Former D.C. council member’s treasurer charged with stealing from campaign

March 12, 2014

Former D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown’s campaign treasurer has been charged with stealing more than $100,000 from the candidate’s bank account in a case that bolsters the politician’s explanation of the missing money.

Hakim J. Sutton, a veteran Democratic fundraiser and consultant, is accused of spending Brown’s campaign money to travel to Greece and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.; to shop at Armani Exchange and the Apple Store; and to work out at Vida Fitness, according to a grand jury indictment unsealed Wednesday.

The 13-page charging documents provide a new account of a bitter public dispute that contributed to doubts about the council member and helped lead to his defeat in the November 2012 election. The controversy over the campaign money came one year before Brown pleaded guilty in federal court to accepting bribes in an unrelated investigation.

The allegations of missing money arose in June 2012, when Brown announced that he feared “a substantial” amount of cash had been embezzled from his campaign account. He called the D.C. police and fired Sutton.

The treasurer’s attorney asserted that Sutton had taken the payments as “salary” and that the candidate was aware of the withdrawals.

In court documents made public Wednesday, prosecutors supported Brown’s version of events. Sutton is charged with stealing about $115,000 from the campaign bank account between May 2011 and June 2012.

According to the indictment, Sutton diverted money from the campaign to his personal accounts and converted the money to cash. Sutton is accused of writing 36 checks to himself from the campaign account. Prosecutors say he also spent the money on trips to Las Vegas, San Diego and Miami Beach, Fla., and at high-end stores such as Gucci and Ferragamo.

To hide his spending, prosecutors say, Sutton falsified reports to the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance and his tax returns.

A grand jury formally indicted Sutton in late February on theft, fraud and other charges. Prosecutors moved to unseal the charges this week because law enforcement officials apparently have had trouble tracking him down.

“Attempts to locate the defendant and arrest him have thus far proved unsuccessful,” according to a court filing. “The government now believes that making the indictment and arrest warrant known to the public may actually aid in the apprehension of the defendant.”

Sutton’s attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, said he has not been able to reach his client. Gordon said he does not believe that his client has “stolen any of this money.”

“I can’t imagine he’s on the run,” Gordon said. “I don’t know if he was expecting this.”

Gordon said Sutton’s Facebook page shows that he was at the airport in Miami on March 8, and he commented on the warm temperatures in the District as recently as Tuesday.

“This weather has me ready to summer,” the post on Sutton’s page read, Gordon said.

For Brown, the dust-up over the missing money in 2012 added to questions about his financial history, including a federal income tax lien, late mortgage payments and failure to pay rent. He was defeated by independent David Grosso that November by more than 20,000 votes.

Brown attempted a comeback two months later to fill the at-large seat vacated by Phil Mendelson (D), who is now the council’s chairman, but he abruptly withdrew from the race in April 2013.

Last June, Brown admitted to the bribery charge. He is scheduled to be sentenced this spring.

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Ann covers legal affairs in the District and Maryland for the Washington Post. Ann previously covered state government and politics in California, New Hampshire and Maryland. She joined the Post in 2005.
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