D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown resigned from his seat Wednesday night, hours after he was charged with bank fraud, plunging the city government into a leadership crisis.
“Because of the great respect that I have for the institution that is the Council of the District of Columbia, I have chosen the only honorable course in submitting my resignation at this time,” Brown wrote in a letter to the council secretary. “I simply will not hold this body, and its important work hostage to the resolution of my personal indiscretions.”
Earlier in the day, prosecutors filed a three-page charging document in the District’s federal court accusing Brown (D) of falsifying records in applications to obtain a home loan and to buy a $50,000 powerboat. Brown inflated his income by “tens of thousands of dollars” in the two-year scheme that started in August 2005, federal prosecutors wrote.
Brown, dogged for months by an investigation into his personal finances and his 2008 campaign for a council seat, is scheduled to attend a plea hearing Friday before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon. Bank fraud carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison, but under federal sentencing guidelines, Brown will face far less potential punishment.
The disclosure of the charges set off a frenzy of activity at the District’s John A. Wilson Building, including a hastily scheduled closed-door council meeting in Brown’s office.
Brown, 41, submitted his resignation quietly, in a letter delivered privately. He refused to address a platoon of reporters as he left his council offices about 4 p.m.
A politician who speaks of himself in the third person, has compared himself to President John F. Kennedy and has a love affair with expensive cars, Brown flashed a large grin as he shoved his way through the scrum and tried to ignore reporters’ shouted questions.
“I will have a comment tomorrow,” said Brown, who as recently as last week said that he was not “worried one bit” about an intensifying federal probe into his finances and a previous city campaign.
The charges against Brown came in a “criminal information,” a document that can be filed only with the defendant’s consent and which signals that a plea deal has been reached. Officials familiar with the case said that prosecutors and Brown’s attorney have been discussing the plea deal for weeks.
“Thank you,” he told reporters as he tried to get to his car. “No comment as of now. I appreciate you for waiting in this hallway all this time. I don’t have a comment.”
On Wednesday night, well after Brown had left the Wilson Building, city workers removed his nameplate from his office door, leaving only the word “Chairman” near Room 504.
Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who endorsed Brown in his 2010 race, said she was “dismayed” by Brown’s actions. “On some level, I feel betrayed,” she added. “He let down the District of Columbia.”
With Brown’s resignation, Cheh, who had been the council’s president pro tempore, is now temporary chair until members can elect an interim chairman. Cheh called a meeting for June 13 to elect the interim chairman.
Under Home Rule, the interim chairman must be one of the four at-large members. A special election will then be held to elect a permanent replacement.
“We are going to keep moving ahead in an orderly fashion,” Cheh said in an interview. Later, in a statement, she said: “I want to reassure everyone that the work of the Council will continue uninterrupted. We will move forward focused on the business the people elected us to do.”
Brown’s attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., did not respond to numerous e-mails or phone messages seeking comment. U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. also declined to comment.
As chairman, Brown was the second highest-ranking official in D.C. government, wielding incredible power over the city’s finances and deciding which legislation is taken up by the council. He had increased the influence of the council chairman’s position — literally expanding the size of his own office by blasting out walls — and was known to reward supporters with coveted leadership posts and strip such assignments from those who crossed him.
Brown had been next in line to succeed Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) if Gray were to leave office.
Gray, who also is weathering a federal investigation into practices tied to his 2010 mayoral campaign, issued a statement Wednesday saying that he was “shocked by the news. I am disappointed and saddened. I was elected to the Council when Chairman Brown was elected to an at-large position. I served with him my entire time on the Council. Never would I have imagined something like this would occur.”
Brown is the second council member this year to be charged with a federal crime. Last month, former council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D) was sentenced to 38 months in prison after pleading guilty to stealing more than $350,000 from city taxpayers.