- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown to an afternoon in custody for lying on loan documents, making him the second city lawmaker to lose his liberty in front of the public he was elected to serve.

Brown, who resigned from the city’s lawmaking body on June 6 and pleaded guilty to felony bank fraud the next day, was also sentenced to six months of home detention, two years of supervised release and 480 hours of community service.

Hours later, he was escorted into a D.C. Superior Court room in shackles and without his necktie for sentencing on a misdemeanor campaign-finance violation, a stark turnabout for the man who formerly conducted the city’s business from a well-appointed corner office mere blocks from the White House at the John A. Wilson Building.

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On the felony charge, Brown admitted last summer that he secured a hefty loan from 2005 to 2007 by overstating his income on a home-equity application, going so far as to change a “3” to an “8” on a tax form so it looked as if he earned an additional $50,000 in 2006. He also submitted false information to secure a line of credit for his luxurious boat, “Bullet Proof,” prosecutors said.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon ordered the unconventional one-day term to make Brown’s punishment “visible” to the public, yet without imposing more jail time than he felt was necessary for a crime that had no ties to Brown’s elected office and did not result in serious losses.

“We don’t get cases like this in here every day,” he said, recollecting the time he sentenced a former president of the Washington Teachers Union for embezzling funds nearly a decade ago.

Murmurs of Brown’s legal troubles reached a climax after city budget negotiations in early June, when the Democratic politician walked out of his fifth-floor office at city hall for the last time amid a throng of TV cameras. Before the judge on Tuesday, Brown said his own conduct brought him to this regretful point in his life.

“I’m not a victim,” he said.

U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen said Brown deserves credit for taking responsibility, but that his “greed and ambition” led to his crimes.

Kwame Brown’s fall from city leader to convicted felon should chasten others who believe they are above the law,” he said in a statement.

Brown and former council member Harry Thomas Jr. share the distinction of becoming the first sitting elected officials in the District to resign under duress and plead guilty to felonies. Thomas resigned in January and pleaded guilty to stealing more than $350,000 in public funds intended for youth sports programs. He is serving a three-year term at a prison in Alabama.

Prosecutors are also probing D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2010 campaign, an investigation that heated up in the summer after a former aide admitted she managed straw donations and more than $650,000 in unreported campaign funds from a city contractor — whether Mr. Gray knew it or not.

So while the council continues its business under a new leader, Chairman Phil Mendelson, a Democrat, the clouds over city hall have not fully dispersed.

“The residents of D.C. are watching this case,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Johnson said in court Tuesday.

A member of the U.S. Marshals Service escorted Brown out a side door of the courtroom to serve his short term before he was freed at 5:30 p.m., shielding him from the bevy of cameras that awaited him outside the courthouse.

Yet Brown, whose voice quivered during his morning address to Judge Leon, took on a doleful appearance as he faced the ignominy of being escorted in chains in front of lawyers and reporters at the D.C. Superior Court. Judge Juliet McKenna sentenced Brown to a suspended 30-day jail term and terms of probation and community service that will be folded into his federal sentence.

The son of a well-known political operative in the District, Brown was elected to the council as an at-large member. Re-elected in 2008, he overcame questions about his personal finances during a contentious 2010 campaign to take the helm of the council after Mr. Gray had vacated the chairman’s seat to run for mayor.

Brown’s attorney, Frederick Cooke, said his client had paid a “significant price” through his fall from public office and the ridicule that followed.

“He has ruined a very bright political future that he had in this city,” Mr. Cooke told the federal court.

Prosecutors said Brown’s position as a council member made his crimes even more serious. At one point, he used his city hall fax machine to send one of the fraudulent loan documents, an act prosecutors labeled as “particularly brazen.”

Because of Brown’s position, people “placed their faith in him” and expected him to follow the city’s law even as he crafted new ones on the council, Mr. Johnson said.

After the hearing, Mr. Cooke said Brown has not shared any plans to run again for political office, which he would be permitted to do despite a felony record. Brown is significantly limited by his electronically monitored house arrest, which includes a 10 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew. He may only leave home during the day for work, religious services, doctor appointments, meetings with his lawyer or other pre-approved reasons.

Mr. Johnson said Brown’s crime should not be labeled an act of corruption because he did not abuse his office or steal public funds in a scheme “similar to, say, council member Thomas.” There was no actual loss from Brown’s crimes — he repaid one loan and is paying back the other, the prosecutor said — and he took responsibility for his crimes when investigators confronted him.

“I immediately did what my mother taught me,” Brown told the court. “I admitted that I was wrong.”

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