Thies: Warning Signals Ignored in District Bribe Scandal

Saturday, Jun 15, 2013  |  Updated 8:20 AM EDT
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Thies: Warning Signs Ignored in Bribe Scandal

D.C. Council chair Phil Mendelson

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Instead of reining in the ethically challenged Michael A. Brown, D.C. Council leaders elevated him.

Let's unpack the saga.

In 2012, not too long after D.C. Council members Kwame Brown and Harry Thomas, Jr. pleaded guilty to felonies and resigned their offices in disgrace, Council member Michael Brown began accepting bribes from FBI agents posing as local businessmen.

Brown grabbed his first stack of cash just one day after the District’s top prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen, warned would-be political crooks to clean up their acts.

"The truth is going to come out in the end,” said Machen at a press conference last year following theguilty plea of yet another local political operator.

Yesterday, Brown pleaded guilty to one felony count of bribery. He faces up to 37 months in prison.

He also engaged in a scheme to fund his 2007 campaign through a fraudulent loan, but is not being charged for that offense.

What other scams or abuses of power did Brown perpetrate?

Allow your imagination to wander. Documents filed in court today suggest Brown was well versed at gaming the system.

Brown’s political demise should not surprise anyone who watched his career. He was always havingpersonal financial problems, money disappeared from his 2012 campaign, he had lobbying ties to the gambling industry, donned fancy suits, wore big watches and drove luxury vehicles.

Did Council leaders see these warning signals?

Did Council leaders seek to limit his influence, either to protect the public interest or to protect Brown from himself?

No.

In fact, the opposite occurred.

Just days before Kwame Brown resigned, Kwame elevated Michael Brown to chair the Economic Development Committee.

Money. Power.

Kwame’s parting gift to his namesake was not the only boost to Michael Brown’s stature.

A few weeks later, when Phil Mendelson became Council Chair, Mendelson nominated Michael Brown to be chair pro tempore.

At the time, some Council members raised issues about Brown’s past and current ethical lapses. Mendelson was unconcerned. Brown got the gig.

Prestige. Power.

Brown has failed to pay taxes, been sued for business and personal financial matters, was the subject of a scathing campaign audit and has a prior conviction. Those red flags and other omens did not seem to matter to Mendelson. He, like Kwame Brown, gave Michael Brown more power.

Elected officials in the District need to wise up and demonstrate some backbone.

Hustlers take advantage of weakness.

Last week, it was revealed that Council member Marion Barry accepted $6,800 in gifts from two District contractors. The legal limit is $20.

What is Mendelson going to do?

Chuck Thies is a political, communications and advocacy consultant. From 1998 to 2010 his portfolio included District of Columbia politics. Chuck has worked on national projects and internationally in Europe, Africa, the Middle East , China and Mexico. If you are daring, follow him on twitter:@ChuckThies.

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