WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former District of Columbia Councilmember Michael Brown pleaded guilty to bribery on Monday, admitting he accepted tens of thousands of dollars from undercover FBI agents posing as businessmen from Maryland.
Prosecutors have agreed to recommend a maximum three-year prison sentence as part of the plea deal.
Brown accepted $55,000 from the undercover agents over an eight-month period beginning last July, collecting money in $100 denominations concealed in coffee mugs and in duffel bags containing Washington Nationals apparel. The payments were given during five meetings in Washington restaurants and hotels, prosecutors said.
He referred to the payments as loans but never intended to pay them back, U.S. Attorney Ron Machen said.
Brown, the son of the late Commerce secretary Ron Brown, learned at the final meeting in March that he had been caught in an undercover FBI sting. Several weeks later, he abruptly abandoned his bid for an open at-large Council seat, citing personal and family problems that required his immediate attention.
The undercover FBI agents approached Brown last summer after he had made it known that he was interested in payments of tens of thousands of dollars from a contractor seeking to do business with the government, Machen said.
"We didn't target Mike Brown. Mike Brown targeted himself by making it known that he was willing to accept cash for political influence," Machen said.
The undercover agents told Brown that they were seeking certification for a government program that gives preferential contracting and procurement opportunities to select disadvantaged businesses. In exchange for the money, Brown contacted D.C. officials to help the company gain approval for the program, prosecutors said.
"It's a 12-18 month process and you're way ahead of the game ... way ahead. Very few people get the kind of access and get through the process as quickly as you guys have gotten," Brown told one of the undercover agents, according to court papers. "And I do that for other people. That's what I do. I try to increase, again, the opportunities for black folk."
Brown's attorney has said the bribe payments were a lapse in judgment at a time he was financially struggling.
Brown, 48, was elected to the Council in 2008. He lost his bid for a second term last November but ran again this spring for an open at-large seat before abandoning the race in early April.
He is the third Council member since January 2012 to be criminally charged. Former Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. is in prison after pleading guilty to embezzling government funds earmarked for youth sports programs, and ex-Chairman Kwame Brown pleaded guilty one year ago to bank fraud.
Michael Brown has agreed to forfeit $35,000, which represents the amount of money he received before the FBI confronted him.
"The Maryland businessmen were not real. But what was for real was Michael Brown's willingness to put a 'for sale' sign" on his Council seat, Machen said.
Brown separately admitted — but will not be charged for — concealing the origins of $20,000 in secret campaign contributions during an unsuccessful 2007 bid for a council seat. Prosecutors say he conspired in that scheme with a former campaign aide to Mayor Vincent Gray, who pleaded guilty last year for her role in a separate scheme.
Michael Brown's father, Ron Brown, was the first black to serve as chairman of the Democratic Party. Ron Brown served as commerce secretary under President Bill Clinton, and was killed in 1996 when a plane carrying him and 34 others crashed in Croatia while he was leading a trade mission.
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