DC Council Chairman Charged with Bank Fraud

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 that he planned to resign.

    The bank fraud charge against Kwame R. Brown, one of the most influential leaders in D.C. government, is the latest allegation of criminal wrongdoing to roil local politics in the nation's capital. Brown becomes the second councilmember to face criminal charges since January and his expected departure comes as federal authorities investigate 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. 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 because of his guilty plea. 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 the charge 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.

    The charge does throw D.C. politics into further turmoil.

    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 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 badmouth then-incumbent Adrian Fenty. That investigation continues. Gray has denied wrongdoing.

    "I'm shocked by the news; I am disappointed and saddened," Gray, who preceded Brown as council chairman, said in a written statement, later adding, "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 regulations. A special election to fill his seat would likely take place in November.

    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 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 a fully loaded Lincoln Navigator SUV that he had specifically requested and that cost the city nearly $2,000 a month. A report from a fellow councilmember found that city officials broke the law by providing the SUV to Brown.

    ____

    Jessica Gresko contributed to this report.

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