Is this really happening again? Yet another Black elected official may be removed from office, and once again it’s at the hands of prosecutors, not voters. And for personal misconduct, not public corruption.
The latest case involves Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who played fast and loose in securing loans for two Florida homes, according to a four-count federal indictment.
In Baltimore there’s some uneasiness with the charges. “You had to dig that deep into somebody’s personal finances to find something?” Edward Smith, 65, told the Baltimore Sun. “It’s a witch hunt… Somebody doesn’t like her.”
I share some of that skepticism, as I watch things play out from 35 miles to the south – in DC – where Jack Evans is free as a bird, and where, a decade ago, Kwame Brown’s career was upended by the same charge Mosby now faces.
We’ll get to Brown, the former DC Council chairman, in a bit. But first, a quick refresher on Evans.
In his final years on the DC Council, Evans’ corruption culminated in his brazenly selling himself to secret clients for between $25,000 and $100,000 a year. In addition to his blatant public corruption, Evans also likely committed personal mortgage fraud. Yet Evans, who’s white, apparently won’t be charged with anything.
That provides quite the contrast with Mosby. Just ahead of her reelection bid, the feds have charged her, not for public corruption – which they surely looked for but couldn’t find – but for alleged mortgage fraud, something many Americans commit.
“People lie on mortgage applications every day,” the Baltimore Sun recently noted. “With a few keystrokes and a signature, homebuyers can save themselves tens of thousands of dollars over the life of a 30-year mortgage — if they don’t get caught.”
If they are caught, however, the penalty is draconian: up to 30 years in prison. While few actually face legal consequences, the law remains on the books, so prosecutors can use its intimidating penalty – known as the “head shot” – to induce a plea.
For years David Simon, creator of The Wire, has been sounding the alarm about this prosecutorial tactic. (Fans of the HBO show will recall Detective Lester Freamon threatening state Senator Clay Davis with a “head shot.”)
Before creating The Wire, Simon was a police reporter for the Sun, where he saw firsthand how federal prosecutors misuse the “head shot.” In a 2012 blog post, Simon wrote: “If the rest of your case was insubstantial, if you couldn’t make the case you wanted to make, but you were on the spot for investigating a high profile target, then check the loan documents on that sucker’s house first.”
This is what the feds have done to Mosby. Actually they’ve gone further, even subpoenaing documents from the churches she attends and her daughters’ dance studio.
Meanwhile Evans is sitting pretty, even though the feds could likely take him out with a “head shot” anytime they want to. (Although the clock is ticking, as the statute of limitations for mortgage fraud is 10 years.)
The Jack Evans ‘Head Shot’
The title “councilmember” masks the incredible power Jack Evans wielded over many years. As chairman of the all-important finance and revenue committee for two straight decades, Evans held sway over which city projects got funded and which didn’t. Anyone doing business before the city was wise to get on Evans’ good side – and for the right price they could, as Evans’ power was matched by a crushing need for money.
Despite his six-figure Council salary, and cushy second jobs that paid him around $4 million over the course of his career, Evans still took out over $6 million in mortgage loans on his Georgetown and Florida homes. He’s mostly paid off these loans along the way, but questions remain.
In 2010, for example, Evans took out a $200,000 loan against his Florida home. Three years later he refinanced the home, securing a revolving line of credit worth up to $400,000, District Dig reported. For both loans Evans turned to EagleBank, which raises all sorts of red flags.
To say Evans was on friendly terms with the bank is putting it mildly. Not only did Evans own undisclosed stock in EagleBank, he also received secret payments from the bank, which at their peak reached a whopping $100,000 a year.
For EagleBank, paying Evans may have made good financial sense.
In 2011, at EagleBank’s request, Evans introduced a bill to shift DC government deposits into three local banks, including EagleBank, Washington Business Journal reported. While that effort came up short, Evans ushered the bill into law in 2014, and DC deposits at EagleBank subsequently soared from $25 million in 2011 to $67 million in 2019.
EagleBank’s deposits similarly swelled during Evans’ three years as chairman of Metro, the regional transit agency. During that period (2016-2019), Metro’s deposits at EagleBank ballooned from $4 million to $24 million, even as the bank’s quiet payments to Evans reached $100,000 a year.
Returning to those Florida mortgages. “It is unclear why a local institution branded as the premier community bank in the D.C. region would be extending mortgage loan services to Jack Evans on a Florida residential property,” District Dig noted. “Also unclear is the interest rate the bank gave Evans on the second loan, as it is not specified.”
Despite the suspect nature of Evans’ and EagleBank’s dealings, the feds apparently haven’t investigated these Florida mortgages. (God knows they would’ve if it was Mosby involved.)
Nor have the feds followed up on the questionable loans that Evans took out on his Georgetown home (which the FBI raided over 2½ years ago). Here’s how that story goes.
Following Jack’s 2010 marriage to Michele Seiver (who took Evans as her last name), the Evans family doubled in size, as both Jack and Michele had three kids from prior marriages (comparisons to the Brady Bunch were inevitable). To accommodate everyone, the family made major renovations to Jack’s Georgetown home, and towards that end Michele loaned Jack $850,000 in 2011.
The couple’s loan agreement stipulated that Jack couldn’t take out another loan on the house without Michele’s okay. But Jack appears to have done just that the very next year, and the year after as well, District Dig reported.
It wasn’t until 2014, when Jack set out to borrow against his Georgetown home yet again, this time with a $1.5 million revolving line of credit from Capital One, that Michele caught wind and threatened legal action.
In a sharply-worded email to Capitol One, Michele wrote: “Should a loan be given or line of credit I will extend my legal right to pursue all entities that knowing of the recorded document extended credit… The 850,000 used for the home renovation are a loan from my 80 year old mother and I carry a promissory note to her. I had no knowledge [nor] did I agree to added debt to the home as it puts my investment in jeopardy.”
The Dig exposed all this back in 2019. Yet three years later, Evans still hasn’t been charged. Nor will he be, because the feds – who are so aggressive in going after Black officials – refuse to lift a finger when it comes to Evans. Heck, they haven’t even bothered to contact Michele, despite what she might know about her ex-husband’s dealings (she and Jack divorced in 2016). “No one ever contacted me,” Michele told me in an email.
This much is clear: the feds don’t want to put Jack Evans behind bars. Maybe that’s because they fear that if he goes down he may talk, which could prove disastrous for a wide swath of DC’s upper echelon. Take, for example, parking magnate Rusty Lindner. Even as he was secretly paying and directing Evans, Linder was serving as chairman of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
In short, Evans’ clients aren’t the type of folks who go to jail. So, rather than upset the apple cart, the feds instead target Black officials for relatively minor stuff, like personal mortgage fraud.
Now it’s Mosby facing the chin music. A decade ago, it was Kwame Brown.
The Kwame Brown ‘Head Shot’
Kwame Brown was only 40 years old when he won a landslide victory in 2011 to become DC Council chairman. But just a year-and-a-half into his chairmanship, Brown’s once promising career was cut short. Not by voters or public corruption, but mortgage fraud – also called bank fraud, the same charge Mosby now faces.
On June 8, 2012, I sat in a high-ceilinged federal courtroom as Brown pleaded guilty to a single count of bank fraud. Immediately after, DC’s mostly white press corps rushed outside, excited to file their stories about the latest Black DC official to fall from grace.
But I couldn’t move. I was transfixed at the site of Brown – who only two days before had been at the height of power, someone everyone wanted to be near – sitting all alone at the defense table. Always larger than life, he suddenly looked small.
It wasn’t long, however, before my sadness turned to anger, as I kept replaying what I’d heard only minutes before. So the bank lost no money? Judge Richard Leon asked the prosecution. And the reply came back, The bank lost no money.
Then what are we doing here? I thought to myself. I couldn’t believe that I was watching Brown lose everything he’d ever worked for, all because he’d inflated his income years earlier on two loans, one of which he’d paid back in full, the other he was current on.
Even more maddening was that Brown’s ruining was coming at the hands of Ron Machen, an ambitious ladder-climber of a US Attorney who was busily taking down an ever-growing list of Black officials, even as he looked the other way with Evans.
And the charge of mortgage fraud was hard to take seriously, coming from the same US government that refused to prosecute real mortgage fraudsters, namely the folks on Wall Street who knowingly steered countless families into mortgages they couldn’t afford.
Injustice and humiliation weren’t done with Brown, not even on that June 2012 day. Hours after pleading guilty in federal court, Brown did the same next door in DC Superior Court, this time for a campaign finance violation. (DC reporters joked among themselves that day that from now on when someone pleaded guilty in two courts in one day, it’d be called “pulling a Kwame.”)
No outlet took greater pleasure in Brown’s downfall than the Washington Post, a paper which habitually champions the removal of DC’s Black leaders. The day after Brown pleaded guilty, the Post crowed, “presumably, [he’s] wondering what looks good in orange.”
Brown, in fact, would serve just one day in custody. Still, the court tacked on plenty of other indignities for good measure, including travel restrictions, a 10 pm curfew, and six months with an ankle bracelet.
Just like his June hearings, Brown’s November 2012 sentencings were held back-to-back, first in federal court, then hours later in DC Superior Court. For the latter hearing, the Post nonchalantly noted that Brown appeared “in a charcoal-gray suit, his wrists and ankles in shackles, as two marshals led him into the courtroom.”
A decade later, Brown is determined not to dwell on the past. “I don’t look backwards,” he told me. “I only look forwards.” But he makes exceptions for “teachable moments,” like his shackling, which viscerally demonstrates how differently Black and white politicians are treated.
“I haven’t seen anyone shackled by their ankles, with chains around their waist, with chains around their wrists, walking into a courtroom for what I did,” Brown said. “I just haven’t seen that.”
Amazingly, not even the spectacle of Brown treated like a violent criminal could satiate the Post’s hankering for his ruining, and the paper deemed his sentence to be “unsatisfying.”
With the Post in anti-Brown overdrive – and the rest of DC’s press corps following in lockstep, as usual – it was left to a certain former Baltimore reporter to sound a note of sanity.
While driving his daughter, David Simon tuned in to WAMU, where he heard host Kojo Nnamdi and his sidekick Tom Sherwood “waxing righteous about the rather meager charges” against Brown. Unable to take it any longer, Simon called in.
“As a longtime police reporter, whenever I see the bank fraud charge leading the way for a federal investigation, what I know almost to a certainty is that if they’re leading with that, they came up empty everywhere else,” Simon said.
To get Brown the feds put together an all-star team, with members coming from scary three-letter agencies like the FBI, IRS and DOJ. The team was tasked with nailing Brown for public corruption, as evidenced by the specific units involved, which included the Fraud and Public Corruption Section of the US Attorney’s Office, and the Public Integrity Section of Department of Justice’s Criminal Division.
Despite the impressive firepower, the feds struck out on finding public corruption. Rather than throw in the towel, they instead dug deep into Brown’s personal financial history, where they discovered that years earlier Brown had inflated his income to secure two personal loans from Industrial Bank, totaling around $220,000 – and this is all they needed to take him down.
It’s a cruel joke that Brown was felled for inflating his income, when not even his imaginary earnings came anywhere close to the actual money Jack Evans pocketed each year. For merely pretending to be a mini-Evans, Brown was taken out with a “head shot.”
And so was his brother.
Federal prosecutors didn’t bother to hide their true motivation for going after Che Brown. In their sentencing memo – which detailed how Che had inflated his income four years earlier on a mortgage loan modification application – prosecutors highlighted something Che was never charged for: campaign work for his brother.
Judge Amy Jackson scolded Che’s prosecutors for the latter’s inclusion, calling it “inappropriate.” Che’s campaign work, after all, had nothing to do with his being charged with bank fraud. At least, that was the story.
In reality, Che’s closeness to his brother was precisely why the feds dug so deep into his financial history, and took him out with a “head shot.”
As if the Brown family hadn’t suffered enough, the court would soon add insult to injury. While serving his 90-day prison sentence, Che was unable to attend his son’s graduation in North Carolina. So Kwame asked the court if his own travel restrictions could be lifted, so he could attend his nephew’s graduation as a “surrogate father.” But Judge Leon denied the request.
“[T]hat was a very painful moment, for not only me but my entire family,” Kwame said, noting that his nephew was the first of his parents’ grandchildren to graduate from college.
To this day, Kwame Brown has never lost an election. In three citywide runs – all with Che at his side – no one came close to beating him. So, might there be a fourth? “No. The answer is no,” he said.
Brown’s career was cut short by an ambitious prosecutor, not voters or public corruption. A decade later, something similar is playing out in Baltimore. While Brown isn’t up on every detail of Mosby’s case, he’s got the big picture. It’s an “unfortunate situation,” Brown said, adding that Mosby “seems to be someone that’s a good person, that’s out there, that’s fighting hard.”
The Marilyn Mosby ‘Head Shot’
Amid the drip, drip, drip of stories, it’s easy to forget that the charges Marilyn Mosby faces have nothing to do with how she’s done her job. She isn’t charged with public corruption, which you can be sure the feds looked for. As Mosby’s attorney, A. Scott Bolden, put it, “what is not in the indictment” is more telling “than what is in there.”
Mosby offers several possible motivations for why she’s being prosecuted, which commentators are too quick to dismiss.
In 2015, as the newly elected Baltimore State’s attorney, Mosby didn’t make friends in high places when she charged six police officers for the death of Freddie Gray. Mosby said she charged the officers against the advice of the Maryland US Attorney’s Office – the very folks now prosecuting her – and ever since she’s had “a target on my back.”
Mosby says another reason she’s been targeted is that the prosecution, and in particular its leader, Assistant US Attorney Leo Wise, have “for years harbored animus” towards her. And that explains not only the charges, but also Wise’s political contributions to both of Mosby’s 2018 primary opponents.
Wise and his team, in response, claim that Mosby has “invented a tale of victimhood,” and that it’s “laughable” to think Wise believed his two $100 donations – to Ivan Bates and Thiru Vignarajah – would impact the election.
But laughable or not, it doesn’t make for great optics when a prosecutor donates to a candidate’s opponents, and then, after she nevertheless wins, he charges her just before her next election. And the optics don’t get any better when taking Wise’s history into account.
Earlier in his career, from 2008 to 2010, Wise served as the first-ever director of the Office of Congressional Ethics. Towards the end of his tenure, “all eight lawmakers under formal investigation by the House ethics committee… were black Democrats,” Politico reported, adding, “All those investigations originated with the OCE.”
And Mosby is far from alone in questioning whether race played a part in her prosecution.
Former Morgan State University professor Lawrence Brown is alarmed at how Black officials, like Mosby, are continuously charged over personal financial wrongdoing. “This pattern doesn’t feel like it’s equal prosecution under the law,” Brown told the Sun. “[T]here’s a sense they’re targeting Black elected officials who may not fall in line.”
Baltimore activist Dayvon Love also hit on this double standard. “Journalists and prosecutors make their careers off of these kinds of investigations [against Black officials].” Meanwhile, Love noted in the Afro, “This level of scrutiny is not applied to white people in elected office.”
To that point, I’ve been amazed at the lack of scrutiny surrounding the millions Larry Hogan has pocketed while in office. Hogan, Maryland’s white Republican governor, last released his tax returns in 2018, by which point he’d already made an extra $2.4 million in just his first three years in office. That’s on top of his $180,000 salary.
Hogan’s millions come from his eponymous real estate company, which isn’t in a blind trust, but is instead run by his handpicked successor, his younger brother Timothy Hogan. This arrangement – one Hogan atop the state, the other atop the family’s in-state real estate empire – has proved lucrative. And not just by happenstance, according to the Washington Monthly, which found that Hogan’s company benefited from official actions he’s taken as governor.
Yet Hogan isn’t under federal investigation, nor will he be. Some folks – the Larry Hogans and Jack Evanses of this world – can get away with almost anything. While others – the Marilyn Mosbys and Kwame Browns – can’t.
As Hogan was busy pocketing millions, Mosby attempted to pad her income by a comparative pittance. And she’s now facing career-ending charges, for the following…
Amid the pandemic, Mosby caught the real estate bug and purchased two Florida rental homes, at a cost of a little over $1 million. To secure more favorable mortgage terms, Mosby failed to disclose the IRS’s $45,000 tax lien on her Baltimore home, according to the indictment. (Mosby co-owns the Baltimore home with her husband, Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby.)
To come up with the down payments for the Florida homes, Mosby made an early withdrawal of around $80,000 from her retirement account. She did so without incurring a penalty by falsely claiming to have suffered a covid hardship, the feds allege. They note that mid-pandemic Mosby received a $10,000 raise, pushing her salary up to around $250,000.
Despite the early withdrawals, Mosby still found herself about $5,000 short for one of the down payments. Eager to lock in a mortgage rate right away, before her next pay period, Mosby falsely claimed that her husband had pledged to give her $5,000, the feds assert.
The feds also allege that Mosby promised not to rent out one of the Florida homes, when in fact she’d reached an agreement with a rental company to do just that. And the feds say that, in order to obtain more favorable mortgage terms, Mosby falsely claimed to “have spent the past 70 days” with her family at her new Florida home.
None of this is pretty. But it’s worth noting that none of these charges have anything to do with how Mosby has done her job; nor are they earth-shattering. As Eric Forster, a mortgage fraud expert who reviewed Mosby’s case, told the Sun, “If it was Joe Schmo, there wouldn’t have been any indictment here.”
But there is an indictment, and it’s in the form of a “head shot.”
Even though David Simon is “no fan of Ms. Mosby,” he still condemns what’s taking place. What’s “fair is fair.”