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June 9, 2013

Political Corruption

Dear Political Observers:

Dorothy asks a number of good questions about the Michael Brown case below, especially about the timing of the indictment. Why was Brown allowed to stay involved in DC local politics for nearly a year after the FBI had evidence that he was corruptly soliciting and accepting bribes? I’ll raise an issue that shows I am even more cynical than Dorothy. We know that indictments of political officials have to be cleared at the highest level of the Department of Justice. But last summer and fall Michael Brown was acting as a naational spokesman for the Obama political campaign. He attended the Democratic National Convention as a guest of the party, even though he was elected to the DC council as an independent. He appeared on several national news programs speaking on behalf of the Obama campaign. Could the delay in bringing his indictment be attributed to a desire not to embarrass Obama and the Democratic party?

Gary Imhoff


Corruption and Michael A. Brown
Dorothy Brizill,

In the latest case of corruption by a public official in the District of Columbia, former at-large councilmember Michael A. Brown will appear at 3:30 p.m. this afternoon before Judge Robert L. Wilkins in US District Court, 333 Constitution Avenue, NW, Courtroom 27A. He will plead guilty to having solicited and accepted a bribe while a member of the city council. In a charging document filed by the US Attorney’s Office, it is alleged that "beginning on or about July 11, 2012, through on or about March 14, 2013," Brown "directly and indirectly, corruptly demanded, sought, received, accepted, and agreed to receive and accept things of value personally, to wit, fifty-five thousand dollars ($55,000) in cash" from "undercover employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in return for being influenced in the performance of an official act." Brown faces a jail term of up to fifteen years and a fine of up to $250,000.

On April 3, after Brown suddenly withdrew from the April 23 special election citing "family matters, I wrote an article in themail titled "Unraveling the Michael Brown Debacle," At that time, I suggested that there was more to Brown’s withdrawal, just weeks before the election, than his need to take care of his ailing mother. I wrote that, "perhaps the biggest issue that must also be considered with regard to Michael Brown’s sudden departure from the at-large council race is the extent to which problems in his personal life and finances may have been a contributing factor in his withdrawal. In recent years, it has been widely reported that he owes federal income taxes, his house in Chevy Chase has had at least five foreclosure notices since 1996, and he has been unable on occasion to pay his apartment rent at the Rittenhouse on 16th Street. Moreover, despite the salary he received as a councilmember and payment for his work as a lobbyist at the firm of Edwards, Angell, Palmer, and Dodge, Brown has been borrowing very large sums of money from acquaintances, lobbyists, and businesses in the District for the last few years. While Brown blames Hakim Sutton for the funds missing from his 2012 campaign funds, Sutton’s lawyer has publicly put the blame on Brown. The full story of Brown’s withdrawal has not come out yet; District residents can only hope that all will be revealed in the fullness of time."

At today’s court proceeding, the US Attorney’s Office will file additional charging documents that will detail Brown’s role in the bribery scheme. At that point, DC residents will need to ask some very serious questions of Mr. Brown as well as of the US Attorney’s Office and the FBI. Why, for example was Brown allowed to remain a candidate in the November 2012 general election after he had already begun soliciting and accepting bribes from the FBI in July? What would federal authorities have done if Brown had won the November election? Why did the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office then allow Brown to become a candidate in the April 23, 2013, special election, knowing that they could indict him for corruption at any time? As the then-chair of the council’s Economic Development and Housing Committee, what did Brown promise in exchange for the bribe? Are the current problems in the District’s CBE (certified business enterprise) program at the Department of Small and Local Business Development (that have been written about in a series of articles over the past year by Alan Suderman in the Washington City Paper) attributable to corruption by the District’s public officials and government employees? Why is Brown facing only one count of "bribery of a public official" when there were numerous other charges that could have been brought? Since it is both a crime to accept and to offer a bribe to a public official, are there other District businessmen and companies that may be implicated in the course of the official investigation? Should concerns be raised about Amy Bellanca, who was Brown’s chief of staff and close friend, and who is now the lead general counsel at the DC Auditor’s Office, which is charged with monitoring and auditing the District’s CBE program?

Finally, to what extent will Michael Brown’s prosecution and plea agreement assist the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office with their investigation of Mayor Gray’s 2010 campaign, Jeffrey Thompson, the lottery contract, the CBE program, and corruption by other public officials and government employees?


Political Hardball
Muriel Bowser,

Yesterday, themail@dcwatch posted an article ("Bowser Plays Politics") in which Dorothy Brizill writes that by questioning the mayor’s nominees to the important Housing Production Trust Fund Board I was somehow playing political hardball. She writes that instead of evaluating the nominees against the statutory qualifications, I asked inappropriate questions and used my position as Chair of the Committee on Economic Development to advance my candidacy for mayor. While the questionnaire is thorough, the writer’s conclusion is simply not borne out by the facts.

First, we did ask each nominee questions about his or her statutory qualifications, as I have done when reviewing dozens of nominees over the years. Second, all of the questions are designed to identify the nominee and any conflicts of interest he or she might have. It is information that the Committee believes is useful for evaluating each nominee’s fitness for a board that will help spend $100 million on affordable housing. Lastly, I have repeatedly asked these same questions of nominees to other boards — the first instance of which was in October 2011; long before I announced my candidacy for mayor.

As I travel around the District of Columbia meeting residents and asking what they want from a new mayor, the most common answer is an open and transparent government. The fact of the matter is that boards and commissions make big decisions, decide issues of contention, hear appeals, and in this case oversee hundreds of millions of dollars. I would be remiss if I didn’t conduct a thorough review of each nominee. If I am accused of erring on the side of transparency — so be it.


Four Strikes and Huron Is Still at the Plate!
Samuel Jordan,

Huron Consulting from Chicago, an Enron spin-off, was awarded a $12.7 million contract to downsize and "turnaround" the United Medical Center (UMC), the only hospital east of the Anacostia River in Washington, DC, After four strikes, maybe we should conclude that Huron and the District are playing a game of their own creation.

Strike one: Huron did not submit its initial bid for the UMC "turnaround" with a certified business enterprise (CBE) subcontractor as required by DC statutes and stated explicitly in the solicitation. Instead, it was given more time to resubmit its bid. It returned for its second chance with a CBE, and a bid amount $2.7 million over the contract budget. Huron got the contract anyway. Competitors, hoping to do future business with the District, did not complain. Strike two: Huron’s "Contract Item Number One" was to develop a strategic plan to prepare the hospital for sale to the private sector. However, Mayor Gray, on March 28, just over a month after the contract was awarded, announced that the hospital will be rebuilt, owned by the city, and managed by a private firm. If the hospital is not to be sold to the private sector, shouldn’t such a significant change in Huron’s duties require the posting of a modified solicitation? Strike Three: "In consonance with McGladrey Option #2," released in November, 2011, Huron was to initiate a process that would downsize the hospital from its current capacity (210-220 patient beds in use daily) to an ambulatory care facility of sixty beds or fewer. Yet Mayor Gray and the majority of the DC council, including its Health Committee Chair, Councilmember Yvette Alexander, have stated in no uncertain terms that the hospital "will never become an ambulatory care clinic" of sixty beds or fewer. This task has also been deleted from Huron’s contractual obligations, although the contract has not been renegotiated. What are Huron’s new duties? Strike Four: Huron is responsible for conducting a community health care needs assessment that will help in deciding the configuration of capacity and services at UMC, but "in consonance with McGladrey Option #2," the downsize option. The assessment so far constitutes outreach to about one hundred "stakeholders" and a public meeting attended by about thirty community members, after accounting for hospital and council staff. One hundred "stakeholders" for the only hospital serving approximately 190,000 east of the river in Wards 7 and 8 and nearby Prince Georges County, Maryland?

The public meeting did not determine community health care needs. Instead, most speakers recounted negative UMC experiences and expectations and displeasure with the lack of reliable information about the hospital from its new administrators. Only a comprehensive, authoritative assessment that includes a two-thousand-plus survey of actual residents in UMC’s service area and the opportunity for meaningful decision-making input for community members will be representative and credible.

As chair of the United Medical Center Foundation, I conferred directly with the Huron subcontractor responsible for the assessment to register my own perspectives as a stakeholder. The firm, located in Houston, in spite of its promises, has not responded as agreed. A principal observation that I wanted on the record is that the assessment should not be conducted by the contractor or its subcontractor that is also charged to downsize the hospital and prepare it for sale to the private sector, a case of blatant self-dealing. Furthermore, the assessment’s policy advisories have been predetermined and thus compromised, and they should be disregarded.


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