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Michael Brown pleads guilty to taking $55,000 in bribes while on D.C. Council

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder,D.C. Council,Corruption

Former D.C. Councilman Michael Brown, once among the most influential figures in District politics and a man many believed possessed the raw political talent to ascend to the mayoralty, pleaded guilty on Monday to accepting $55,000 in bribes during an FBI sting operation.

"How do you wish to plead to this charge of bribery of a public official?" U.S. District Court Judge Robert Wilkins asked Brown.

"Guilty, your honor," Brown replied.

The terms of Brown's plea agreement and federal sentencing guidelines call for the former legislator to receive a prison sentence of up to 37 months.

Wilkins, however, has the authority to ignore the deal and could sentence Brown to up to 15 years in prison.

Monday's plea hearing marked the third time since January 2012 that a sitting or former D.C. lawmaker had pleaded guilty to misconduct while in office, and it signaled the unraveling of a political career that emerged as promising after a series of false starts.

Brown, armed with the Rolodex of his father -- Clinton-era Commerce Secretary Ronald Brown -- and abundant charisma, won an at-large D.C. Council seat in 2008 by more than 30,000 votes. It was a momentum shift for Brown, who had lost two previous races.

He became the council's second-ranking official in June 2012, the same month that his close ally, then-D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown, resigned after prosecutors charged him with bank fraud.

But as Brown, already marred by a 1997 conviction for breaking federal campaign finance laws, mounted a bid for re-election, his personal troubles became public fodder.

Damaging story after damaging story about Brown trickled out: a driving record dotted with license suspensions, squabbles with the Internal Revenue Service and tardy rent payments.

And just as the election season intensified, Brown said that his former campaign treasurer had stolen a six-figure sum from his war chest, leaving his financial resources diminished to combat what he later condemned as an unfair assault by the news media.

D.C. voters, though, appeared to have had enough with Brown and resoundingly ejected him from office in November in favor of former council aide David Grosso.

By then, although few people knew it, Brown was already deep into an FBI-orchestrated bribery scheme, which a court document shows began in July 2012.

According to that filing, undercover FBI employees went to Brown seeking assistance tied to the District's Certified Business Enterprise program.

In return, prosecutors wrote, Brown "corruptly demanded, sought, received, accepted and agreed to receive and accept things of value."

Brown quickly kicked off a campaign to return to the council through an April 23 special election to fill an at-large seat.

On April 2, however, Brown abruptly dropped out of the race, citing "very important personal and family matters that require my immediate attention."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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