Former Council Member Michael A. Brown Sentenced to 39 Months in Prison for Accepting $55,000 in Bribes
WASHINGTON—Michael A. Brown, a former member of the Council of the District of Columbia, was sentenced today to 39 months in prison for carrying out a scheme in which he accepted a total of $55,000 in a series of meetings with undercover FBI agents posing as officials of a company that purportedly wanted to win government contracting opportunities.
The sentencing was announced by U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen, Jr.; Valerie Parlave, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office; and Thomas J. Kelly, Special Agent in Charge of the Washington Field Office of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI).
Brown, 49, pled guilty to a federal bribery charge in June 2013 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. He was sentenced by the Honorable Chief Judge Richard W. Roberts. The plea agreement called for Brown to pay a money judgment of $35,000 in forfeiture, covering the amount of money he collected before confronted by law enforcement. Upon completion of his prison term, Brown will be placed on two years of supervised release; during that time, Chief Judge Roberts ordered that he perform 200 hours of community service.
Brown was the third member of the Council of the District of Columbia to plead guilty within the past three years to federal charges involving crimes committed while they were in office. Harry L. Thomas, Jr., who represented Ward 5, pled guilty in January 2012 to federal theft and tax charges in a scheme in which he used more than $350,000 in taxpayer money for his own personal benefit. Kwame R. Brown, the Council’s former Chairman, pled guilty in June 2012 to a federal charge of bank fraud, involving two personal loans, and a second criminal charge involving a violation of the District of Columbia’s campaign finance laws.
The charge against Michael A. Brown involved a scheme in which he admitted taking the cash payments in return for his assistance in winning the District of Columbia government’s approval for a company that was seeking to be classified as a Certified Business Enterprise, a designation that would create potentially lucrative business opportunities; Brown also agreed to help the company with government contracting opportunities.
Also, in two separate schemes, Brown admitted concealing the true source of $20,000 that was secretly contributed to his failed bid in 2007 for a seat on the District of Columbia Council and over $100,000 that was secretly contributed to his successful bid in 2008 for a seat on the District of Columbia Council. Under the plea agreement, Brown will not be criminally prosecuted for this conduct.
“Rather than wielding his political power to serve the citizens of the District of Columbia who voted for him, Michael Brown exerted his influence on behalf of purported contractors who were willing to line his pockets with hundred-dollar bills,”said U.S. Attorney Machen. “Brown’s decision to auction off the public trust was especially disappointing because of his enormous potential to stand as a bright light for the residents of this city. His term of incarceration will hopefully serve as an admonition to other public officials who are considering betraying their oath of office for fast cash.”
“In a shame to his oath of office and his duty to the District of Columbia, Mr. Brown took $55,000 in bribes and evaded campaign finance laws,” said Assistant Director in Charge Parlave. “Today’s sentence demonstrates that no one is above the law. Together with our law enforcement partners, the FBI will continue to investigate public officials who abuse the public trust and use their office to commit illegal acts.”
Brown was elected as an at-large member of the District of Columbia Council in 2008 and took office in January 2009. He left office on January 2, 2013, following his defeat last November for re-election. Brown then launched a bid to win another at-large Council seat in a special election scheduled for April 23, 2013. However, he withdrew his candidacy on April 2, 2013, less than three weeks after he was confronted by law enforcement in the bribery scheme.
According to a statement of offense signed by the government, as well as the defendant, Brown’s at-large council duties included acting as chair of the Committee on Economic Development and Housing. The committee is responsible for matters related to economic, industrial and commercial development. The bribery scheme focused largely on a special program run by the District of Columbia government to help its small local businesses become economically viable: the Certified Business Enterprise (CBE) program.
Status as a CBE carries preferential procurement and contracting opportunities. To be eligible for this designation, businesses must meet certain requirements and be certified by the District of Columbia’s Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD).
Prior to July 11, 2012, Brown had discussions about obtaining assistance of $50,000 to $75,000 for Brown from a government contractor. Brown expected to assist the government contractor with its business if the contractor provided such financial assistance to Brown.
These discussions led to a series of meetings with two undercover FBI agents, posing as employees of a Maryland company that wanted CBE approval and contracting opportunities. Between July 2012 and March 2013, Brown met in person with one or both of the undercover agents a total of eight times. He was in contact with one of the undercover agents on more than 30 separate days, in person, by phone, or by text, frequently seeking payment, in whole or in part, for the efforts he was making on the company’s behalf.
Over the months, Brown made calls on the company’s behalf to the director of the Department of Small and Local Business Development, introduced the undercover agents to a contractor at a symposium he sponsored, and took other actions meant to speed through the company’s attempts to win approval as a CBE. He continued these efforts even after his defeat in the November 2012 election. In January 2013, the Department of Small and Local Business Development did a site visit for the company’s application.
Brown accepted a total of $55,000 in five of the meetings. The final meeting was March 14, 2013, in which he accepted a $20,000 payment.
The company subsequently withdrew its CBE application.
Campaign Finance Scheme:
In the spring of 2007, Brown was a candidate in a special election for the Ward 4 seat on the D.C. Council. Around that time, he met with business owner Jeffrey E. Thompson about obtaining funding for his campaign.
Thompson is the former chairman, chief executive officer, and majority owner of Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio and Associates (TCBA), a corporation that provided accounting, management, consulting, and tax services. He also is the former chairman, chief executive officer, and owner of D.C. Healthcare Systems Inc. (DCHSI), an investment holding and for-profit corporation. Both companies generated millions of dollars in government contracts.
Thompson and six others have pled guilty to charges involving Thompson’s illegal contributions to numerous federal and District of Columbia campaigns.
In seeking the contribution in 2007, Brown understood that Thompson would not contribute in a public manner because certain business activities required support for other candidates, based on various political dynamics.
Brown understood that the contribution from Thompson would be publicly disclosed as having been contributed in the name of another person. He also understood from his discussion that it would exceed the limits on the amount that an individual could contribute to a political campaign committee. At the end of the meeting, “Thompson told Brown that Brown would hear from somebody to arrange the contribution.
Following this meeting, Brown was contacted by Eugenia C. Harris, another business owner, in the District of Columbia. Then, as agreed upon by Brown, Harris and Thompson a series of bank transfers began taking place. Brown understood that a total of $20,000 originated from Thompson. Harris sent two wire transfers, of $10,000 each, to Brown’s personal bank account. Brown, in turn, contributed the funds to his campaign.
Brown subsequently caused the campaign committee to file a form with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance that publicly disclosed that Brown made an individual contribution of $25,000 to his political campaign committee, which Brown knew disguised the fact that Thompson was the source of most of this money.
Harris pled guilty in July 2012 to charges in the investigation.
Following Brown’s guilty plea, additional evidence was discovered about the extent of the contributions that Thompson secretly made to Brown’s successful campaign in 2008 for a seat on the District of Columbia Council. Brown admitted to this activity in an amended statement of offense filed in February 2014.
Among other things, Brown admitted that after losing the Ward 4 seat in 2007, he decided to enter the election for an At-large seat on the D.C. Council in 2008. Brown once again met with Thompson, who in October 2008 secretly channeled more than $100,000 through Harris for a get-out-the-vote effort. Brown subsequently won the election for the council seat.
In announcing the sentence, U.S. Attorney Machen, Assistant Director in Charge Parlave, and Special Agent in Charge Kelly commended those who investigated the case for the FBI and IRS-CI.
They also acknowledged the efforts of those who worked on the case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael K. Atkinson, David A. Last, and Bryan Seeley of the Fraud and Public Corruption Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony D. Saler,of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section. Finally, they expressed thanks for assistance provided by Forensic Accountant Maria Boodoo; Paralegal Specialists Tasha Harris and Krishawn Graham; and Legal Assistant Angela.