After pleading guilty in June to felony bank fraud and violating the District's campaign finance laws, former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown did not get the sentence he deserved for his crimes, which could have been six months in jail. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon let him off easy, ordering Brown to spend just one day in the custody of U.S. marshals, six months on home detention, two years on probation and perform 480 hours of "visible" community service.
Serving the community he disgraced as the second-highest D.C. government official will no doubt be the most onerous punishment for a man who allowed his personal greed to torpedo his once-promising political career. If there's any saving grace in this morality tale, it's Brown's honest statement that he is not a victim, blaming his downfall on his own bad behavior. Admission of guilt is the first step toward redemption, and, to his credit, Brown has taken it, sparing the city the embarrassment and expense of a public trial.
In his defense, Brown noted that he had "not stolen or improperly used any public money" -- which is more than you can say for his former council colleague, Harry Thomas Jr., who in May was sentenced to 38 months in jail for stealing money from a children's baseball program. But his falsification of two bank loan applications totaling more than $200,000 (one to enable him to buy a $50,000 boat he named "Bullet Proof") and allowing a family member to make illegal cash expenditures from his 2008 campaign account are enough to disqualify him from public office.
Brown was the first at-large council member from east of the Anacostia River. He became council chairman at age 40. The tragedy is that he could have become a powerful advocate for the city's most disadvantaged, demoralized and government-dependent citizens, demanding better schools, more employment opportunities and an end to the corrupt cronyism that still permeates the city and has prevented real reform for generations. He could have been a hero to residents of the city desperately in need of one.
Instead, he succumbed to the siren song of entitlement and, as U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen put it, "traded away his principles for personal gain." But as Kwame Brown found out the hard way, corrupt public officials are never really bulletproof, although sometimes it takes a while for justice to catch up with them.