News & Politics

Following DC Political Scandals

You know politicians are scared when they lawyer up. So it may help to understand the constellation of scandals involving DC political leaders by following the lawyers. To answer charges he paid another mayoral candidate to harass rival Adrian Fenty during last year's campaign, Mayor Vincent Gray has hired top-drawer defense attorney Robert Bennett. Howard Brooks, a Gray aide implicated in the payoff case, has hired former Prince George's County state's attorney Glen Ivey. In hot water on other matters, DC Council chair Kwame Brown and two other council members have brought on Frederick Cooke Jr. The lawyer at the center of all this is Ronald Machen, US Attorney for the District of Columbia. A Detroit native with no political debts in DC, Machen will decide whether to investigate cases and bring indictments–probably this summer or fall.

Mayor Vincent Gray

1 He’s accused of paying off mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown to stay in last year’s race for the sole purpose of harassing incumbent Adrian Fenty. US Attorney Machen has brought evidence before a grand jury.  
2 Gray had to suffer the consequences for allowing appointees to hire their friends and family for highly paid political jobs. Most didn’t last.

Council Chair Kwame Brown

1 He directed staff to lease a black-on-black Lincoln Navigator, “fully loaded” with an entertainment system, at a cost of $2,000 a month. He then tried to deflect blame but wound up giving up the ride.  

2 DC’s Office of Campaign Finance slammed Brown for funneling $239,000 in 2008 campaign funds to a firm controlled by his brother, whose company can’t account for $170,000. The DC Board of Elections and Ethics has asked Machen to review the case.

Ward 1 Council Member Jim Graham

1 He was offered $2,600 that was part of an FBI sting targeting a bribery scheme by DC taxi operators, which netted his top aide.  
2 He didn’t accept it, but neither did he report the bribe attempt.

Ward 7 Council Member Yvette Alexander

1 Each council member can use privately raised money to help constituents with things such as heating bills, rent, and funerals. She sponsored a bill in 2009 that would double the amount each member could raise.

2 Constituents in her ward, one of the city’s poorest, filed a complaint with DC’s Office of Campaign Finance alleging that Alexander had redirected money from her fund for personal use, for political purposes, and to reward a politically connected developer. A Washington Times review showed she had used less than 5 percent of the more than $120,000 she’d received since 2007 to help constituents.

At-large Council Member Michael A. Brown

1 He failed to pay $14,263 in property taxes for his $1.4-million home in Chevy Chase DC. He claimed he was unaware of the debt and paid the taxes when the problem became public.  
2 He introduced legislation to allow online gambling in the District while he was working for a lobbying firm that advises online-gambling firms.

Ward 5 Council Member Harry “Tommy” Thomas Jr.

1 He’s accused by DC attorney general Irvin Nathan of diverting $300,000-plus in city funds for personal use under his Team Thomas nonprofit organization. Nathan’s lawsuit alleges that Thomas used public funds to buy an Audi SUV and take trips to Las Vegas and Pebble Beach, and it demands that more than $1 million be paid back.  

2 Machen’s investigators are reviewing the case for potential criminal prosecution.

Ward 8 Council Member Marion Barry

1 In 2009, he directed city funds to nonprofits apparently controlled by his staff; little work was performed. The following year, he admitted to securing a $15,000 contract for his former girlfriend. After an investigation, the council stripped him of his committee chairmanship.  

2 He drove a silver 2002 Jaguar with expired license plates registered to a BMW that he no longer owns.

3 He didn’t pay federal or local taxes for many years. Both governments are garnishing his wages for back taxes.

Photographs of Gray, Kwame Brown and Michael A. Brown by Flickr user thisisbossi • Photographs of Alexander and Graham by Flickr user dbking • Photograph of Barry by Flickr user Tom Bridge • Photograph of Thomas Jr. courtesy of councilmember’s website