A life, a (fake) death, a resurrection
Reports of Benjamin Brown's demise, it turns out, were greatly exaggerated.
He's alive and well --or maybe not so well, considering he's behind bars.
Brown, 36, of Forestville, pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington to what might sound like a fairly dull crime: obstruction of an official proceeding. But the manner in which he obstructed it took a bit of imagination and more than a little nerve.
A few years ago, while Brown was on probation for a federal drug offense, he was arrested in the city on a handgun charge, then released to await a trial, authorities said. Because getting caught with a gun was a violation of Brown’s probation in the drug case, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan scheduled a probation revocation hearing for Nov. 28, 2007.
Facing the prospect of jail, Brown decided he would rather die.
A day before the hearing, an unidentified acquaintance of Brown’s showed up at the federal probation office with a death certificate from the D.C. Department of Health, attesting that Benjamin E. Brown Jr. had departed this mortal coil, a victim of a shooting earlier that month. His probation officer brought the certificate to the Nov. 28 hearing. In light of the tragedy, all parties concerned, including the judge and prosecutor, agreed that the case against Brown should be closed. And so it was.
The gun case pending against him in D.C. Superior Court at the time was headed for the grave, as well, until someone noticed that Brown’s death certificate was missing the raised seal of the D.C. government, authorities said.
An investigation ensued, resulting in a resurrection.
The paper certificate was genuine, authorities said. But it had not been issued by the Department of Health, and the city had no record of Brown being killed. Brown or someone helping him had altered another person's certificate, listing Brown as the victim who had met a violent and untimely end. As best officials could tell, the former defendant wasn't a decedent, after all.
The criminal cases against him were quickly exhumed, and a warrant was issued for his arrest as a fugitive. Deputy U.S. marshals finally caught up with him June 27, 2008, at a relative’s home in Maryland, authorities said.
While he was waiting to be prosecuted on the federal charge of obstructing an official proceeding, Brown was convicted in the gun case in Superior Court and sentenced to prison. Then came this week’s guilty plea.
Federal guidelines call for a prison term of 33 to 41 months in the death-certificate case, the U.S. attorney’s office said. Brown’s sentencing hearing is to be held Aug. 6, assuming he lives that long.
Washington Post editors
April 28, 2010; 3:50 PM ET
Categories: From the Courthouse , Paul Duggan , The District
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