D.C. files complaint over $114,000 in missing campaign funds

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

District regulators say a longtime political operative "knowingly and willfully" broke the city's campaign finance laws -- and possibly its criminal laws -- for his role in handling nearly $114,000 in checks to himself from former Councilman Michael Brown's campaign account.

The D.C. Office of Campaign Finance alleged in a five-page complaint to the D.C. Board of Elections last month that Hakim Sutton, whom Brown fired in June as his campaign's treasurer, failed to report 34 checks worth $113,950 that were payable to -- and ultimately endorsed by -- him.

City officials also said Sutton had filed a "false or misleading report" on behalf of Brown's campaign and had not provided investigators with requested records.

Brown, who has said investigators cleared him of wrongdoing, has characterized the episode as a "theft," but no one has been charged with a crime.

"It's about time," Brown said Thursday of the complaint. "I'll wait to see how the investigation goes."

Campaign finance officials want the Board of Elections to order Brown's campaign committee to seek reimbursement from Sutton for the money. They also want "a review of possible criminal violations" by federal prosecutors.

Kenneth McGhie, the Elections Board's general counsel, said the panel will hold a hearing -- likely next month -- before issuing a decision.

Sutton could not be reached Thursday, and a lawyer who previously represented him didn't respond to a request for comment.

A decision by the Elections Board to seek intervention from law enforcement would be little more than a formality: The Metropolitan Police Department and federal prosecutors have been investigating the alleged embezzlement for months.

Gwendolyn Crump, a police spokeswoman, said Thursday that the investigation is "open and active."

Brown stunned the District's political establishment last June when he disclosed that a "significant" sum was missing from the war chest he had built for his re-election campaign.

The loss hampered the lawmaker's bid for a second term, as did a series of revelations about Brown's personal conduct.

Brown ultimately won 15 percent of the vote -- third place -- in the seven-way contest.

Brown, who is attempting a comeback this spring in a special election for a D.C. Council seat, said Thursday that the missing money had affected his campaign "enormously."

"We knew we were going to come under attack, which is fine and is the nature of politics, but when you know you have the ability to fight back, it doesn't make it as concerning," he said. "We didn't have the resources to fight back."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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