News & Politics

Federal Prosecutors Say Former DC Council Member Michael A. Brown Doesn’t Deserve Leniency

US Attorney Ron Machen writes that Brown’s bribery charges are the culmination of a “crime creep.”

Federal authorities caught former Council member Michael Brown taking bribes in a sting operation. Photograph via US Attorney's office.

Attorneys for former DC Council member Michael A. Brown have been asking the judge in the case to give him less than the 43 months recommended by federal guidelines when he is sentenced next week on bribery charges, but prosecutors say he doesn’t deserve to have his recommended sentence reduced by a minute.

Brown’s conviction, for accepting $55,000 in cash from undercover federal agents in 2012 and 2013 was the epitome of a “crime creep,” US Attorney Ron Machen writes in a sentencing memo filed Thursday afternoon. The single-term Council member and onetime mayoral aspirant’s troubles began with a 1997 campaign finance misdemeanor, before he became the beneficiary of shadow campaign funded by Jeffrey Thompson. The bribery conviction is a separate offense that has nothing to do with his dealings with Thompson.

However, Machen writes that there is substantial evidence that “Uncle Earl,” as Thompson preferred to be called by those on his dole, bankrolled Brown’s 2006 mayoral campaign before paying him off to drop out and endorse candidate Linda Cropp. He then contributed at least $125,000 in illegal funds to Brown’s successful 2008 run for a Council seat.

The sentencing memo is also unswayed by Brown’s pleas that he took the money because of personal financial straits. Brown, the son of Clinton administration Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, has argued that he also needed the money to afford the basic costs of living. Machen’s dismissal of this claim is breathless as it is curt:

“Defendant’s assessment that ‘his deteriorating financial condition was partly of his own undoing,’ id., appears to paint a picture of a struggling, hard-working individual who only did the unthinkable in accepting a bribe in an effort to pay his mortgage and put food on the table for his family. Such a depiction would carry more weight if Defendant actually paid his mortgage or other monthly bills, tax liens, or other creditors with the money he received from [undercover agents].”

As a Council member, Brown earned more than $125,000 a year, on top of his outside lobbying job that paid him roughly $250,000 a year.

Brown’s legal team is asking the judge to take into account his family-man character and his cooperation in the investigation into Thompson, who pleaded guilty in March to financing numerous shadow campaigns. But prosecutors say Brown was not as cooperative as he’s making himself out to be, writing that there were “significant shortcomings” in his testimony about Thompson.

But there’s at least one thing his lawyers and the prosecutors agree upon: He’s not as bad as his fellow former Council member Harry Thomas, Jr., who is currently serving a three-year jail sentence for fleecing more than $350,000 from a city trust that funds youth programs.

Brown will be sentenced next Thursday afternoon in federal district court. 

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.