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D.C. Council chair resigns after fraud charge

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Local,DC,Liz Farmer,Alan Blinder

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown was charged Wednesday with bank fraud and quickly resigned, making him the second District politician this year taken down by federal prosecutors who have been probing corruption throughout city government.

Brown, whose 2008 re-election campaign has been under investigation for nearly a year, is facing a single felony count of bank fraud. The charge is not linked to any of his political campaigns.

Brown was charged in a criminal information -- a type of filing that indicates a guilty plea is imminent -- with lying on an application to extend a line of credit on his home. Brown used some of the loaned money to purchase a 38-foot powerboat named Bullet Proof, prosecutors said.

Hey, big spender
Council Chairman Kwame Brown's troubled financial history -- and propensity to spend beyond his salary, which was $190,000 a year as council chief -- has been scrutinized for years. Among Brown's money problems:
• More than $70,000 in unpaid credit card debt: Credit card issuers have sued Brown or his wife five times in recent years for not paying their bills.
• More than $700,000 in total debt: Brown estimated his own debt, including his mortgages, in 2010 to the Washington Post.
• Three cars for two drivers: Brown once simultaneously owned a 1999 Ford F-250 pickup with custom wheels, a 2003 Lincoln Navigator SUV and a 2000 Mercedes-Benz.
• High-class toys: Brown is a member of the private District Yacht Club on the Anacostia River and owns "Bullet Proof," a 38-foot Chris-Craft Continental express cruiser.

"Brown knowingly and willfully devised a scheme," prosecutors wrote, adding that Brown provided "falsified documents that overstated ... Brown's income by tens of thousands of dollars."

Brown will appear before U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon on Friday morning.

"I have behaved in ways that I should not have," Brown wrote in his resignation letter. "I was wrong, and I will face the consequences of that conduct."

On Wednesday afternoon, a smiling Brown, his necktie loosened, declined to comment as he departed his suite of offices at the John A. Wilson Building.

In a statement, Mayor Vincent Gray said he was stunned by the charge.

"I'm shocked by the news," Gray said. "I am disappointed and saddened. ... Never would I have imagined something like this would occur."

Soon after prosecutors charged Brown, he met with fellow lawmakers in a closed-door meeting.

"It was very sad. Some people were in tears," said one legislator, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the session. "I think he was defeated."

Brown resigned soon after the meeting, and city employees removed his name from his office door.

"I have made some very serious mistakes in judgment for which I take full responsibility," Brown wrote in his resignation letter. "I have chosen the only honorable course in submitting my resignation at this time. I simply will not hold this body and its important work hostage to the resolution of my personal indiscretions."

Brown's departure cleared the way for Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh, the body's chair pro tempore, to fill the city's second-ranking post on an interim basis until lawmakers choose a new leader.

The charges capped a week of frenzied speculation about Brown's future at the helm of the council.

On Tuesday, Brown reshuffled committee posts -- giving up his own oversight authority of economic development issues -- and vowed he would not resign.

"I have no plans to resign," Brown told reporters Tuesday.

The charges are the latest in a string of allegations against lawmakers and city power brokers.

Prosecutors charged Brown five months to the day after Ward 5 Councilman Harry Thomas Jr. pleaded guilty to corruption charges in connection with his embezzlement of more than $353,000 intended for youth sports programs. Thomas, who resigned shortly before his plea, is due to begin a 38-month prison sentence in Alabama this month.

In May, prosecutors secured guilty pleas from two aides to Gray's 2010 campaign for mayor. Howard Brooks and Thomas Gore both pleaded guilty to helping cover up a scheme designed to boost Gray's quest for the city's top job. Neither man has been sentenced, and the probe into Gray's campaign is continuing.

Examiner Staff Writers Jacob Demmitt and Scott McCabe contributed to this report.US v. Brown

Brown Letter

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