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Kwame Brown sentenced but justice hasn’t been served

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“I AM NOT a victim. It was stupid. I was wrong.” With those words, with his voice cracking, former D.C. Council chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) faced a federal judge who, in sentencing him for bank fraud, spared him jail time in favor of home detention and community service. It was a far cry from the January morning in 2011 when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. swore Mr. Brown into the city’s second-highest elective office. It was also a sad but powerful reminder that no one is above the law.

In rejecting the government’s recommendation for token jail time, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said Tuesday he believed a more effective message would be sent by making Mr. Brown a “living example” to the community he betrayed. Sentenced to six months of home detention and two years of supervised release, Mr. Brown, who spent the day in the custody of U.S. marshals, was ordered to perform 480 hours of community service, which the judge said he wants to be “visible” to the public.

We don’t disagree that little more than symbolism would have been achieved in requiring Mr. Brown to spend a few weekends in jail, as government prosecutors had recommended. Nor was a longer prison sentence called for. Forced to resign from office, Mr. Brown’s once-promising political career is shattered. He has no prior criminal record. He readily admitted to his fraud in securing personal bank loans, along with a separate plea to a campaign finance misdemeanor, and he is said to be cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in an ongoing investigation of government corruption. That his mother and wife bore witness to his remorse added to its credibility.

Nonetheless, the outcome of Mr. Brown’s case is unsatisfying. The probe started with a complaint to D.C. campaign finance officials about suspect fundraising and expenditures in his 2008 race for reelection as an at-large council member. A subsequent audit found that his campaign did not report the raising and spending of more than $270,000 or the fact that $239,000 in campaign funds had been passed along to a now-defunct consulting firm run by Mr. Brown’s brother. The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics concluded that there was evidence of an apparent violation and referred the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office to get the answers.

What happened to that money? Was there wrongdoing? The public still doesn’t know the answers. Until it does, justice won’t have been served fully.

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