Sherwood's Notebook: Scamming to the End

Michael A. Brown was glad-handing outside the courtroom last week.

The former at-large D.C. Council member was acting as if it were just another public event, warmly greeting friends, family and reporters.

Minutes later, he stood before U.S. District Court Judge Richard “Ricky” Roberts, who sentenced Brown to 39 months in prison for accepting a total of $55,000 in bribes.

Before the sentencing, Brown had tried to shift the blame for his corrupt behavior, brazenly portraying himself as a victim.

Brown told the judge that he had been caught up in a “culture of corruption running rampant in our city.”

Let the record be clear. Brown wasn’t “caught up” in corruption. He “was” the corruption. He’s not the victim, but the perpetrator. He sought it out, embraced it and reveled in it.

As The Washington Post reported, prosecutor Michael Atkinson made it clear. “This is not the case of an elected official who dipped his toes in the political gutter,” he said. “Michael Brown went all in.”


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Brown even tried to scam the prosecutors after he was been arrested for receiving the bribes. Brown had promised to “cooperate” with the scandal investigation, but prosecutors said he wasn’t forthcoming unless he felt they already knew about it.

Judge Roberts said he was “stunned” by the extent of Brown’s criminality and said District citizens “deserved better.”

Yes, they do. And we can start with this “culture of corruption” thing. It’s not some independent evil preying on politicians, ensnaring those who are otherwise honest. It’s the crooked politician himself who can only blame his own greed and weakness.

Brown lived for fancy suits, big cars, pricey homes and frenetic campaigns. He couldn’t pay for any of it and found those who would. “Brown’s decision to auction off the public trust was especially disappointing,” said U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen.

It also was pretty stupid, or desperate, some might say. Brown began taking money from undercover FBI agents in July 2012. That was the same month that Jeanne Clark Harris pleaded guilty to her role in the shadow campaign for Mayor Vincent Gray, funded by businessman Jeffrey Thompson.

■ About Mayor Gray. Thompson pleaded guilty to his own scandals in March, just three weeks before Mayor Gray lost his bid for re-election in the April 1 Democratic primary.

Many people have complained loudly that Gray lost the election because prosecutors unfairly named Gray in court as the beneficiary of the Thompson shadow campaign. Until then, Gray had been identified only as “Mayoral Candidate A.”

Machen and the prosecutors took a lot of heat for naming Gray.

But it wasn’t their decision. Court transcripts show that Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly prompted the prosecutors to reveal the Gray name in court.

The transcript shows prosecutor Atkinson beginning to detail the Thompson crimes. Atkinson says to the judge, “I understand from your order on our motion to seal, your honor, I’m required to disclose the identity of Mayoral Campaign A and Mayoral Candidate A.”

The Court: “Based on the record I have, yes.”

Mr. Atkinson: “That’s fine, your honor. Mayoral Candidate A is Vince Gray.”

So all the folks who complain about prosecutorial misconduct, maybe you should take another look at those transcripts.

■ Lame duck? It was bound to happen. When Mayor Gray lost the primary on April 1, he became one of the longest-serving lame ducks in American politics. His term isn’t up until Jan. 2, 2015 — another nine months. How much he can get done in that time may depend on whether prosecutors bring any charges against him for the shadow campaign.

Gray told us on Monday that he has laid out a plan to cover his final seven months in office, that he intends to be fully engaged as the mayor.

But the lame-duckness — if we can call it that — is a serious issue. Just in the last few days, the council has put off funding for a new hospital east of the Anacostia River, halved funding for the streetcar system to fund tax cuts, and appears like it could nix the mayor’s soccer stadium deal if changes aren’t made.

The soccer deal is the last major project Gray has on his plate. He’s urging those who support soccer to lobby the council. The mayor, as lame duck, has diminished ability to affect any outcomes.

“I think that he’s still a factor,” said at-large Council member Vincent Orange, who joined Gray at seven ribbon cuttings on Monday. “Maybe not as strong as before, obviously,” Orange told NBC4.

“Let’s be realistic about it. But he can still be a factor.”

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

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