- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2012

D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown said Tuesday his campaign was victimized by an embezzlement scheme that lasted several months and erased nearly $114,000 from its coffers, leaving him with $18,000 in his re-election race.

Mr. Brown, at-large independent, addressed his campaign’s fiscal health in an afternoon news conference that lasted about 10 minutes, fielding questions before abruptly walking back into the John A. Wilson Building.

He held the briefing after making revelations about his campaign’s finances late Monday in official filings. The filings had been delayed while the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance looked into allegations that a longtime campaign aide had misused funds, prompting Mr. Brown to fire his campaign treasurer and take over the books.

Before the new filings, Mr. Brown only said a “significant” amount of money had gone missing and that he immediately reported the matter to the Metropolitan Police Department.

“While no one has been charged yet, there is a very active investigation with MPD and the United States attorney’s office,” police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said Tuesday.

Mr. Brown said the issues should not reflect poorly on his campaign since he is not the first candidate to be the victim of theft from a campaign treasury.

“Clearly I was wrong to have trusted that person, and I deeply regret it,” he told reporters.

Mr. Brown referred the most pointed questions about the alleged theft to police Tuesday but insisted he practiced due diligence and had no reason to think early campaign reports were inaccurate. He did, however, say he should have been comparing the reports to campaign bank records.

Mr. Brown, the council’s chairman pro tempore, filed his Aug. 10 campaign finance report and an amended June 10 report that lists thousands of dollars in “unexplained expenses.” He also sent a letter to the Office of Campaign Finance that noted 34 mysterious expenditures to his former treasurer, Hakim J. Sutton.

Mr. Sutton’s lawyer, J. Wyndal Gordon, said it appears Mr. Sutton is being made into the “fall guy” for problems in the campaign. Yet Mr. Gordon said he needed to look into the allegations further since Mr. Brown has not accused Mr. Sutton by name in his comments and press releases.

“I don’t understand why he’s so cryptic,” Mr. Gordon said. “Hakim Sutton has not committed any crimes. He has not stolen any money, and Michael Brown knows it.”

The filings, released close to midnight Monday, capped a tumultuous day for the campaign. Hours earlier, Mr. Brown survived a pair of challenges to his ballot-access petitions with only 166 signatures more than the 3,000-signature threshold needed to appear before voters Nov. 6.

On Tuesday, he decried the challenges by opponent David Grosso, an independent, and D.C. government watchdog Dorothy Brizill as “frivolous” and “wild conspiracy theories” that ignore real issues in the city.

“For those who have been playing around in the sandbox, it’s time to step up and grow up,” he said.

In recent months, Mr. Brown has touted his efforts to promote D.C. statehood, reimburse city employees for four furlough days they took in 2011, and reform first-source contracting laws in the District so more city residents can obtain jobs.

But he also is known for a failed bid to bring online gambling to the District, a measure that was passed as part of a supplemental budget bill in December 2010. The D.C. Council repealed the program earlier this year before it ever got off the ground, citing the lack of public vetting it received before it became law.

Mr. Brown’s latest campaign finance report shows he has raised $183,500 for his bid to retain the at-large seat — including more than $30,000 from June 11 to Aug. 10 — but his $17,977 in cash on hand is less than what his two main opponents reported as of Aug. 10. It is also notable because he is an incumbent heading into the home stretch of a campaign.

Among challengers, Mr. Grosso reported in August that he had nearly $56,000 left to get out the vote ahead of the Nov. 6 election, and Republican nominee Mary Brooks Beatty reported about $22,500 in the bank.

They represent the biggest threat to Mr. Brown’s seat, since they are competing for a seat reserved for a minority party in the heavily Democratic city. In a statement Tuesday, Ms. Beatty said Mr. Brown should quit the race in light of recent developments.

“I’m calling on council member Brown to do the honorable thing and not seek re-election,” she said. “The District needs new representatives who are interested in serving the people rather than serving themselves.”

Fellow incumbent Vincent B. Orange, at-large Democrat, reported $9,856 on hand in August but is considered the safest bet to win one of the two seats up for grabs as the standard-bearer for the majority party in the District.

A.J. Cooper and Leon J. Swain Jr. also are running as independents; Ann Wilcox is a candidate from the D.C. Statehood Green Party.

Mr. Brown, chairman of the council’s Committee on Economic Development and Housing, also has faced questions about his personal finances in the past.

In June, The Washington Times reported that the Internal Revenue Service filed a notice of federal tax lien totaling $20,000 against Mr. Brown, citing income taxes for the period ending Dec. 31, 2010.

It was not the first time Mr. Brown has heard from federal tax collectors. Two years ago, the IRS filed a lien notice citing more than $50,000 in income taxes due for 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008.

Mr. Grosso said in light of that backdrop, the issues with Mr. Brown’s campaign “shouldn’t surprise anybody.”
Michael Brown having issues with his finances is not new,” he said. “It’s like ‘Groundhog Day.’ We’ve seen this before.”