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Sentencing for former D.C. Council chairman delayed

Former Gray campaign aide also cooperating with investigation

- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2012

A federal judge has pushed back the sentencing of former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown to November so he can "complete his cooperation" with the U.S. Attorney's Office, according to documents filed in the case.

Judge Richard J. Leon on Monday granted a motion to postpone the sentencing from Sept. 20 to Nov. 13 after Brown pleaded guilty in June to felony bank fraud and a misdemeanor campaign finance violation related to his 2008 campaign for re-election as an at-large council member.

The decision arrived hours before federal prosecutors said they are not seeking prison time for an aide to Mayor Vincent C. Gray's 2010 campaign who admitted he paid a minor mayoral candidate with the hope he would stay in the race and bash incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

Howard L. Brooks pleaded guilty in May to making a false statement by lying to FBI agents last year when he claimed he had not given candidate Sulaimon Brown a series of money orders totaling $2,810 in the summer of 2010.

In a sentencing memo filed Monday, prosecutors cited his cooperation with authorities in asking for probation for Brooks on the condition he perform 200 hours of community service and not participate in any political campaigns without written approval from the probation department.

"The criminal schemes in which Brooks participated undermined one of the primary goals of the local campaign finance laws: transparency," Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellen Epstein said in the memo.

When confronted by the FBI, "Brooks lied repeatedly about his involvement in these schemes," she said. "But eventually, Brooks took full responsibility for his crimes and provided substantial assistance to the government."

Mr. Brooks' attorney, Glenn F. Ivey, submitted a memo that supports the probationary sentence recommended by prosecutors.

"He took direction from the top level campaign staff, and served as their liaison to volunteers," Mr. Ivey said. "While Mr. Brooks played an important role in the campaign, he was not the 'big fish' in the campaign or in the subsequent investigation."

Court records posted on Monday also include 18 letters to U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in support of Brooks, including one from the defendant himself.

Brooks said he comes before the court with a "contrite heart" and that his life "has been a whirlwind" since March 2011, when the investigation began in earnest. He said his criminal actions go against the grain of his life, in which he tried to be a role model for black youth and the disadvantaged.

"This is a fall from grace that I would not wish on my worst enemy," he said in his letter. "I have no one to blame but myself."

The remaining letters from friends and family speak of Brooks as a generous man whose real life story is not reflected in the plethora of media reports on his role in the campaign scandal.

One friend, Robin Austin, said Brooks once rolled down his window at a stop light and handed a homeless woman a $100 bill.

"With my scant biblical knowledge, I chided him for not doing this deed in private," the letter said. "He quickly retorted that perhaps he would not get credit with the Man upstairs since I was in the car, but he seriously doubted the homeless lady cared one way or the other. We both had a nice chuckle at this 'touché' moment."

The developments in U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr.'s high-profile investigations are the start of what promises to be a busy fall for the trio of serious, yet separate, scandals that have plagued city politicians over the past two years.

Former council member Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat, is serving a three-year term at a federal prison in Alabama after pleading guilty in January to stealing more than $350,000 in public funds intended for D.C. youth sports programs. His resignation and plea arrived several months before Brown admitted his crimes and the investigation in the Gray campaign ramped up with the revelation that a city contractor injected at least $650,000 in undocumented funds into get-out-the-vote efforts.

Sulaimon Brown publicly accused Brooks and other members of the mayor's campaign of the scheme in early 2011 after he was fired from a $110,000-per-year job at the D.C. Department of Healthcare Finance, kicking off a long-running probe into the Gray campaign that has secured guilty pleas from three people so far.

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