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Probe of Kwame Brown may be ending without a bang

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Photo - examiner file
Former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown’s abrupt resignation was the second 
time in five months that a member has left in disgrace for financial misdeeds.
examiner file Former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown’s abrupt resignation was the second 
time in five months that a member has left in disgrace for financial misdeeds.
Local,DC,Harry Jaffe

Like it or not, the federal investigation into the fishy campaign finances of defrocked Council Chairman Kwame Brown might be over, with little to show in classic public corruption.

Brown's brother, Che, is scheduled to plead to bank fraud in federal court tomorrow. Che Brown handled hundreds of thousands of dollars in his brother's successful 2008 council bid. Based on documents from the city's audit, it seemed money from that campaign has not been accounted for.

Where that money went seems to have eluded the federal prosecutors who investigated the case, so far.

U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen is likely to address reporters after Che Brown pleads guilty. Chances are he will say that bank fraud is a serious felony, which it is. Che Brown was charged with submitting documents to a mortgage lender that exaggerated his annual income by $35,000. Reporters will ask whether Machen is still investigating Brown's campaign. He might keep us guessing.

My guess is Machen is done with Kwame Brown, his brother and his father, Marshall. That's what I gather from the street, former prosecutors and defense attorneys involved in ongoing public corruption cases.

"It's OK not to bring a case," said one defense attorney. "It's as just as bringing a case."

Brown raised $825,000, even though he ran unopposed in 2008. City investigators found that Che Brown's company, Partners In Learning, had received about $240,000 from the campaign, unreported and funneled through another firm.

That raised questions.

In July, 2011, Kwame Brown invited federal prosecutors to investigate. Less than a year later, Machen charged him with felony bank fraud. The charges had nothing to do with campaign funds or his public duties. Brown falsified documents to buy a boat. But the charges were enough to force Brown to resign from office.

Machen said at the time the investigation into the 2008 campaign, Che Brown and their father, Marshall, was ongoing. Investigators had carried boxes of documents from both of their homes.

But those documents must not have turned up a trail to crimes, such as money laundering or violations of federal campaign laws. In June, Che Brown gave the feds a forensic accounting to explain how the money came and went. Brown also spent a day talking to prosecutors under immunity. The best federal accountants and auditors had plenty of time to nail the Browns on corruption. They settled on bank fraud.

No one is saying the Browns are model citizens. Kwame's political career is over. He's on probation. Che could serve time. But this seems to be a cautionary tale with implications for the array of Machen's ongoing investigations.

First, shoddy accounting and payments to family or friends don't always translate to criminal acts that can be proved in federal court.

And while the Brown corruption probe may not have borne fruit, Kwame might be cooperating with the FBI and its investigation of the District's lottery contract, a probe that still could reach into the offices of top city officials.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Wednesday. He can be contacted at hjaffe@washingtonian.com.

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