- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 7, 2011

The federal prosecutor for the District will investigate Kwame R. Brown’s re-election committee for suspected criminal violations of campaign finance law after city elections officials Thursday substantiated findings of widespread irregularities during the D.C. Council chairman’s 2008 re-election race.

“It means we think there’s criminal activity here that needs to be looked into,” D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics Chairman Togo D. West Jr. said in a blunt assessment of the board’s decision to refer the case to the U.S. attorney’s office for the District.

The board’s conclusions were based on an audit performed by the Office of Campaign Finance that said Mr. Brown’s re-election committee didn’t report more than $100,000 in contributions and failed to report or substantiate hundreds of thousands of dollars more in expenditures, among other financial irregularities.

It makes Mr. Brown, a Democrat, the latest D.C. official to fall within the U.S. attorney’s sights in a series of ethics scandals that have shaken the faith of voters and forced city officials to police one another through hearings and legislation.

The U.S. attorney called a grand jury to hear allegations that Mayor Vincent C. Gray and campaign aides paid a minor mayoral candidate and promised him a job to bash incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty before the Democratic primary last year. Mr. Gray repeatedly has denied the claims.

The accusations prompted 26 hours of testimony from 19 witnesses during several public hearings before the council’s Committee on Government Operations and the Environment. The committee is expected to produce a report by this fall with suggestions on how to “tighten up” hiring in the excepted services, or political appointees who serve at the will of the mayor.

The District’s federal prosecutor also is looking at allegations that council member Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat, redirected more than $300,000 earmarked for youth baseball to his personal accounts. He faces a $1 million lawsuit from the D.C. attorney general and has lost his committee chairmanship pending the outcome of the civil case.

Mr. West, a former secretary of the Army who also headed the Department of Veterans Affairs during the Clinton administration, said on behalf of the elections board that additional “foot soldiers” at the campaign finance office could cure some ethical shortcomings in the city.

“If you wanted to do something to improve ethics policing in this city, you’d put more auditors in there,” he said of the campaign finance office. “That’s the way you find out what’s going on and that’s what will prove to be the crucial evidence in this matter.”

Mr. Brown’s attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., requested that the board put Thursday’s case on an “express train” route to the U.S. attorney's office — a move that would hold up all elections board proceedings and prevent the board from issuing any conclusions about whether violations occurred until the federal prosecutor could decide whether to take criminal action.

“Let’s just cut to the chase,” Mr. Cooke said.

The board deliberated in private and decided to refer the matter to the federal prosecutor, after it allowed Mr. Cooke to waive his right to present evidence.

The elections board rejected Mr. Cooke’s fast-track request, also accepting the merits of a complaint filed against Mr. Brown by the campaign finance office through a finding of “apparent violations.”

In effect, the results of the hearing delay the imposition of any fines, which could have occurred Thursday.

Nevertheless, the referral “is considered the bigger of the sanctions,” Mr. West said.

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