WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — Kwame R. Brown, the chairman of the District of Columbia Council, was charged Wednesday with lying about his income on loan applications and told colleagues in a closed-door meeting later in the day that he planned to resign.
Brown’s name was later removed from the signs outside of his office at the Wilson Building, signalling a change was coming although no official announcement was made.
Brown submitted his letter or resignation to D.C. Council Secretary Nyasha Smith shortly before 4:30 p.m.
In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, Brown said he “made some very serious mistakes in judgment” and plans to take full responsibility for them.
“I have behaved in ways that I should not have,” the letter read. “I was wrong, and I will face the consequences of that conduct. I have apologized to the residents of our great city, and I also offer my unconditional apology to the members of the Council for all of the negative attention that my conduct has brought about.”
Brown said his resignation was effective immediately.
Mary Cheh, Councilmember for Ward 3, will serve as Acting Chair of the Council.
The bank fraud charge against Brown, one of the most influential power brokers in D.C. government, is the latest allegation of criminal wrongdoing to roil local politics in the nation’s capital and will lead to further membership shakeups on the council. Brown becomes the second councilmember to face criminal charges since January and his expected departure comes as federal authorities continue investigating the 2010 campaign of Mayor Vincent Gray.
Brown was charged in a criminal information, a document that generally signals that a defendant has agreed to plead guilty. A plea hearing is set for Friday in U.S. District Court in Washington.
Brown declined to answer questions or comment on the case following a closed-door meeting with fellow councilmembers Wednesday afternoon. It was there he revealed plans to resign from the 13-person panel, according to a person briefed on the meeting.
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because Brown, who said he would issue a statement Thursday, had not publicly announced his decision and because the person was not authorized to discuss the conversation. Brown’s lawyer, Frederick Cooke, declined comment, and the U.S. Attorney’s office said it would have no comment.
Brown is charged with a single count of bank fraud, accused of overstating his income by tens of thousands of dollars on applications submitted for a home equity loan and for a boat. Though federal bank fraud carries up to 30 years in prison, Brown is likely to receive a much shorter sentence for his cooperation with prosecutors. Federal authorities had also been investigating Brown for alleged financial improprieties in his 2008 campaign, but Wednesday’s charge is unrelated and focuses solely on his personal financial dealings.
Political consultant Tom Lindenfeld, who says he’s friends with Brown, said the criminal charge did nothing to clean up perceived municipal corruption since it dealt with Brown’s personal, rather than public, life.
“I think that if we’re going to take people who have been arrested out of office, it should (be for) public corruption, and I don’t see it here,” he said.
Either way, the charge does cast a further cloud on D.C. politics and creates further tumult.
It comes six months after then-Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $350,000 in government funds earmarked for youth sports and arts programs. He resigned, was sentenced to more than three years in prison and was replaced on the council in a special election last month.
Two former Gray campaign aides pleaded guilty in a separate investigation last month on charges stemming from illicit payments made to encourage a minor candidate in the 2010 race to denigrate then-incumbent Adrian Fenty. One aide, Howard Brooks, admitted lying to the FBI about the payments while the other, Thomas Gore, admitted to funneling the payments and destroying evidence of the transactions. Gray has denied wrongdoing.
“I’m shocked by the news; I am disappointed and saddened,” Gray, who preceded Brown as council chairman and served alongside him, said in a written statement. He added, “I served with him my entire time on the Council. Never would I have imagined something like this would occur.”
The D.C. Council is a unique panel, functioning as both a municipal governing body and as state legislature. Its 13 members vote on legislation and a multi-billion-dollar budget that touches all corners of city life. The chairman has special powers as well, doling out committee assignments, convening meetings, overseeing the budget process and introducing legislation at the mayor’s behest.
Under D.C. regulations, the Board of Elections would certify the seat as vacant within five working days of receiving notice of Brown’s resignation. A special election to fill his seat would likely take place in November. A new council chairman would be selected among the four at-large members.
D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham, speaking before the council meeting, said the charge ends what had been a period of uncertainty.
“It’s an opportunity for real change,” he said, adding that he was hopeful about the future.
“I believe, though, optimistically that we have the resources within the council, within this government, to pull out of this and to reach a point … where something positive is going to happen,” he said
Brown, a native Washingtonian who says he’s worked to revitalize neighborhoods and strengthen environmental laws, was elected to the council in 2004 and ascended to chairman in January 2011, after Gray became mayor.
He stumbled early last year, when he gave back under pressure a fully loaded Lincoln Navigator SUV that he had specifically requested and that cost the city nearly $2,000 a month. His staff had already rejected one SUV because it didn’t have the interior he wanted. A report from a fellow councilmember found that Brown had “inappropriately requested” the SUV and that city officials broke the law by leasing it to him.
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