- The Washington Times - Monday, June 10, 2013

Former D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown pleaded guilty Monday to a public corruption charge for accepting tens of thousands of dollars in cash stuffed in duffel bags and coffee cups while in office, following in the footsteps of two other former city lawmakers who pleaded guilty last year to federal crimes.

Court documents made public after his plea agreement in U.S. District Court for the District on a charge of accepting $55,000 in bribes also contained previously undisclosed ties between Brown and another long-running scandal in the District — an ongoing investigation into the 2010 campaign of Mayor Vincent C. Gray.

According to court records, Brown in 2007 made a $25,000 donation to his own campaign in an unsuccessful bid for a D.C. Council seat in Ward 4. The papers say that $20,000 of that money, which Brown characterized as a “loan,” was provided by someone identified as “Co-conspirator 1” and that the donation was facilitated by Eugenia Clarke Harris.

Harris, who worked on Mr. Gray’s 2010 campaign, pleaded guilty in July to taking part in a secret and illegal effort that funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to the candidate. All the funding for that scheme was provided by a conspirator who went unnamed in court papers but is widely thought to be prolific D.C. political donor Jeffrey E. Thompson.

While not mentioning Brown, 48, in connection with the other investigations involving city lawmakers, prosecutors noted that he is cooperating with authorities. U.S. Attorney for the District Ronald C. Machen Jr. said the sting was not an effort to probe whether council members could be bribed. He said investigators became involved after it was brought to their attention that Brown was seeking between $50,000 and $75,000 from contractors.

“There was a predicate,” Mr. Machen said. “We didn’t target Mike Brown. Mike Brown targeted himself.”

Mr. Machen said contractors were hesitant to make payments to Brown, who served on the council from 2009 to 2013 and was chairman of the Committee on Economic Development and Housing, because they believed the action to be a bribe. Contractors told investigators that they were also hesitant not to pay because they “didn’t think they would have a fair shake at government contracting without doing so,” Mr. Machen said.

Prosecutors said that, between July and March, Brown accepted cash from undercover agents who posed as representatives of a company seeking approval from the District as a certified business enterprise so that it could qualify for lucrative contracts reserved for minority-owned firms. In exchange for the payments, Brown interceded on the company’s behalf, facilitating meetings and making phone calls to help clear regulatory hurdles.

The charge to which Brown pleaded guilty carried a maximum 15 years in prison, but under the plea agreement he faces up to 37 months in prison with three years of supervised release. Judge Robert L. Wilkins is scheduled to sentence him Oct. 3.

“You should be prepared for the eventuality that you begin serving that sentence on that day,” Judge Wilkins said.

Brown, who was released on personal recognizance, also was ordered to forfeit $35,000.

According to court documents, Brown took the cash from an undercover agent, often at restaurants, during the sting operation.

On July 11, Brown met an undercover agent and a person identified in court papers as “Person A” at the Channel Inn in Southwest. Brown received $15,000 in $100 bills in a duffel bag that also contained a Washington Nationals baseball hat and two Nationals T-shirts.

On Aug. 2 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Northwest, Brown was given $10,000 in $100 bills in a Washington Redskins coffee mug. On Aug. 28, he accepted $5,000 in cash in a silver coffee mug at the Channel Inn.

On Nov. 29, also at the Channel Inn, he was given $5,000 in cash in $100 bills in an envelope.

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