WASHINGTON (AP) — Former District of Columbia Councilmember Michael A. Brown was sentenced Thursday to more than three years in prison for taking over $50,000 in bribes in an undercover FBI sting, a comparatively stiff sentence from a judge who said "we cannot have city government run this way."
The 39-month sentence imposed by Chief U.S. District Judge Richard W. Roberts nearly matched prosecutors' request for a 43-month prison term — the most Brown could have received under the terms of his plea bargain.
Brown's lawyers had sought a more lenient sentence.
Brown, who served a single term on the D.C. Council after winning election in 2008, apologized to his constituents and to his family.
"I should have resisted the culture of corruption running rampant in our city," Brown, 49, said.
Brown is the son of former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, who was killed in a plane crash in 1996.
Reid Weingarten, Brown's attorney, in arguing for a lighter sentence, said he wasn't going to engage in "Oedipal psychobabble" but said Ron Brown's death had a profound effect on his client.
"In truth, in my view, he never fully came to terms with" his father's death, said Weingarten, also a close associate of Ron Brown.
Prosecutors said Brown's crime fits a pattern of illegal behavior that stretched back to 1994, when Brown made illegal campaign contributions through a conduit that resulted in a misdemeanor conviction.
In the sting operation, Brown took $55,000 in cash payments, handed to him in rolls and stacks of $100 bills transmitted in coffee mugs and duffel bags. Some of the transactions were caught on camera.
The undercover FBI agent was posing as a businessman seeking preferential treatment on government contracts. Brown admitted contacting city agencies numerous times on behalf of the purported contractor.
"Michael Brown sold his elected office for personal gain. The price was $55,000 cash," said prosecutor Michael Atkinson.
Prosecutors said Brown needed the money to fund a lavish lifestyle despite annual income from his job on the council and as a lobbyist that exceeded $200,000. Brown said his financial woes stemmed from a messy divorce.
When Brown first entered his guilty plea last year, the deal called for a sentence no longer than 37 months. But prosecutors said Brown was not fully cooperative with investigators who were pursuing related corruption cases. As a result, they amended the deal to raise the cap to 43 months, and included language in the statement of facts to refer not only to the $55,000 in bribes he took during the sting, but also nearly $150,000 in off-the-books donations to his political campaigns in 2007 in 2008.
Most of that money came from businessman Jeffrey Thompson, who pleaded guilty to corruption charges earlier this year that included allegations he helped fund a "shadow campaign" for District Mayor Vincent Gray.
Atkinson said Brown also failed to disclose that Thompson paid him in 2006 to drop out of a race to clear the path for another candidate.
Weingarten said Brown's cooperation was instrumental in prosecutors' pursuit of Thompson, an assertion prosecutors did not dispute. Weingarten suggested Brown was not ready for a world in which Thompson seemed to be funding numerous candidates with secret contributions, and that such dealing were perceived as the norm.
The judge, though, was unsympathetic to the notion that bribes and illegal contributions are just a part of doing business in the city.
"If there is this sense that this is all politics as usual ... the citizens of the District of Columbia are better than that. They deserve better than that," Roberts said.
Brown is the third D.C. councilmember in the last three years to be convicted on corruption charges.