A week after Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown confessed to pocketing campaign donations to pay off a personal loan from Congressman Chaka Fattah’s son, Brown was back at work, having put the repeated violations of city and state election laws behind her.
One might be inclined to think that the councilwoman’s settlement with the city Board of Ethics, well, settled things. But, according to the good-government group Committee of Seventy, “Blondie” (as she is known to friends) could still face serious criminal charges.
“If the omissions on her financial disclosure forms were intentional, that is a state crime,” says Seventy’s Zack Stalberg. “But the most troubling thing is the repayment of that loan. That money was the campaign’s money, not her money. When you pay for personal expenses with campaign funds, it is theft.”
In short, Brown not only faces potential criminal prosecution from state or local authorities, but even possible jail time.
But who will file charges, and when, is a different matter. Neither state Attorney General Kathleen Kane nor Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, both Democrats, would likely be excited by the prospect of carrying out a messy, politically tinged execution of a fellow party member.
City Council insiders say Williams can already be crossed off the list of potential prosecutors. In spite of Williams’ campaign pledge to crack down on corruption, Williams’ friendship with Brown will likely give him cover to recuse himself from prosecution, as it did in state Rep. Cherelle Parker’s recent DUI case. Both Kane’s and Williams’ offices declined to comment.
Both may simply be waiting to see if the IRS and federal attorneys will step in and do the job for them, if Brown didn’t pay required taxes on the gifts. Still, Stahlberg says, “I would think there would need to be more dollar value … for the feds to get involved in a tax-fraud charge.”
However, many are speculating that Brown’s indiscretions, initially revealed amid the FBI’s investigation into Chaka “Chip” Fattah Jr.’s ties to an educational firm that received millions in city school district funds, could be just the tip of the iceberg. That investigation is still ongoing; what it might turn up — and how that might affect Brown — remains unknown.