Is U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr.’s investigation of D.C. corruption a display of selective prosecution based on race and political party? Is The Post’s editorial board out to “paint a picture of ethical violations as singular to African American political leaders and the District Democratic Party”?
Those questions were raised in an online posting this week by Robert Vinson Brannum, president emeritus of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations and former chairman of the Ward 5 Democratic committee.
Brannum suggested that the answer to both questions is yes — and he is not alone in that view. Similar grumbling can be heard among some of the city’s black political class and in venues patronized mainly by black Washingtonians.
The grousing, however, is nowhere near the level heard during Marion Barry’s arrest, trial and conviction on a drug charge in 1990. Today, the District’s Wall of Shame displays three recently convicted former members of the D.C. Council and several campaign officials who have pleaded guilty to violations — all African Americans and most Democrats.
So, are those concerns legitimate? Are the feds focusing unfairly on black Democrats? It might appear that way — to the nearsighted.
While Machen and his prosecutors have been busy at work in the District:
●Two Florida contractors were sentenced April 23 for paying bribes to secure $26 million in contracts from Broward County;
●A former New Jersey school administrator was sentenced Dec. 10 for a bribery scheme in which he received payments, portions of which were passed on as bribes to the superintendent of the school district. (On Sept. 14, the superintendent was sentenced to 135 months in prison on federal charges.)
Nor is corruption limited to big cities.
●A former Pennsylvania state senator was sentenced to prison on Nov. 30 in Scranton on charges of mail and tax fraud.
●A former city clerk of Thayer, in Neosho County, Kan., was sent to jail on Oct. 24 and ordered to pay restitution for bank fraud and money laundering.
●A former member of the Arizona House of Representatives was sentenced to prison in June 2012 for wire fraud and tax evasion.
Think the District has a corruption problem? The New York Times reported that the New York Public Interest Research Group had found that “32 current or former state officeholders have been convicted, censured or otherwise accused of wrongdoing over the past seven years.”
New York puts to rest the charge that only African American Democrats are under fire. In the Empire State, corruption crosses partisan and racial lines.
Case in point: In April, the FBI and the U.S. attorney in Manhattan announced bribery, extortion and fraud charges against a New York state senator, a New York City Council member and four others.
The first scheme involved a Democratic state senator — who is African American — who allegedly arranged for bribes totaling $40,000 to be paid to two New York Republican leaders — who are white — as part of an effort by the senator to appear on the Republican primary ballot in the 2013 mayoral election. The city council member — a white Republican — allegedly received approximately $20,500 to act as an intermediary with the Republican leaders on the state senator’s behalf.
In the second scheme, the council member allegedly received about $18,300 in cash and $6,500 in straw-donor campaign contributions in exchange for agreeing to steer up to $80,000 of New York City Council discretionary funding to a company he believed was controlled by those who paid him. The final scheme involved the mayor and deputy mayor of the Village of Spring Valley in Rockland County and their alleged receipt of financial benefits, including the mayor’s receipt of a hidden interest in a real estate project and the deputy mayor’s receipt of about $10,500 in cash bribes, in exchange for official acts. All six defendants were arrested the same morning.
Since that day in April, two other New York state lawmakers have been charged in separate corruption cases. They have pleaded not guilty.
NPR reported in May that a former Democratic New York state senator, Shirley Huntley, had been sentenced to prison for stealing thousands from a charity she controlled. A day earlier, a federal judge had unsealed records showing that Huntley last year secretly recorded conversations with seven other elected officials she had suspected of corruption.
The District is not alone.
Oh, yes, as for the charge that The Post’s editorial page pursues wrongdoers based exclusively on their African American ancestry and Democratic Party registration, please ask D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) what they think about that.
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