Kwame Brown’s Last Vote: Does the Penalty Fit the Crime?

The DC City Council chair pleaded guilty to bank fraud today.

By: Harry Jaffe

We’ve seen this too many times. One of DC’s elected officials, his lawyer by his side, taking that long walk across the plaza from the US District Court to face the cameras and say he was sorry for:

Friday before noon it was defrocked city council chairman Kwame Brown, voice cracking and eyes moist, apologizing to his parents, his wife, and his children “for the pain I have caused each of you.”

Brown had just pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud for fudging information on a loan application for a home equity line in 2005. He made up a job with a fictional company, said he earned $3,000 a month, and forged the name and signature of the president. The inflated income allowed the bank to give him a $166,000 loan. In seeking a loan to buy a boat in 2007, Brown change a “3” to an “8” in a Form 1099, which inflated his income from $35,000 to $85,000.

All bad. All against the law. Forgery is never good.

But is bank fraud public corruption?

“I have not stolen or improperly used any campaign funds,” Brown told the gaggle of reporters. He said had not misused “any public money.”

Brown was referring to an investigation into his 2008 campaign for city council. The DC Board of Elections and Ethics found irregularities in his accounts and referred the matter to the US Attorney’s office. The feds charged Brown on Thursday with a misdemeanor for misspending funds.

On that count, Brown told reporters he had distributed cash in a way “that has been done in this city for years.”

That doesn’t make it right or legal, of course. Brown is scheduled to appear in Superior Court Friday afternoon to answer those charges.

So does Kwame Brown deserve to be bounced out of public office for his misdeeds? If it’s true that he never misused public money, were US Attorney Ronald Machen and his prosecutors justified in forcing him to resign?

Brown was railroaded, in the view of David Simon, creator of The Wire. Simon called into The Kojo Nnamdi Show Thursday to offer his view that the case against Brown was “a head shot.” Harking back to his days as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, Simon said prosecutors who came up short in a corruption investigation would try to nail a public official with an unrelated crime, such as bank fraud.

What do you think?

Did Kwame Brown deserve to go down based on his admitted falsification of loan documents? Or did federal prosecutors overreach and take Brown out with a “head shot” because their corruption investigation failed to prove he was a crook? Weigh in with our poll below.