former Gray campaign aides pleaded guilty in a separate investigation last month on charges stemming from illicit payments made to encourage a minor candidate in the 2010 race to criticize then-incumbent Adrian Fenty. One aide, Howard Brooks, admitted lying to the FBI about the payments while the other, Thomas Gore, admitted to funneling the payments and destroying evidence of the transactions. Gray has denied wrongdoing.

The D.C. Council is an unusual governmental body, functioning as both a municipal board and a state legislature. Its 13 members vote on legislation and a multi-billion-dollar budget that touches all corners of city life. The chairman has special powers as well, doling out committee assignments, convening meetings, overseeing the budget process and introducing legislation at the mayor’s behest.

Under D.C. regulations, the Board of Elections would certify the seat as vacant within five working days of receiving notice of Brown’s resignation. An interim council chairman will be selected from among four at-large councilmembers at a meeting scheduled for June 13.

A special election to fill Brown’s seat would likely take place in this fall.

D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham, speaking before the council meeting, said the charge ends what had been a period of uncertainty.

“It’s an opportunity for real change,” he said, adding that he was hopeful about the future.

“I believe, though, optimistically, that we have the resources within the council, within this government, to pull out of this and to reach a point … where something positive is going to happen,” he said

Brown, a native Washingtonian who says he’s worked to revitalize neighborhoods and strengthen environmental laws, was elected to the council in 2004 and ascended to chairman in January 2011, after Gray became mayor.

He stumbled early last year, when he gave back under pressure a fully loaded Lincoln Navigator SUV that he had specifically requested and that cost the city nearly $2,000 a month. His staff had already rejected one SUV because it didn’t have the interior he wanted. A report from a fellow councilmember found that Brown had “inappropriately requested” the SUV and that city officials broke the law by leasing it to him.


Associated Press writers Jessica Gresko and Brett Zongker contributed to this report.

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