On Monday afternoon, in Jacksonville’s federal courthouse, Corrine Brown and her supporters and detractors will be one step closer to learning whether or not she can avoid time in prison.
Earlier this year, Brown was found guilty on 18 of 22 counts related to conspiracy to defraud via what prosecutors describe as a fake charity: “One Door for Education.” Those charges include conspiracy to commit and aiding and abetting wire and mail fraud, and multiple counts of fraudulent filing of federal tax returns.
All told, over $800,000 was raised from donors. Of that, $330,000 of One Door money went to Corrine Brown events. And $141,000 of shady cash deposits coursed into her checking account from pass-through sources from 2009 to 2015.
Despite the tangible proof of conspiracy to defraud and unjust enrichment, and despite the feds generally hammering the overmatched defense throughout the case, Brown filed motions seeking a new trial and for acquittal.
On Monday, there are hearings for both requests.
The motion for a new trial is predicated on an interesting concept: Is the Holy Spirit an external force?
Brown posits that the jury was corrupted because a juror was removed for deeply held religious convictions, and the Holy Spirit guiding someone does not disqualify that person from jury service.
“During deliberations, Juror 13 said the holy spirit had told him that Ms. Brown was not guilty. The Court found that the holy spirit was an external force, and dismissed the juror. After Juror 13 was dismissed, Ms. Brown was found guilty. The Court’s finding that the holy spirit is an external force is not supported by the record … Therefore, justice requires that Ms. Brown be granted a new trial,” the motion reads.
The acquittal motion was much more quotidian, contending that the government did not prove its case, as some One Door money went toward charity, and there was no hard evidence that Brown conspired to defraud donors.
Essentially, it repeated contentions made and rejected by jurors during the course of the trial.
Most observers assume these hearings are just hiccups on the one-way street toward sentencing for Brown.
However, there is a case to be made that the sentence already began for Brown — and that sentence began with the indictment 13 months ago.
Brown, back in July 2016, couldn’t attend a court hearing without political allies by her side. State Sen. Audrey Gibson, state Rep. Kim Daniels, City Councilman Reggie Brown were just a few of those supporting Brown last summer.
Such support became less visible at the hearings and months since, as the optics of photo-ops became less convenient for those whose political futures now needed a different engine than the Corrine Machine.
The ink on the indictment was still drying as Brown limped through the ass-end of her final political campaign.
Brown couldn’t raise money for her race against Al Lawson. She likewise could not raise money for her legal defense. It seemed that all anyone wanted to talk to her about was the federal charges.
The nadir of that campaign: a post-debate press conference in Jacksonville, which devolved quickly into Brown attacking the media — including this correspondent.
“What if I said I thought you was a pedophile? You’d think something was wrong with me.”
Those words, voiced on the debate stage Thursday night at Jacksonville University by incumbent 5th District Rep. Corrine Brown, recurred during that post-debate presser.
“If I said ‘young man, you a pedophile’, that’s a charge,” Brown said to this reporter, by way of attempting to establish that an accusation is not tantamount to conviction, “because somebody makes an accusation against you doesn’t make you guilty.”
Brown suggested the media was “lazy” for not being able to figure out that she wasn’t guilty based simply on her assertions.
However, whether the press corps was just a pack of lazy pedophiles or not, Brown all but said that the game was over for her at that point.
When asked about her anemic $25,000 cash-on-hand in the campaign, and the loss of a third set of lawyers on Thursday, Brown said “yes” that she was having a cash issue.
“It’s a very challenging balance running a campaign and [paying] legal bills,” Brown said.
And indeed it was. Brown lost convincingly, and her post-campaign celebration reportedly included the saddest Electric Slide of all time.
Much like the Electric Slide phenomenon, there was a retro feel about Brown’s cash and carry operation, around which there have always been a series of salacious stories, usually with election hijinks as the setting. The closest anyone came to make those allegations on the record regarded her allegedly pay-to-play Quick Picks tout sheet, in which she endorsed and hit the endorsees up for “printing costs” — a malleable concept, to be sure.
The congresswoman took issue with the idea that her endorsements are controversial, given that the Chamber and the unions offer endorsements. “How am I different? Oh, I know,” she said, laughing ruefully.
“I’ve been doing this for over 20 years. People ask me how I’m voting. I’m so excited that it’s a discussion in the community. I’ve printed 50,000 of them,” she said. “It’s like the dog track: a cheat sheet.”
Brown even released 2016 Quick Picks; the story then was that her endorsement of Jacksonville’s pension reform vote was open for negotiation.
In the end, no endorsement. And no comment when asked.
Since the end of her political career, Brown has seen her co-defendant and former chief of staff roll on her, and has seen many of the old friends fade away.
A great indication of her diminished pull: recent fundraising for her legal defense fund. Or lack thereof.
Brown set up a series of fundraisers in recent weeks, with the culmination intended to be a Sunday concert at the 4,250 seat Bethel Baptist Church — Brown’s own church, helmed by a pastor with his own tax issues over the years totalling nearly a million dollars in arrears.
Brown attempted to book Shirley Caesar, whose gigs cost $30,000 each according to one booking agency. Tickets cost up to $100, which included VIP treatment and drinks.
Alas, Brown cancelled the concert — almost as if she couldn’t afford the booking fee.
However, Brown said the culprit was “inclement weather” — an interesting dodge for an indoor event, given the forecast Sunday only includes the “scattered thunderstorms” that are generally expected in Florida in August.
The storm clouds will be over the Federal Courthouse Monday afternoon. However, from the time the indictment dropped on her 13 months ago, Brown has been soaked — day after day — with legacy-killing revelations.
It’s hard to imagine a narrative pivot this late in the game.