Sulaimon Brown appears before D.C. Council committee investigating hires

Former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown — sporting dark shades and a defiant attitude at a raucous D.C. Council hearing — directly implicated Mayor Vincent C. Gray for the first time Monday in allegations that the Gray campaign paid Brown to disparage then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty in last year’s primary race.

“The mayor is a crook,” Brown told council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), the chairwoman of the committee investigating the Gray administration’s hiring practices. “Everyone knows you’re running a sham.”

It was one of many provocative pronouncements that Brown made during his long-awaited appearance before the council, which went to court last week to compel his testimony.

Beginning with his refusal to remove his sunglasses, Brown managed to draw the ire of the entire dais, calling one council member a racist, implying another wasn’t qualified for her job as a law professor and interrupting just about everyone who questioned him.

Near the end of the four-hour spectacle, council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) told Brown to “shut up.”

For Brown, the hearing provided the biggest stage yet for his allegations, which have dominated the first months of the new mayor’s administration and prompted investigations not only by the council but also the U.S. attorney’s office, the FBI and a congressional committee.

Appearing in public and under oath for the first time, Brown brandished copies of money orders he said were part of the alleged payoffs — though he initially refused to hand over copies to the council.

He said that he received an unknown amount of cash and two money orders — one for $500 and another for $150 — during a fundraiser for Gray (D) at Eatonville, a restaurant, after a Ward 4 debate Aug. 4. He said Gray asked him to step outside with him. “While we were outside, he thanked me,” Brown told council members.

“ ‘I think Howard has something for you,’ ” Brown said Gray told him, referring to campaign consultant Howard L. Brooks. Brown said Brooks gave him the money.

Since March, Brown, a 40-year-old unemployed auditor who was hired for and later dismissed from a $110,000-a-year city job, has rocked city government with allegations of an agreement to be paid and to get a job in the administration if Gray won the mayoral race. Brown has repeatedly said that Brooks and Lorraine Green, chairwoman of Gray’s campaign and transition, gave him payments. Gray, Green and Brooks have denied the allegations.

Gray’s spokeswoman said he had no comment on Brown’s testimony. In the past, Gray has cited the ongoing investigations in declining to comment on the allegations.

Brooks and his son, Peyton M. Brooks, who was also hired and later resigned from a special assistant job, have declined to testify before the council. If called, they said, they would assert the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

The Washington Post identified connections between three campaign contributions listed in Brown’s campaign finance reports and Peyton Brooks, the younger Brooks’s girlfriend and a cousin of Howard Brooks’s wife. Brown has shared copies of money orders with addresses tied to the three.

The cousin and the girlfriend have denied that they made contributions to Brown and said they did not know how they came to appear in his report.

Until Monday’s hearing, Brown had declined to appear before the council committee. The council struggled to serve him with a subpoena and eventually went to court. Last week, Brown appeared before a judge and agreed to testify before the council.

It was predicted to be a circus, and it didn’t fall far short.

Inexplicably testifying while wearing mirrored sunglasses that he refused to remove, Brown often turned the tables on council members, asking them questions. He declined to answer questions that might implicate him, such as what he did with alleged cash and money orders that he did not deposit into his campaign bank account. And although he shared copies of money orders with reporters covering the hearing, he declined to give copies to the committee.

A clerk served Brown with an order during the hearing that directed him to provide the committee with the documents by June 15.

Then there there were the rhetorical bombs Brown lobbed. He called council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) a “racist.” He questioned Cheh’s legal knowledge as a law professor and challenged her impartiality.

And as Barry tried to defend Gray, Brown questioned the integrity of the city’s elected officials, among them Barry.

After noting a lawsuit the District’s attorney general filed Monday against council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) involving allegations Thomas he misdirected city funds for his personal use, Brown unloaded on Barry.

“You don’t even have the tags on your car,” Brown told Barry, referring to problems with the license plates on Barry’s Jaguar. “You got locked up by the same FBI I’m talking to.”

Losing his cool, Barry said, “You’re out of your goddamn mind.”

In earlier moments, the hearing had an almost farcical feel. The audience and some council members often gasped, shook their heads or laughed. “I’ve never been to a hearing like this before,” Barry said.

Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) said she was disturbed by the laughter during the hearing. “This, to me, is not funny.”

Bowser also said she suspected “something was wrong” last summer as she watched Brown’s performances during debates. “We must all be committed not to let money under the table influence an election,” she said.

Brown said he was a reluctant witness because of what he called “prejudicial” public statements by Cheh, chairwoman of the investigating committee.

He also said he considered Catania, chairman of the Committee on Health, a witness in the investigation. Brown has repeatedly said Catania contributed to his firing by telling Wayne Turnage, director of the Department of Health Care Finance, that Brown’s employment could be a factor in his confirmation hearing. He added that Catania had called him a “criminal.”

Catania denied that he had threatened Turnage’s confirmation. In one of the more tense moments of the hearing, Catania said: “Mr. Brown, your delusions are limitless. . . . You are undermining your credibility and your usefulness to the committee.”

Catania did not back away from his statement about Brown being a criminal, saying that Brown’s testimony that he received money and used it to support himself and his campaign was tantamount to “money laundering.”

“You’ve admitted you’re a criminal,” he said.

In another flare-up, council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) said she wanted to clear up any “insinuation” that she had seen a transaction at Eatonville. Brown had identified her as being at the event.

Brown told her that he wasn’t going to answer her questions, which drew a dismissive rebuke from the council member. “Excuse me, I will not ask you questions with those sunglasses on, so don’t worry about me asking a question,” Alexander said.

Throughout the hearing, Brown appeared to try to stay on his message, which he said was that he was paid and promised the job. He repeatedly said he was being disrespected and felt that the hearing was being held to implicate him, not the mayor. “I think the bigger picture is the mayor,” Brown said.

Earlier in the day, Brown described what he said was a face-to-face conversation with Gray about getting a job during the mayor’s inauguration. “You’ve got the job,” he said Gray told him. “He told me, ‘Don’t [expletive] it up.’ ”

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