Jonetta Rose Barras: Living a lie

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Local,DC,Jonetta Rose Barras

Former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown didn't just commit bank fraud. He was a fraud.

Even in his final days as head of the city's legislative branch, he deliberately misled his council colleagues, his staff, and residents.

Just days before his guilty plea, he told the Washington Post "I'm not worried one bit," noting that his staff was scheduling appointments for him through October. Brown knew, then, that U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. had him in a vise. His attorney Frederick D. Cooke Jr. had begun negotiations, hoping to keep Brown from going to jail for 30 years -- the punishment for his crime.

Brown also told reporters he wasn't going to resign. But if Machen's handling of former Councilman Harry Thomas Jr. was prologue, there was little doubt the feds also would demand Brown's resignation.

"It just amazes me how Harry Thomas and he could lie with such straight faces for so long," said one council member, who, concerned about the fragile state of the legislature, requested anonymity. "How could we not see they were lying?"

"Pathological" and "inveterate" are terms best describing them and their behaviors.

"Kwame Brown has always been loose with the truth," talk show host Chuck Thies said recently on NewsChannel 8.

Brown's consistent inauthentic rendering of himself and his circumstances is what got him in trouble. Even as he left D.C. Superior Court, after pleading guilty to a campaign finance charge related to his 2008 re-election bid, he engaged in pretense, asserting the "government has not charged me with stealing or improperly using campaign funds."

He may be right about stealing, but if facilitating off-the-books payments using campaign funds is not improper, what is?

Some folks, including a few in the media, have portrayed Brown's offense as personal and not public. "Everyone fudges income on loan applications" is what they have said in the ex-chairman's defense.

An elected official is not "everyone." Brown was a leader, charged not just with raising the quality of life in the city but also lifting its ethical and moral standards.

Brown claimed in his post-pleading statement that he didn't use his "public office or position to improperly benefit or enrich myself." That directly contradicted Machen's comment that Brown had "traded away his principles for personal gain."

He also violated District law when he used his government fax machine to send his application to Industrial Bank, sending a not-so-subtle message to officials there that they were dealing with a sitting legislator who could affect their livelihood. Brown was head of the Committee on Economic Development when he got the loan to purchase his boat, Bullet Proof.

Brown has posed as the defender of local businesses, particularly those owned by African-Americans. But he picked the nation's oldest black bank to defraud.

Machen said Brown's pleas "take us one step closer to a culture of integrity and accountability that will not tolerate politicians engaging in dishonesty and self-dealing."

Unfortunately, it's only a baby step.

Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Monday and Wednesday. She can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

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