08/28/97 - 05:42 PM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Michael Brown pleads guilty

WASHINGTON - The son of the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown Thursday pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor election-law violation as part of a deal with Justice Department prosecutors investigating campaign fund raising violations.

Michael A. Brown pleaded guilty to one count of making donations to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's 1994 campaign that exceeded the $2,000 legal limit for an individual donor.

Prosecutors said in court papers they had evidence that Brown asked three people to make donations totaling $4,000 and he reimbursed them. Such conduct could be prosecuted as a felony, but Brown was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor as part of the deal.

Brown, 32, admitted that he donated the $4,000 beyond the limit to the campaign of Kennedy, D-Mass., the department said. Under the plea agreement, prosecutors will not seek a prison term.

At the time, Brown was an officer of an Oklahoma natural gas company run by Democratic fund-raisers Nora and Gene Lum, who earlier this year pled guilty to felony fund-raising violations.

Both the Lums' and Brown's guilty pleas were based on illegal donations first highlighted in a series of Associated Press stories in 1996. They were secured by the Justice Department task force set up to investigate political fund-raising abuses.

The plea also is the second blow to the Brown family in less than 18 months. Ron Brown died in April 1996 when a plane carrying him and other members of a U.S. trade mission crashed in a mountainous region in Croatia.

At the time, the Cabinet secretary was the subject of an independent counsel investigation into his financial dealings that was expanded to include his son's campaign activities with the Lums.

The probe was widened after AP reported in February 1996 that the Lums, Michael Brown and other officials of their company, Dynamic Energy Resources Inc. of Tulsa, Okla., appeared to receive reimbursements from company funds at the same time they made political donations.

Brown's attorney, William Taylor, declined immediate comment Thursday.

The plea, however, is not likely to end the younger Brown's involvement in the matter. Earlier this week, the House committee investigating fund-raising abuses sent Brown a letter seeking to question him about his campaign activities.

The charge against Brown carries a maximum one-year prison sentence and $100,000 fine. Brown has agreed to cooperate in the investigation.

Thursday's announcement came one day after one of Ron Brown's former Cabinet colleagues, ex-Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, was indicted on 39 charges related to illegal gratuities and obstruction of justice.

According to court documents and the Justice Department, Michael Brown made a $1,000 contribution to Kennedy's re-election campaign on May 27, 1994, and another $1,000 contribution on Sept. 20, 1994.

On the same day as his second contribution, Brown illegally made $4,000 in additional contributions to Kennedy in the names of three other people, the court documents said.

Brown requested the contributions from the three individuals and then reimbursed them for the donations. It is illegal to disguise donations in the name of others, the court records said.

"The funds for these unlawful contributions were provided to Brown by Nora and Gene Lum," the Justice Department said.

The court records did not identify the three individuals who Brown used to make the excessive contributions. But the AP previously reported that donations appeared on the same day in the name of Brown's then-law firm secretary.

The AP first highlighted the suspect donations in a Feb. 7, 1996, story that reported Michael Brown received a $5,000 check marked "reimbursement" on Sept. 19, 1994, from the Lums' company, Dynamic Energy Resources Inc. of Tulsa, Okla., and then he and his secretary were listed as giving to Kennedy's campaign.

Earlier this year, the Lums pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy in making $50,000 in illegal contributions during the 1994 election.

By The Associated Press