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Feds in D.C. target private citizens in corruption probes

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Photo - D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (Examiner file photo)
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (Examiner file photo)
Local,DC,Alan Blinder

When Howard Brooks, a consultant to D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray's 2010 campaign, stood before a federal judge in the District last week and learned his sentence for his role in a political corruption scandal, he wasn't an outlier.

Rather, he was but the latest private citizen to appear to answer for his actions dealing with "public integrity."

So far this year, U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. has charged 10 "private citizens involved in public corruption offenses." Although six of those cases were tied to the ongoing investigations into the D.C. political scene, others dealt with bribery and kickbacks at federal agencies.

"Too often, private citizens dependent on government contracts are the driving force behind schemes that undermine the integrity of our elections and our government," Machen said in a statement to The Washington Examiner. "We are hopeful that holding these criminals responsible will help foster a culture of honesty, transparency and accountability in local and federal governance."

Although authorities have time to add to their 2012 record, Machen's anti-corruption team has already carved out a place as one of the nation's most aggressive.

Justice Department statistics show that last year, the country's 93 U.S. attorneys charged 295 private citizens for their activities in public corruption cases, an average of three per office. In Washington, though, prosecutors hit 16 private citizens with corruption charges.

A defense lawyer who has handled corruption matters said Machen doesn't appear to be seeking headlines.

"These have been some of the bigger investigations in a generation," said the attorney, who requested anonymity to speak candidly. "They've cast a pretty broad net, but I can't say that it's been inappropriately broad at this point."

The heavy caseload isn't a surprise given the history of Machen's office. Between 2002 and 2011, the office recorded 333 convictions of federal and local officials and private citizens who were caught up in corruption.

In the same period, the national average was 245 convictions per U.S. Attorney's Office.

While Machen isn't talking about his team's future plans, his office has acknowledged that probes into the Gray campaign, former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown's political apparatus and an embezzlement scandal involving an ex-city lawmaker are ongoing.

Prosecutors are also investigating the District's lottery contract, and The Examiner reported in July that a grand jury looking into that matter had issued subpoenas that referenced the law banning bribery.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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