A.G. Gancarski, Author at Florida Politics

A.G. Gancarski

Corrine Brown trial coverage: Limos, lavish trips, luxury hotels

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown faces 22 counts related to conspiracy to defraud via what prosecutors call a fake charity: “One Door for Education.” Those charges include conspiracy to commit and aiding and abetting wire and mail fraud, and fraudulent filing of federal tax returns.

If found guilty of all counts, Brown could be sentenced to 357 years in prison, and $4.8M in fines.

The claim is that Brown and her associates solicited charitable donations for personal enrichment. Two of those associates, Carla Wiley and Ronnie Simmons, have cut plea deals and are functioning as state’s evidence.

There is no disagreement as to whether or not there was fraud. The real divergence is on the matter of whether Brown orchestrated the conspiracy, or whether Simmons took advantage of her age and lack of technological savvy.

FloridaPolitics.com is serving up deep dive coverage of the entire trial: jury selection; opening statements; the government’s case, including exhibits and witnesses; the defense arguments and defense witness list; the final verdict; and everything else that matters.

Newest material will be nearest the top, for easy access.

Ongoing: prosecution arguments. 

Among Thursday witnesses following the current one: Tandy Bondi (Pam Bondi‘s sister-in-law, who worked as a lobbyist for the same firm as Shantrel Brown), Jacksonville power broker and Florida chair of Donald Trump‘s campaign, Susie Wiles; former CSX executive Michael Ward;  Husein Cumber, the Executive Vice President for Corporate Development for Florida East Coast Industries, who also serves on the board of directors for JEA, Jacksonville’s utility service.

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Limos, lavish trips, luxury hotels [Thursday 12:30 p.m.] After a late-morning recess, Thursday saw a continuation of the government’s case in the federal fraud trial of former U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown, who faces 22 counts related to a non-performing charity, “One Door for Education.”

Revealed Thursday morning: $330,000 flowed from the One Door account for nine events that were to the political benefit of then-Rep. Brown … with no benefit to the charity that funded them.

Those events included receptions, a Beyonce skybox, a skybox at a Redskins/Jaguars game, and the “Corrine Brown Invitational Golf Tournament.”

The events did not generate scholarships; however, as cross-examination revealed, the defense saw the events as rainmakers, allowing for scholarships from “entities associated with Corrine Brown.”

The defense argument is predicated on semantic differences, which allow room for interpretation.

Much more detail on all of these, discussed earlier, is below the current update.

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The second leg of morning testimony began with a drill down on One Door scholarships and charitable expenditures from Jan. 2013 to Jun. 2015 totaling $10,408.

Also discussed: another solicitation letter on Congressional letterhead from Brown to Jacksonville mega-donor John Baker in 2015, soliciting chaperones and donors for a trip to China for One Door.

Brown described an “opportunity to partner with the U.S./China Exchange Foundation,” sending kids and chaperones from her district to China.

Brown sought a “sizable contribution,” and wanted money by July 1, purportedly to defray travel related costs for the youth.

Brown brought in $80,000 from solicitations; the total spend, however, was $55,714.

The surplus was not refunded, said the FBI agent. Instead, the money went elsewhere – including $2,300 into Brown’s Bank of America account over eight days.

The One Door account, before the China trip, had taken in $647,000.

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Also discussed: 2013 spending. Included: auto repairs for the Browns and Simmons; a romantic Miami Beach jaunt by Wiley and Simmons, where they stayed at the luxury Fontainebleu hotel; and $2,734 in chauffeured transportation for the alleged co-conspirators.

And One Door travel records were also showcased.

From Sept. 2012 onward, One Door paid for eight Corrine Brown trips. All told, $7,777 went to travel, including a round-trip for Shantrel Brown to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Also showcased: a $5,000 spend on a layout in Onyx magazine, commemorating Brown in Oct. 2014 – at a time when she was rolling to a victory over a hopeless candidate in the general election, and didn’t actually need the boost of a vanity publication.

The title: Corrine Delivers.

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Evidentiary presentation moved on, to Brown’s faulty Congressional financial disclosure forms from 2012-2015 … which constitute four counts of the indictment.

The goal of those hand-signed documents – transparency – was subverted by Brown’s omissions of One Door money, the prosecution contended.

Law requires disclosure of any payments exceeding $200 from a single source. Brown didn’t disclose One Door travel or income through the time period.

The last of these disclosures was filed in May 2016, months after Brown was served papers related to the federal investigation at a Jacksonville BBQ restaurant.

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The government then introduced into evidence a series of FedEx Shipment Information Reports, some of which includes the address of Brown’s former Congressional offices.

Two involved shipments from Robert Picerne to Ronnie Simmons’ home address, with subsequent emails from Simmons to Wiley confirming deposits.

One involved a shipment from Simmons, at Brown’s D.C. office, to Wiley’s consulting company.

Simmons also emailed Jacksonville auto magnate Jack Hanania, with a FedEx slip attached for his “payment.” That payment was sent from Simmons to Wiley.

This pattern repeated with other donors.

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Cross examination began from James Smith, Brown’s attorney.

Smith began by attempting to pin the FBI agent down on the pages reviewed, before getting her to confirm that Wiley opened the One Door accounts, and that Brown had no access to those accounts.

When asked if debit cards were not in Brown’s name or possession, the agent confirmed that also.

Checks were a different matter, the agent said. Simmons “provided … signed checks” to Brown.

“If you have a signed check and it’s not filled out, that’s a blank check,” the agent contended.

Smith also contended that One Door did not represent itself “solely” as an educational “scholarship and opportunities” organization.

“Their mission is somewhat more expansive,” said Smith, than the testimony allowed.

“It represents itself as doing a lot of different things,” the agent allowed, “multiple stated missions.”

The agent couldn’t confirm the specific contents of FBI agent interviews with One Door board members.

From there, the discourse moved to One Door expenditures in “honor” of Brown.

The agent contended that there were no scholarships from those events for students; Smith allowed for the possibility of scholarships from “other entities,” such as the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, generated by Brown’s events.

The agent did not talk personally to CBC Foundation members, nor could she speak specifically about disbursements from the foundation related to Brown’s events.

“All members of the CBC Foundation held similar events at the same time,” Smith affirmed.

The agent allowed that “some” did, before reiterating that just two scholarships were issued from One Door.

The China trip was also discussed in cross-examination, with Smith contending that funding came from One Door and “entities connected with Corrine Brown.”

As with a witness on Wednesday, and others to come, Smith’s argument appears to be predicated on semantic differences, which allow room for interpretation.

Thus, catering expenses and other spends that seem unjustifiable are just part of the process, in the reckoning of Brown’s defense.

This includes venue rentals; though the FBI agent asserted that Brown had “some say” in the events, there was no contention that Brown was the primary architect.

Meanwhile, Smith noted – and the agent concurred – that there was a paper trail of reimbursement to Simmons personally from One Door funds.

The arrangement was “informal,” Smith contended, but recurring.

Cross-examination continues after lunch recess.

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$330K of One Door money on ‘Queen Corrine’ events [Thursday 11:00 a.m.] Thursday saw a continuation of the government’s case in the federal fraud trial of former U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown, who faces 22 counts related to a non-performing charity, “One Door for Education.”

A presentation that started Wednesday involved showing a pattern, demonstrating a pattern of Brown’s former chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, taking money from the One Door account and giving it to Brown.

Revealed Thursday morning: $330,000 flowed from the One Door account for nine events that were to the political benefit of then-Rep. Brown … with no benefit to the charity that funded them.

Those events included receptions, a Beyonce skybox, a skybox at a Redskins/Jaguars game, and the “Corrine Brown Invitational Golf Tournament.”

Meanwhile, liquor lovers who also loved Corrine Brown savored a signature drink at multiple events: the $10 “Queen Corrine,” a strawberry liquor drink with a sugared rim.

And those who love pastry got extended narrative on two $750 birthday cakes for Brown’s daughter Shantrel, paid for with One Door money.

One of those cakes was enjoyed by none other than South Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz, former Democratic National Committee Chair.

DWS would not be the only Congressperson discussed Thursday morning.

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FBI Special Agent Vanessa Stelly, who investigated Brown, went through invoices, solicitation letters, and bank account records on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.

Thursday began with more documentation of 82 ATM withdrawals from the One Door account that were not closely matched with deposits, totaling just over $60,000, with the majority in Laurel, MD – where Simmons lived.

The big reveal: documentation of $330,000 of expenditures from One Door for events connected with Corrine Brown from 2012-2015.

The breakdown: myriad receptions; a 2012 Democratic National Convention barbeque in Charlotte ($23,070) honoring the Congressional Black Caucus; a Beyonce skybox ($13,000) promoted by the Florida Delivers Leadership PAC; an Inauguration bus trip and dinner cruise for senior citizens from Florida ($89,852); the “Corrine Brown Invitational Golf Tournament” ($55,000); and a $15,000 spend on a skybox at a Washington Redskins/Jacksonville Jaguars game.

For at least one event, letters on “Friends of Corrine Brown” letterhead went out to invite potential donors – showing a conflation of the purported charity and the very real political operation.

“I view uplifting our youth as a calling,” Brown (or her proxy) wrote. “Your support of $5,000 for this event is greatly appreciated … checks should be made payable to the One Door for Education Scholarship Fund.”

The point of contact for “more information”: an employee in Brown’s Congressional office.

A flyer was also produced for a Corrine Brown “trailblazers in transportation” event in D.C., which included a legendary go-go band as entertainment.

The flyer had nothing indicating Brown’s commitment for children; however, $4,200 of One Door money (via MasterCard) went toward financing this 2012 event, with additional money coming from other sources – suggesting that One Door was used to fill a liquidity gap in that case.

Similar invoices were produced for other events, with “Ron Simmons” listed as the customer on at least one. Some receptions included intimate VIP receptions, with bigger room gatherings for the hoi polloi.

For the aforementioned trip for senior citizens, a letter on Brown letterhead – complete with a whimsical cartoon of a “Friends of Corrine Brown” bus – went to donors, under the aegis of “support for seniors and students.”

Donations of up to $20,000 were sought, with showcases promised for big-dollar donors. Checks were to be cut to One Door, with attention to Carla Wiley.

The “Corrine Brown Invitational” Golf Tournament was held at The PLAYERS stadium course in July 2013, one of the nicest courses in the country.

Perks included a Calvin Peete golf lesson, for the event sponsored by One Door; the event purportedly benefitted “COMTO,” an organization of minority transportation officials. But no money went to that or any other non-profits.

Point of contact: Von Alexander, a Brown operative who worked for the Congresswoman and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority simultaneously.

Sponsorships went up to $20,000 per donor. Congressmen Cedric Richmond and Ander Crenshaw attended.

$51,000 went to hotel stays at the Marriott at Sawgrass, on One Door’s dime. And a $1,745 spend, authorized by Carla Wiley, went on catering for a luncheon at the golf tourney.

The Beyonce event, meanwhile, had Ronnie Simmons as point of contact. One Door was not on the flyer, but its $15,000 went to defray skybox rental and catering expenses.

Shantrel Brown emailed Ronnie Simmons regarding the nearly $4,000 of skybox catering, saying “CB was OK with the draft [menu] I showed her this morning, however I added a few [items].”

This wasn’t the only Shantrel Brown email to her ex-boyfriend; for another event in 2015, Brown sent Simmons an email, stating that the Browns found a singer at a clothing store who sounds “just like Luther Vandross,” whom Corrine wanted to sing at the event.

The Jaguars/Redskins event was branded as “Jacksonville Goes to Washington,” and featured platinum parking and unlimited food and beverage. Simmons was point of contact. Brown’s signature was on the letter.

The box was leased from Carla Wiley’s consulting company. Ronnie Simmons, meanwhile, wrote Wiley’s company a $15,000 check, which was reimbursed from One Door.

Feds build case with bank records [Wednesday 5 p.m.] Wednesday afternoon began the government’s case in the federal fraud trial of former U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown, who faces 22 counts related to a non-performing charity, “One Door for Education.”

Throughout the latter part of the afternoon, as bank records were introduced, an overflow crowd of looky-loos dispersed, as the tedium of bank transactions wore them down.

However, the pattern and the number were significant: 31 transactions of withdrawal and deposit, totaling over $26,000 over three years.

The government spent much of the latter part of the afternoon interviewing FBI Special Agent Vanessa Stelly, who went through dozens of pieces of evidence that were intended to outline the conspiracy.

Among them: bank account records and incorporation papers for the One Door for Education foundation, which established Carla Wiley as the primary signatory.

Stelly confirmed that corporate status was terminated in Oct. 2012, as the registration fee was not paid by the end of September of that year.

However, reinstatement would happen in June 2014 – almost two years into the alleged conspiracy, as the charity continued to do business, despite not being a recognized non-profit, or 501(c)3.

“That status was never applied for,” Stelly asserted.

Stelly described the two accounts associated with One Door: one a Capital One account opened in May 2011, with Wiley as the primary contact and only signatory.

The original deposit: $100. Estimated value of transactions per month was likewise modest, up until the account closed in May 2012, with a $119.66 charge off after “minimal” activity.

The second One Door account opened in Aug. 2012 was more robust.

From there, a $25,000 check from the “Community Leadership PAC” of Alexandria, VA, was produced: seed money for One Door’s second account.

Brown and her daughter Shantrel, a lobbyist, maintain a condo in Alexandria. Simmons, meanwhile, lives in Laurel, Maryland, where “the vast majority” of cash withdrawals occurred, and deposits into Brown’s own BOA account – far from Laurel, in terms of DC area commutes.

Discussion of the foundation’s bank records, and those of Brown’s personal bank accounts, were intended to draw an evidentiary link between withdrawals and deposit, and establishing correlation (if not causation).

From there, the government documented cash withdrawals from the One Door account (capped, as per bank policy, at $800 per day), and deposits into Brown’s own account, ranging from $500 to $3,000, and at least one payment on her credit card of $160, and a payment of $2,057 to the IRS from her account in July 2013 (the same day of a $2,100 cash deposit into her account from Laurel, MD).

Overdraft charges occasioned deposits to bring the account back to a positive balance. Cash deposits to Brown’s Congressional Federal Credit Union account were verified via a photo ID, a statement revealed. And balance inquiries, asserted the prosecution, were also documented.

All of this was to establish a pattern of transactions, with Simmons putting money into Brown’s account, and Brown extracting it, often on the same day it was deposited.

Surveillance video, as it was obtainable, was also introduced into evidence. The FBI was limited by bank policies of data retention, and the occasional failure of the cameras themselves.

Stills were presented of Ronnie Simmons at various BOA ATMs and inside branches themselves, making deposits.

One particularly interesting transaction was on a Brown trip to Beverly Hills: check no. 193 dated 7/14/2013, drawn on the One Door for Education Capital One account ending in 0180, in the amount of $3,000 and reflecting “Children Summer Camps” in the memo line.

It was written out to Bank of America, and signed by “Carla Wiley, President.” And deposited at the Beverly Hills Wilshire, with Brown and daughter Shantrel in the city after a jaunt to the Bahamas.

“The check was deposited into Shantrel Brown’s bank account,” the Special Agent said, and $1,000 of that $3,000 was transferred to Corrine Brown’s account.

An attempt by the state to get the FBI agent to attest to the authenticity of the Wiley signature was challenged by the defense, and that challenge was upheld.

Shantrel Brown’s bank records were also produced from the California trip. Both mother and daughter spent on cosmetics, something at a “herb store,” and a trip to a Thai restaurant (as sometimes happens after trips to herb stores, apparently).

None of these charges had anything to do with children’s summer camps, the FBI agent asserted.

As the day’s session came to a close, the prosecution presented Corrine Brown’s travel records and deposit slips into her Congressional Credit Union account, ostensibly signed by her.

As well, a still image was provided of Brown depositing $700 in cash in her Bank of America account in Orlando, Florida; Ronnie Simmons was nowhere to be found.

And, perhaps tellingly, multiple statements were provided with multiple balance inquiries in a given day, from Jacksonville, where Brown was but Simmons was not.

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Jacksonville City Council passes pension reform legislation

The real work was done over the past weeks and months. But the ceremony, the cameras, the victory lap were all reserved for Monday afternoon, when the Jacksonville City Council officially passed 14 bills that equate to pension reform.

The “committee of the whole” vote – held Wednesday – was the dispositive one.

In that meeting, which lasted over three hours, the Jacksonville City Council worked through the last few rounds of questions and concerns it might have had over the pension agreements.

Those questions and concerns, really, were moot points.

The city can’t afford not to make the deal – not facing an untenable $360M pension hit next year on a $2.8B unfunded actuarial liability.

With pension reform closing current pension plans and backing up the repayment with the future assets from a 1/2 cent sales tax, the pension hit in FY 2018 is $218M; if reform fails, the hit is $360M (up from $290M next year).

As CFO Mike Weinstein has said of late, the savings add up to “$1.4B less out of the general fund over the next 15 years,” and “without that revenue” from the half-cent sales tax, the city would have “difficulty matching revenue to expenses.”

So that’s the reality.

Three bills ultimately are the most newsworthy.

2017-257 establishes the half-cent sales tax extension. 2017-258 changes pension plans for general employees and correctional workers. And 2017-259 changes plans for police and fire.

The city will offer 25 percent matches for defined contribution plans for police, fire, and correctional workers; for general employees, the match is 12 percent.

The other eleven bills ratified collective bargaining agreements between the city and JEA and various unions.

In Corrine Brown’s trial, a chapter of Jacksonville history will be written

For decades, Corrine Brown (Jacksonville’s longtime Democratic Congresswoman) served many functions. And the witness list at her trial, which starts Monday, reflects that.

This may be the trial of a generation.

It certainly has generational resonance for political types: of donors and behind-the-scenes types, of glad handers and hangers on, and of real-deal active politicians … past and present.

Corrine Brown, for a quarter century in the U.S. House, and for longer than that in other roles, served as a nexus between the Jacksonville establishment and her constituents.

That ended in July 2016, when Brown and her former Chief of Staff, Ronnie Simmons, were indicted on 24 counts combined, related to a conspiracy to defraud via a charity under Brown’s name: One Door for Education.

Simmons took a plea deal, and won’t be sentenced until after he testifies against his former boss; Brown maintains her innocence.

Brown faces 22 federal counts, with a possible 357 years in prison and $4.8 million fine if all charges are found valid.

Jury selection is anticipated to last two days, ending – if all goes well – no later than Tuesday afternoon.

At that point, the parade of witnesses, for both the state and the defense, will proceed through the federal courtroom.

Testifying for the prosecution: Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel, former Jacksonville Sheriff Nat Glover, current Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, Jacksonville super-donors John Baker and Ed Burr, Jacksonville lawyer, and one-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Steve Pajcic, and former chair of the Donald Trump campaign in Florida, Susie Wiles.

Also on the prosecution witness list: the congresswoman’s daughter, Shantrel Brown and her two alleged co-conspirators: Carla Wiley and Simmons.

Friday saw the prosecution drop a 49-page list of exhibits.

Items to be presented in court next week include a “Summary Chart” of cash withdrawals from the One Door for Education Capital One Account and cash applied to Corrine Brown’s personal accounts.

As well, documentation will be offered of cash going into the personal accounts of Wiley, Simmons, and Shantrel Brown, Corrine’s daughter who filed a failed motion not to testify on the grounds she will just plead the Fifth Amendment.

Emails between those parties will also be presented, though the details of those aren’t in the list.

Flyers promoting events benefiting One Door for Education, going back to 2012, will also be presented as evidence of a conspiracy to defraud.

As well, signed letters from Brown to donors will be exhibited to, establishing prosecutorial claims of conspiracy.

Big names, such as Florida Democratic Party head Stephen Bittel, were regular donors and correspondents.

Bittel even allowed the use of his private plane at one point.

The defense team, helmed by Orlando attorney James Smith, is not without its own big names.

Among the defense witnesses: Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Rep. Bennie Thompson.

Jacksonville luminaries will also testify, including former Mayor John Delaney.

Delaney, in an interview with Florida Politics last year, spoke about the charges that had dropped just days before, delineating the political fallout: a tragedy beyond the fall of a politician at stake.

“We’re losing [the seat] if the congresswoman gets defeated or removed. Lawson’s about Tallahassee.”

And, for better or worse, Jacksonville’s loss is a subtext of the trial.

Corrine Brown Jury Selection

If you missed  jury selection, the complete story is here; most recent material at the top.

Opening statements loom in trial of former Congresswoman’s life [Wednesday 12 p.m.] Wednesday wrapped jury selection in the federal fraud trial of former U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown, who faces 22 counts related to a non-performing charity, “One Door for Education.”

Jurors will be compelled to examine witness testimony and exhibits, of which the prosecution has 49 pages of receipts, bank statements, and other documents corroborating its case that One Door was a conspiracy to defraud donors – a slush fund for Brown and her inner circle, which one by one pleaded out and turned state’s evidence, leaving her as the last defendant standing.

Both the prosecution and defense have dozens of witnesses, though prosecution witnesses tend to be material witnesses and defense witnesses seem to be more of the character witness variety.

The government will make opening statements at 1:00. The defense intends to also make a statement. These statements would be capped at one hour.

No matter what, prosecution evidence will follow thereafter.

The government can offer “rebuttal evidence” to that of the defense.

___

As the jury prepared to file in for instructions, the courtroom was split into two halves.

On the left, media on laptops; on the right, older African-American men in suits, mixed in with church ladies in John 3:16 shirts – a distillation of the base that Brown’s political machine served for a quarter-century.

Judge Timothy Corrigan, who will handle the trial that could last up to three weeks, instructed the jury in a Jacksonville accent from a slightly-bygone time: a synecdoche for the trial itself, which is as much the capstone of an era as it is the trial of a former politician.

During a recess beforehand, Brown talked to two women in their sixties, both wearing yellow, and then talked to another supporter in a dark suit. The latter conversation projected a maternal urgency, with Brown’s arm around him throughout the exchange.

What was clear: Brown’s support system was here. She seemed to be discussing court proceedings, though she was mostly inaudible.

She exited the room, kissing one of her couple of dozen supporters on the cheek.

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Corrigan, described by most with opinions on federal judges as fair, noted that the case would be tried in 10D, with an overflow room with an audio feed of the trial.

The jury was sworn in and then given a break for lunch.

“Looks like a good jury,” Corrigan said, “you’ve been judged by all to be fair and impartial.”

“Trials aren’t like they are on TV, where things wrap up in an hour,” Corrigan added, foreshadowing “moments … when we have to stop and work out something.”

“This is a case that has the interest of the media and the public,” Corrigan said, vowing to accommodate spectator interests.

However, rules are to be followed, including no contact between jurors and media.

“You should ignore the media … the public … anyone who has opinions. Your job is to decide the case solely on the evidence you hear in the courtroom,” Corrigan said.

“It’s not easy … but that’s the way it’s got to work,” Corrigan said, emphasizing the burden of the jury to resist outside information or opinions on the case, and reminding them not to talk about the case as well.

Corrigan also reminded the jury that Brown starts off with a “clean slate,” and that her guilt must be “proved beyond a reasonable doubt.”

As Corrigan went through his remarks, Brown’s posture – a concerted slump – was notable, as she shifted in her chair and propped her chin in her hands at one point, her form shrouded in a loose-fitting black jacket.

Corrigan wrapped his remarks shortly after 11:45.

And with that, a pause – for reflection, for sustenance, to reset the palate – before the trial of Corrine Brown’s life.

If convicted of all 22 counts, Brown could be sentenced to 357 years in prison, and fined $4.8M.

Any prison stretch for Brown, increasingly fragile in recent months, would be tantamount to a life sentence.

8 whites, 4 blacks on jury [Wednesday 10:00 a.m.] Wednesday wrapped jury selection in the federal fraud trial of former U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown, who faces 22 counts related to a non-performing charity, “One Door for Education.”

Two black males, two black females, five white males, and three white females comprise the jury, which will begin hearing opening arguments at 1 p.m. Wednesday.

Juror 1: a black male from Jacksonville; Juror 2, a white male from Jacksonville; Juror 9, a black female from Jacksonville who is currently unemployed; Juror 13, a white male hair stylist from Jacksonville; Juror 17, a white female from Jacksonville; Juror 19, a black female from Jacksonville; Juror 23, a white female; Juror 26, an unemployed white Middleburg male; Juror 35, a white female from Jacksonville; Juror 39, a white male; Juror 40, a black male.

Alternates include a black female, a non-white female, a Hispanic male, and a white male.

The composition of the jury should reassure at least some of those who have concerns about the trial being slanted against Brown.

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Here’s how we got to the final jury:

Voir Dire all but wrapped late Tuesday, but there was unfinished business: a joint motion to strike three jurors: 8, 38, and 43.

Juror 8 equivocated, said Judge Klindt, when asked about her daughter’s arrest at a department store. Juror 38, a retired cop, expressed a bias toward the FBI, and had talked with friends about the case many times. Juror 43, an African-American woman, had a sidebar yesterday that will remain sealed, yet proved dispositive.

Juror 27, an Asian-American male whose son had an interest in discussing the trial with him, was brought back for questioning. The juror’s son said Brown “probably would be convicted,” and discussed specifics of the case.

“He’s a chatterbox, he continued talking,” 27 said. “He’s a teenager.”

Brown’s attorney quipped that 27’s son would be a good attorney; a joint motion to strike followed.

From there, Wednesday morning saw preemptory challenges of the larger jury pool from U.S. Attorney A. Tysen Duva and Defense Attorney James Smith, leading toward a final jury that will decide Brown’s fate.

Smith got ten challenges; Duva got six.

Smith bounced Jurors 3, a white female, and 4, another white female.

Duva was up next, and struck Juror 16, a white female.

Smith then had two more strikes: Juror 5, a white male, and Juror 10, another white male.

Duva then had his turn: Juror 18, a black female who works as a babysitter.

Smith then cut two: Juror 24, a white female from Yulee, and 34, a white male and former military police officer.

Duva cut Juror 37, a retired white male from Jacksonville. And then Juror 36, a male who was not white.

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Wednesday will wrap jury selection in the federal fraud trial of former U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown, who faces 22 counts related to a non-performing charity, “One Door for Education.”

“Hopefully, we’ll have a jury by the end of the day, but if not we’ll have to spill over into the next day,” Judge James Klindt warned after lunch.

Despite best effort, Klindt’s words were prophetic.

It was dinnertime by the time the voir dire questioning was wrapped, and after a five-minute recess that lasted fifteen, U.S. Attorney A. Tysen Duva and Brown’s defense attorney, James Smith, Judge Klindt discussed “complications” that would prevent jury selection Tuesday evening.

Jury selection will wrap at 9:00 a.m., with cause challenges and preemptory challenges, ahead of a 10:00 jury arrival.

The jury could be seated by late-morning, paving the way toward Judge Timothy Corrigan giving instructions, with opening statements in Courtroom 10D at 1:00 p.m.

For a complete summation of the last two days of jury selection, please read our standalone article that takes you from the beginning to the end each day.

Jury selection spills into third day [5:00 p.m., Tuesday]: Tuesday continued the second day of jury selection in the federal fraud trial of former U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown, who faces 22 counts related to a non-performing charity, “One Door for Education.”

“Hopefully, we’ll have a jury by the end of the day, but if not we’ll have to spill over into the next day,” Judge James Klindt warned after lunch.

It was dinnertime by the time the voir dire questioning was wrapped, and after a five-minute recess that lasted fifteen, U.S. Attorney A. Tysen Duva and Brown’s defense attorney, James Smith, Judge Klindt discussed “complications” that would prevent jury selection this evening.

Jury selection would begin at 9:00 a.m., with cause challenges and preemptory challenges, ahead of a 10:00 jury arrival.

The jury could be seated by late-morning, paving the way toward Judge Corrigan giving instructions, with opening statements in Courtroom 10D at 1:00 p.m.

___

Of course, it was a long road to the end of the day.

Klindt started proceedings in the final segment of the day shortly before 3:30.

Questions began for the assembled, regarding employment by law enforcement agencies, either of them or of relatives.

Juror 4 had a relative in law enforcement in Maryland. Another juror has a son who works Beach Patrol in Daytona.

Juror 39 has a relative who worked for a sheriff’s office out west 15 years ago. Another juror’s deceased father worked in law enforcement in Connecticut. Still another juror’s father-in-law worked in law enforcement, including as an investigator for a former State Attorney.

Yet another juror’s relative works in corrections. And still another’s father-in-law works in federal law enforcement. And still another has a brother working in IT for the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. And still another has two cousins, and some friends, in law enforcement.

All but the last one indicated no potential bias.

When asked if they had been victims of crime, including fraud, some also indicated a yes.

The crimes, which ranged from assault and murder of two different jurors’ relatives to identity theft, would not impact the jurors’ partiality, they said.

When asked if they or close friends or relatives had been investigated by law enforcement, one former law enforcement officer had to testify to a Grand Jury.

“I wasn’t happy about it, but that was the end of it,” the potential juror said, indicating – with a bite to his voice – that he could be fair “to both sides” in the case.

Jurors who had dealt with FBI or IRS agents in investigations likewise disclaimed the potential that those inquiries would bias them.

When asked if they had “strong feelings” about the FBI or IRS, no juror said yes. Likewise, a question regarding beliefs that would impact the ability to serve on the jury in this case got a no.

Discussion turned to plea bargains, which are “lawful and proper” according to the Judge, but with caveats.

Klindt urged that testimony from those who have pleaded out, such as alleged Brown co-conspirators Carla Wiley and Ronnie Simmons, should be treated with “caution” given the circumstances.

All potential jurors understood.

From there, individual questions for selected jurors followed.

___

Juror 15 had to address his background in law enforcement, which included investigations into political figures. The government and the defense agreed to strike him on grounds of potential bias.

Juror 21, who teaches HVAC for the Florida Department of Corrections, discussed his potential bias.

“I’m around inmates all day long,” he said. “All of them tell you they were right and law enforcement was wrong.”

He too was struck.

Juror 71, who has friends and relatives in law enforcement in Chicago and Jacksonville, indicated bias toward law enforcement “not in this case … but in other situations.”

When asked if she would privilege LEO testimony, she couldn’t be “100 percent truthful,” as she would “tend to want to believe them more.”

She too was struck by joint motion of the government and the defense, with Klindt describing her as “emotional on the subject.”

Juror 9 had a private “sidebar” conversation with the judge and counsel, describing being a victim of a crime. Privacy interests will keep that conversation under seal, and she was not struck.

Juror 1 had two cousins and two friends who were arrested over the years, for charges including drug possession, murder, and multiple counts of molestation.

“They did what they did,” Juror 1 said, saying that they were treated fairly and his impartiality would not be compromised.

Juror 1 was the 35th juror of the 36 needed.

Juror 8’s sister faced retail theft charges a couple of years back, and ended up with community service after a not guilty plea.

She said she was able to put that situation out of her mind.

“I think so, because I don’t know anything about this case,” she said.

Judge Klindt was less than convinced, wanting to ensure that she could give “the government and Ms. Brown a fair trial.”

Juror 12 was next, and his issue was that in 1974, “a man pistolwhipped [his] brother” and in 1977, the same man assaulted his brother at a fish camp.

The brother exacted revenge, shooting up the gentleman’s truck, and served a short jail stretch, 12 said.

“It wasn’t the government’s fault,” he said when asked.

Juror 19 likewise had a history with crime: her brother was convicted of attempted manslaughter in the early 1980s.

Despite this, she asserted that her objectivity would be unaffected.

Juror 34 also discussed the impact of criminal conviction on his inner circle.

His son “got in trouble,” threatening some people. He got probation, went to California, and then went to jail.

“They did what they had to do because they had no record. I blame his mother … she had nothing in writing” from the probation officer authorizing transcontinental travel.

34 would not be affected by this, however, in terms of jury service.

Juror 36 was up next. His middle daughter had shoplifted as a youth. The ordeal would not impact his impartiality, he said.

Juror 37 then had his turn. In a bad marriage, he was arrested; his wife accused him of domestic violence. Charges were soon dropped.

“It was a lesson learned,” he said. “I’d never been in trouble… it was [horrible] to be charged for something for which I knew I was innocent.”

Juror 43, an African-American woman, was up next. She was “arrested several times” in her life, and discussed it in sidebar. After a few minutes, she walked out of the courtroom … ostensibly struck.

Juror 45’s younger brother has a history of repeated arrests, with a stroke at the age of 50 ending his history of DUI arrests, retail thefts, and so on.

“I’m sure he was treated fairly” by law enforcement, 45 said.

Juror 49 had a friend arrested 40 years ago, perhaps for assault. This would not prejudice her, she said.

Juror 52, an African-American woman, was sidebarred, and walked out of the courtroom.

Juror 53’s mother was arrested for embezzlement in Bunnell in the early 1990s, and convicted of a felony. She pleaded out and paid restitution, the juror said.

As well, her son was popped for reckless driving, after which he pleaded no contest and got probation.

Juror 56’s brother was convicted of insurance fraud in 1985 and served probation. 56 believes his brother was “not treated unfairly,” and could be impartial, he said.

Juror 61 was arrested just after her college graduation, after “way too much to drink.”

“I blacked out and the next thing I knew I was in jail.”

Community service followed, and jail, 61 claimed, was “horrifying” and “gender biased,” with her handcuffed to a bench followed by solitary confinement.

Despite that, she believes the case itself was handled fairly. And she said she could be fair in this case.

Juror 62 was next. She was arrested at the age of 20 for lying to a police officer. Charges were dropped, after a night in jail.

As well, she got a notice to appear for misdemeanor cannabis possession, and ended up paying “court fines and stuff like that.”

“I was happy with the outcome,” she said, and those brushes with the law would not impact her objectivity in Corrine Brown’s case.

Juror 64, mercifully, was the last to be questioned. Long ago, her current boyfriend got popped for a DUI; the record was expunged. As with most of the others, this circumstance would not affect her impartiality.

___

Jury selection moves forward [3:00 p.m.]: Tuesday continued the second day of jury selection in the federal fraud trial of former U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown, who faces 22 counts related to a non-performing charity, “One Door for Education.”

“Hopefully, we’ll have a jury by the end of the day, but if not we’ll have to spill over into the next day,” Judge James Klindt warned.

Progress toward the goal of completing jury selection by end of day was made, with 53 jurors selected for further questioning and vetting ahead of the afternoon session.

Many who made that cut were not consumers of news media, and therefore were at an advantage – in terms of jury selection – compared to those who consume political stories in the newspaper or on television and the internet.

Potential jurors entered the courtroom shortly after 1 p.m. for two parts of inquiry, the first part of which involved a recitation of information on the juror questionnaire.

The jurors ran the gamut of life experience: men and women, white, black, Hispanic and Asian. Blue collar, white collar, and – in a sign of the fading job market – no collar.

Questions that led to drill down from the judge included previous jury experience, military service, and educational background. Potential jurors hailed from as far away as Melbourne, hours away on I-95.

Twelve of those questioned Tuesday had served on juries, though none of them on a federal jury. Educational backgrounds ranged from high school graduation to graduate studies. Some were employed; some were not.

For potential jurors, questions emerged on employment statuses for children – though for one juror, Klindt relented from questions about employment status of a spouse divorced three decades ago.

Juror 15’s experience in law enforcement was brought up as a potential strike, with his response – “I believe in integrity” – causing Klindt to ask if the juror could be objective.

After saying he would favor law enforcement, Klindt said there would be additional questions.

Juror 16, when asked about whether she could be fair, said that this was a “civil case.”

When told Brown’s was actually a criminal case, 16 said “that one was bad.”

Klindt’s voice sounded the now-familiar arc of concern in talking to her, but he did not promise her more questions.

Juror 21, a white male who lives in Lawtey and teaches HVAC at a state prison, was asked if he could be fair given his employment with the state Department of Corrections. More questions were promised to him.

Juror 27, an Asian-American male who manages online security at a mortgage company, noted that Corrine Brown was the first thing his son – who has an interest in law – discussed with him last night.

27 shooed his son away, in compliance with a court order to jurors not to discuss the case.

Juror 34, a Palm Coast resident and married retiree, was asked about his guard duties in the military police.

“I was mainly a desk sergeant,” he said.

Juror 41, a white male from Fernandina Beach, has a master’s degree in taxation, and spent his career in that field as well – an interesting convergence, given that multiple counts of this case are related to taxation.

Klindt was more interested in 41’s experience on a jury than his taxation background.

Juror 74, a woman studying to be a paralegal, was asked if there was drill down into criminal law; as of yet, no.

Juror 75 works as a chief information officer for a major Jacksonville company, one whose management likely would know some of the people on the witness list – however, no questions were asked.

Most of those questioned, however, had backgrounds that did not bear deeper inquiry from Judge Klindt.

___

From there, general questions were asked.

Two jurors revealed that they worked for the same major Jacksonville company, thus knowing each other. Each contended that the other’s opinion wouldn’t be prejudicial.

One juror has a sister-in-law who was a state prosecutor a few years back. They discussed cases and process.

Two jurors mentioned potentially prejudicial opinions regarding law enforcement; they were promised additional questions from Judge Klindt.

When asked if they or someone close to them had ever been charged with a crime, Yes’s peppered the room – too many for a reliable count. The same held true for those who had been witnesses in court cases other than divorce proceedings. And those who had been parties to a lawsuit.

Those who had been parties to lawsuits, by and large, had injury/liability cases – all said their impartiality would not be affected.

Beyond those exceptions, the answers were pro forma, asserting belief in jury trial, the right to remain silent, and the principle of presumed innocence.

African-American males, by and large, were underrepresented in the pool –  there were just three in a group of dozens.

There were, however, seven African-American women.

__

Prelim jury selection wraps; 53 selected for next round [Tuesday, 11:40 a.m.]: Tuesday morning continued the second day of jury selection in the federal fraud trial of former U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown, who faces 22 counts related to a non-performing charity, “One Door for Education.”

Progress toward the goal of completing jury selection by end of day was made.

As on Monday, the specter of pre-trial publicity loomed over the questioning, with negative reports in the media, addressing the matters of One Door and Brown’s career overall, influencing potential jurors to a degree that they – or Brown’s attorney, James Smith – believed they couldn’t be objective.

Screening, as on Monday, revealed the difficulty of getting a locally-sourced jury in such a high-profile case. Klindt wanted a pool of 52 qualified jurors.

He got 53. And will need them, as attorneys reserve the right for further strikes, and as a pool of jurors and alternates is required.

Initial screening of Tuesday’s batch of 30 potential jurors, the vast majority of whom were white, revealed 19 potential conflicts that could lead to striking, with some falling into more than one category.

17 potential jurors knew of the case from the media or other sources. Six jurors had “strong feelings” one way or another about the former Congresswoman. And one juror knew Corrine Brown personally.

Additionally, there are six claims of “hardship”, three who personally knew FBI or IRS agents, one potential juror who knew Trial Judge Timothy Corrigan, and one who knows a member of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

All of those with potential conflicts were to be subject to individual questioning from Judge James Klindt.

Jurors, one by one, were asked about publicity, hardship, and feelings about Brown in more detail, beginning at 11:00 a.m.

__

Three jurors were to be struck.

Juror 66 indicated “strong feelings” about Brown, as her “circle of influence” has discussed the former Congresswoman to such a degree that she feels like she would be “prejudiced” against her.

Juror 67, who had declared a hardship, somehow brought up a case involving the Clinton Global Initiative in declaring bias. During that juror’s rambling disquisition, Brown’s attorney looked back at media with a quizzical expression.

“My mind cannot comprehend,” she said, continuing to conflate CGI and the case of Corrine Brown.

Juror 70, a Caucasian millennial in a t-shirt and gold chain, had seen a local newscast’s web article.

“When you read something on media, they have a way of putting it like they’re already judged,” 70 said. “In your mind, you’re trying to keep everything out. But it still comes in.”

A joint motion to strike from the government and the defendant followed.

53 jurors survived the initial questioning, and will move on to the next round of selection. Many who were questioned, on both Monday or Tuesday, were not consumers of news media; unencumbered by knowledge or bias, they made the cut for further questioning after lunch break.

___

Will jury selection wrap on schedule? [Tuesday  10:40 a.m. ]: Tuesday morning saw the second day of jury selection in the federal fraud trial of former U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown, who faces 22 counts related to a non-performing charity, “One Door for Education.”

Judge James Klindt said 44 potential jurors were coming back today. But more jurors were needed.

The goal: getting 50 people who aren’t challenged for cause … meaning six additions were needed.

Up to 30 potential jurors were in the building to be questioned today, to get the necessary six additions, and questions (as on Monday) would include knowledge of the parties, the witness, the case, and opinions on former Rep. Brown.

As on Monday, the specter of pre-trial publicity loomed over the questioning, with negative reports in the media, addressing the matters of One Door and Brown’s career overall, influencing potential jurors to a degree that they – or Brown’s attorney, James Smith – believed they couldn’t be objective.

As on Monday, Klindt emphasized that guilt, in this case, was “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and based on case evidence rather than presupposition.

Screening, as on Monday, revealed the difficulty of getting a locally-sourced jury in such a high-profile case.

Initial screening of Tuesday’s batch of 30 potential jurors, the vast majority of whom were white, revealed 19 potential conflicts that could lead to striking, with some falling into more than one category.

17 potential jurors knew of the case from the media or other sources. Six jurors had “strong feelings” one way or another about the former Congresswoman. And one juror knew Corrine Brown personally.

Additionally, there are six claims of “hardship”, three who personally knew FBI or IRS agents, one potential juror who knew Trial Judge Timothy Corrigan, and one who knows a member of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

All of those with potential conflicts would be subject to individual questioning.

 ___

Jury selection continues Tuesday: With Monday clearing out many of the jurors who doubted their own ability to be objective, Tuesday was expected to finalize jury selection.

Tuesday morning commenced the second day of jury selection in the federal fraud trial of former U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown, who faces 22 counts related to a non-performing charity, “One Door for Education.”

With 39 jurors of the original 65-person jury pool having some knowledge of the case coming in, 18 jurors were struck from the poll Monday for having formed opinions already, and others excused for hardship reasons.

Judge James Klindt said 44 potential jurors were coming back today. But more jurors were needed.

The goal: getting 50 people who aren’t challenged for cause … meaning six additions were needed.

Brown walked in a few minutes before 9 a.m., purposefully striding in with a determined look on her face, attired in a patterned jacket and skirt set.

Klindt said that there were up to 30 potential jurors to be questioned today, to get the necessary six additions, and questions (as on Monday) would include knowledge of the parties, the witness, the case, and opinions on former Rep. Brown

Day 1 of jury selection wraps: “It’s a tedious process,” said Judge James Klindt about jury selection.

The first day is a wrap, with myriad jurors struck of those questioned – 18 dismissed for potential bias, and others excused for hardship purposes.

A second day of jury selection, meanwhile, kicks off at 9:00 a.m.

44 jurors, said Klindt, will be coming back Tuesday – 36 in total are needed.

If a juror can’t get a ride from out of town, it may be 43.

“44 gets pretty close,” Klindt said, to what is needed – but the goal is 46-50 jurors, to winnow them down to the needed number.

An additional ten jurors, give or take, will be called in, and the judge is optimistic that will complete jury selection on schedule.

_

The difficulty in finding unbiased jurors was spotlighted further, as the first of two anticipated days of jury selection in the Corrine Brown trial continued, with one juror coming from over 100 miles away.

Such distance was necessary, given familiar plaints: television media, said one longtime Jacksonville resident, educated her on the case.

“Multiple charges … scores of witnesses being called,” along with questions of where the charity’s money went and if Brown was “aware it was happening.”

Old history – such as “gifts given to Brown” decades ago, including a car given to Brown’s daughter Shantrel – also colored the potential juror’s perception, via “years of news media.”

“After a long period of time,” she added, “media sinks in.”

“I know there was wrongdoing done at some point,” the potential juror said. “I find it hard to believe that she was totally unaware.”

And she was struck.

From there, the next eight potential jurors all had been influenced by pre-trial publicity.

“I’ve just heard the name and there would be a trial and it was on the news,” said one potential juror, who had first heard about the case three weeks prior.

That low baseline of knowledge was enough to keep her from becoming the twentieth juror to be struck.

The next person to be questioned had knowledge, of sorts, coming into the case, via television news.

“Spending and money and things like that,” he said.

As well, the gentleman – who works in the educational system – has heard various different takes.

“Some say it was politics,” he said.

The preponderance of input led him to question his own objectivity in the matter.

“You can’t set that aside and listen with an open mind,” Judge Klindt asked.

After some prodding, the potential juror agreed he could do that.

Prosecutor Duva, mindful of the “beyond a reasonable doubt” threshold, asked for more clarification of the potential juror’s position.

Despite his struggle with the spoken word, neither attorney moved to strike him.

“As best as I can recall, some corruption in Ms. Brown’s organization,” was another prospective juror’s summation of the TV news stories he’d seen on the case.

Those stories did not form his opinion, he said. However, his wife has always been “quite favorable” to Brown, which led to follow-up questions.

“My wife and I agree and disagree on various issues. I would make a decision based on what I saw in the courtroom,” he said.

And he, likewise, was not to be struck.

“We talk about it almost every day at coffeeklatsch – there’s four of us,” an older gentleman with a law enforcement background said.

The other three opine that Brown is guilty, but not the potential juror.

“If anything happens, we’re not talking about this anymore,” he said.

Those conversations have taught the potential juror that “somebody committed fraud and has been arrested by the federal government and is going to trial.”

As well, news – as recently as Sunday – taught him about the case also.

When asked if his law enforcement background would compromise his objectivity, he said no.

Defense attorney Smith was unmollified, based on the daily discussions of the Brown case among his coffee group.

“Also the fact that he’s a retired police officer who has investigated fraud cases,” Smith said, is a factor.

The prosecutor disagreed, and Judge Klindt wanted to “explore” the potential juror further.

“He gave no indication that he had formed an opinion,” Klindt said.

Another viewer of local news asserted a belief that Brown was “not guilty,” based on her work “in the Senate.”

“What I’ve heard about it on the news. I just don’t know, honestly,” he said when asked if he could be fair in the trial.

He wavered when asked, changing answers multiple times, with his voice breaking at one point.

Both the prosecution and the defense motioned to strike.

Another consumer of print and television news outlined the parameters of the case, noting that he’d read articles on the case the last two days in the local paper.

“I would be less than honest if I said I did not doubt she was innocent based on associates of hers making deals,” the potential juror said, not being willing to guarantee objectivity “based on everything I’ve heard about Ms. Brown.”

By “everything,” the potential juror is drawing on his experience as a lifelong resident of Jacksonville, and he brought up Brown reaching out for sandbags during a hurricane.

“I’ve seen her interviews on television,” he said.

He will continue consuming media about the trial, but will not be part of the jury pool.

“It’s been all over the headlines,” one female juror said about the “fraudulent educational fund” at the center of the case.

Her husband had opinions also.

“Obviously, everyone knows who Ms. Brown is,” she said, but she has no opinion as to Brown’s innocence or guilt.

Her husband: a different matter – he believes she is guilty.

“I think the general assumption when public figures are accused of something is they’re probably guilty,” she said, which runs counter to the presumption of innocence upon which criminal justice historically is predicated.

No strike; she made the cut, after saying she could be impartial.

“Just what’s been in the paper and been on the news,” the final juror to be questioned said about what he’d heard.

His knowledge of the facts of the case: more big picture than detailed.

“Most of it seems it’s against her, not for her,” he said of the coverage. “I’m leaning more towards the guilty.”

The case has come up, he said, in “normal conversation,” and in said normal conversation with a dozen or so people, consensus of Brown’s guilt has emerged.

“There’s a lot of information I’ve already taken in,” he added.

Pre-trial publicity clouds Corrine Brown jury pool [2:45 p.m. Monday update] – Of the 65 potential jurors brought into court Monday morning, six were struck by lunch break (leaving 59 potential bodies). However, the afternoon saw more questions coming forth, as interlocutors grilled potential jurors about any obstructions to their impartiality.

11 more were struck, bringing the total to 17.

As with the previous round of questioning, there seemed to be a tacit agreement that knowledge of the case could be held, as long as it didn’t veer into opinion about the alleged scheme to defraud or of former United States Congresswoman Corrine Brown.

One potential juror noted that she knew the former chair of the Duval County Democrats, and that she was aware of the case from media and conversation.

“It was about the education charity that was set up. How much was raised, how much was put into scholarships, who was involved.”

The juror, in the past, had joked that Brown was “probably guilty.”

Judge James Klindt pressed her on the assertion, and she said she could be fair and impartial.

Brown’s attorney, James Smith, found cause to challenge her impartiality. Prosecutor A. Tysen Duva diverged, saying that she unequivocally said she could be impartial.

Klindt put her on the jury, as she was “sincere” and “credible” in asserting her impartiality.

Another potential juror was impacted by knowledge of publicity (“I follow the news closely”) and a relationship with defense witness JuCoby Pittman from Leadership Jacksonville.

Her receptiveness to that testimony, the juror said, could be weighted in Pittman’s favor.

The potential juror had a deep knowledge of the process of the case, and an opinion that Brown “could potentially be guilty.”

Smith’s cause challenge, striking her from the jury, was successful.

“You just see trolling through newsfeed and see headlines … I think they were fraud charges.”

These words, from a white millennial male “with strong political beliefs [that] weigh heavily on how you see people”, presaged an opinion: “I can’t really say why, but yeah … I would presume that she is guilty.”

“I’ve read a few things … I know that she handed out ice cream to her supporters last week,” he said.

This juror likewise was struck, with Smith calling his response “disturbing” and pointing to “very strong political views” as a red flag.

“It’s been in the headlines … I read the newspaper every day,” said another potential juror.

Once she got the summons, she stopped reading about the case – cognizant that she may be called for this jury.

“I knew there were charges against the Congresswoman,” the potential juror added.

However, the woman had no opinion on Brown’s guilt. And she met with the satisfaction of both attorneys.

“What I do recall is the defendant on the news being shown in a negative light.”

These words, from a man who moved to the Jacksonville area years ago, framed the case for this potential juror, who did also read the front page of the paper.

“A fellow potential juror opened it up beside me … I looked over and saw that jury selection begins this morning,” he said.

His opinion: “the charges and allegations … have been brought with good reason.”

Duva attempted to parse the potential juror’s words, with regard to whether or not he could be objective.

Smith was a bit sharper with his questions, which compelled the potential juror to admit that he wasn’t sure if he could be objective.

A challenge for cause followed, with the state contending the potential juror had “rehabilitated” himself.

The judge went with the defense.

Another potential juror, with her narrative framed from television news, asserted a belief that Brown was guilty because of “things from the past.”

That potential juror would “try” to put aside preconceptions, but could offer no guarantees. The strike, however, was guaranteed.

“If Corrine Brown had been a Republican,” the potential juror said, “she would not be in this court today.”

This quote, from another potential juror, was a reprieve from the parade of people who deemed Brown guilty based on television newscasts.

“I support Corrine Brown … she has been a great Congresswoman, as far as I’m concerned,” the potential juror – active in protest movements – said.

When asked if she could set aside her political beliefs, she said she could – but it would be difficult.

That didn’t convince Duva, who cited the potential juror’s “very strong feelings” for Brown, and requested (and got) a strike.

“I understand that there is a lot of money is gone and someone has taken it … various people want the money back,” said another potential juror.

Her husband has “stronger opinions” on the case than she does, but both believe Brown is guilty.

Despite that, and having personal issues to deal with, she expressed a wavering confidence that she could set aside her opinions – and avoid input from her husband.

That said, if Brown were found not guilty, she would likely have to discuss the matter with her husband … “unless [the judge] decided I could never talk about this for the rest of my life or something.”

__

A final potential juror brought forth a number of issues, including strong feelings about Brown and knowledge of two witnesses, Steve Pajcic and John Delaney.

He had a hardship as well, as one of two principals in a two-person law firm.

He won’t be part of this trial.

High-profile case influences jury pool [12:30 p.m. Monday update] – As Federal Judge James Klindt worked through the pool of potential jurors, individual questions began before the lunch recess.

These questions illustrated the interrelationship between media, politicians, and the general public in Jacksonville, described by locals often as a “really big small town.”

Much of the questioning, from the judge and the lawyers, came down to trying to ascertain whether a baseline knowledge of the case equaled an inability to be an objective juror.

All told, six jurors (one black, five white) were struck from a 65 person jury pool consisting of 44 white people, 15 African-Americans, and one Asian-American.

One conflicted potential juror cited a local television news operation as having informed him of the case, telling him about “fundraising and funds, stuff like that.”

That information did not influence his opinion regarding Brown’s guilt or innocence. Neither side moved to strike the juror.

A second potential juror cited “different things on the media,” such as Ronnie Simmons “testifying against her,” as his baseline knowledge, accrued “over the last month.”

That juror is “leaning toward the guilty side,” after pre-trial coverage.

Prosecutor A. Tysen Duva asked follow-up questions, and the prospective juror cited Brown’s conduct as a politician as a reason he doesn’t feel comfortable.

That was enough for James Smith, who moved to challenge the potential juror’s inclusion.

Another juror, who had been exposed to publicity and had strong feelings about Brown, was asked to explain.

“I get the newspaper and I read it cover to cover every day … I have already made my decision,” the potential juror said.

“Her chief of staff has already plead guilty … her own daughter will plead the Fifth,” the potential juror asserted.

The son of an FBI agent asserted that “people are brought up for a reason,” asserting a potential conflict on his end.

“It’s hard to be impartial,” he said, “difficult to see the negativity in the news and be unbiased.”

The potential juror told a story of a fraudulent charity, with narrative filled in by television news that has been “out there for I don’t know how many months.”

Smith drilled down in questions, asking whether the potential juror would be biased against an argument that “the FBI is less than trustworthy.”

The potential juror, citing background checks and belief in his father, could not.

“I would side with the FBI,” he said, in what Smith called a “credibility contest.”

Unsurprisingly, Smith advanced a challenge with cause of this potential juror also.

Still another person described social media and local news as factors who could influence his thinking, noting “locker-room talk” about the trial from “friends and coworkers who do have opinions.”

That potential juror is “leaning more toward the guilty side,” based on external input.

That juror likewise occasioned a cause challenge from Brown’s barrister.

___

Not every potential juror was so conflicted.

And yet another person described the influence of Facebook’s “live feed” on his consumption of case information, regarding “ethical charges” against Brown.

“I think everyone deserves a fair trial,” he said.

Another juror, who had spent time with Corrine Brown in a corporate stadium skybox two years ago, said he could be impartial.

A third juror had had social interaction with Brown at corporate parties over the years.

“I don’t believe so,” the juror said when asked if it would affect her impartiality.

Questions came forth as to whether the juror’s spouse “consulted” with Brown on business matters, but the juror was satisfactory to both the prosecution and the defense.

Still another potential juror was exposed to the case via media, with his sister-in-law telling him “there was a lady caught stealing money, and that’s where you’re going” before jury selection.

He hadn’t given the case much thought beyond that exchange, and said he could be impartial. That was good enough for both attorneys.

Similar questions for various jurors will continue throughout Monday afternoon.

___

Party of 65: questions for jurors begin [11:15 a.m. Monday] – As the first wave of jurors entered for voir dire questioning, Corrine Brown studied their entrances, pursing her lips and then looking down, as if clearing her visual palate, between each entrance.

Black and white and Asian, old and younger, the jurors entered – many of them dressed in an approximation of court-appropriate apparel.

Of the 65, 49 were white, 14 African-American, and one Asian-American.

After the first few dozen entered, Brown began to stare at them en masse – as if registering that she was looking at people who would decide her fate.

Her legacy.

Her eyes registered that rueful glint familiar to those who have covered her in recent months, since the One Door story obliterated her career in Washington.

The 65 potential jurors seated, proceedings moved forward shortly after 10 a.m. Monday, with the foregoing illustrating the difficulty of finding jurors who lacked real, potentially prejudicial knowledge of Brown and the One Door for Education case.

Judge Klindt, a 31-year veteran of the federal bench, noted the threshold for guilt is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a meaningful distinction in a paper-heavy case rooted in competing and sometimes inherently contradictory narratives.

“Perhaps you have had occasion to be critical of it … but for all its faults, the American justice system is respected throughout the world,” Klindt said.

The jury, said Klindt, would not be sequestered – allowing the members to return home at the end of each day in the trial, which “could spill over into a fourth week.”

When the pool was asked about “extraordinary hardships” that would preclude participation, 13 indicated such.

When asked if anyone knew about the case through pre-trial publicity, 39 hands popped up, some after a delay that suggested deliberating the question.

When members were asked if they knew Trial Judge Corrigan, two hands came up.

Attorneys made their introductions: A. Tysen Duva for the prosecution, who introduced fellow U.S. attorneys and law enforcement; James Smith for the defense, who introduced Corrine Brown, drawing a “good morning” from some potential jurors.

Other jurors answered questions regarding knowledge of people from the FBI, IRS, U.S. Attorney’s Office, and other potential conflicts.

When asked if they knew Brown from a “social relationship,” two of the 65 indicated such.

When asked if any had lent political support or opposition to Brown, no such conflicts existed.

And, when asked if they had “strong feelings” about Brown, three jurors indicated such, though they did not give their disposition in initial questioning.

From there, the roll call of those testifying – another factor which could prejudice jurors.

Among those who were known to jurors: Siottis Jackson, a political operative for Brown; Ronnie Simmons, Brown’s former co-defendant who pleaded out and is cooperating with prosecution; and John Delaney, a former Jacksonville Mayor.

Judge Klindt urged jurors not to discuss the case, including via phone conversations on Blackberry, Snapchat, and other modern-ish conveyances.

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Jury selection [9:18 a.m. Monday update]: Jury selection in the trial of former Rep. Brown began at 9:30 Monday morning in Courtroom 13A of Jacksonville’s federal courthouse.

A question going into this phase of the trial for Brown, one of the most polarizing figures in Jacksonville political history, was finding 12 jurors who weren’t aware of who she was and about the parameters of this high-stakes case.

Brown wore all black as she entered the courtroom shortly before 9:00 a.m., her face impassive.

Judge James Klindt kicked proceedings of the Voir Dire phase off, with A. Tysen Duva representing the government and James Smith representing the defendant.

Klindt was charged with selecting the jury, and noted the potential impacts of hardship for the initial 65 person jury pool.

Beyond hardships, knowing lawyers or principals in the case would also be a disqualifying factor, Klindt noted.

Also a potential ground for disqualification: having a strong opinion on Brown, or any knowledge of the case gleaned from the media.

“What I am trying to do is not have answers to these questions taint other jurors,” Klindt noted.

The goal: coming up with 36 jurors, including alternates and potential “strikes” for both sets of lawyers.

“I’m hoping we can come up with 45,” Klindt said, who were not initially disqualified.

Less ‘intense’ zoning discussed for Jacksonville commercial corridors

On Friday, Jacksonville City Council members Scott WilsonJohn Crescimbeni, and Greg Anderson discussed commercial corridors — a recurring conversation in recent months.

As ever, blight remediation was the focal point … specifically relative to older, dilapidated properties.

Councilors had discussed making zoning less “intense” previously, with an eye toward removing some of the zoning most conducive to blight, such as used car lots.

A state process, via the Bert Harris Act, allows for local governments to offer a settlement to property owners to resolve the impact of zoning that destroys a neighborhood’s residential character.

A mechanism discussed to reduce damage claims: setting a five-year buffer between the zoning change and implementation.

As is often the case with such buffers, the possibility of legal injunctions filed just before the five-year mark was discussed.

Amortization was also discussed regarding a permitted use, but city lawyers said that wouldn’t eliminate potential lawsuits.

Crescimbeni also floated the idea of changing permissions via zoning, such as barring used car lots in CCG-1.

“Let’s look at that list [of permissions in the zoning area], and cross some things out,” Crescimbeni suggested.

The legal consensus: striking zoning permissions, coupled with a grace period, may help limit the city’s exposure. Likewise, zoning exceptions are lower risk for legal action.

Another solution discussed: landscaping, via the tree mitigation fund.

A problem on Beach Boulevard that precludes such: a lack of space for trees and greenery.

A recurrent complaint of Jacksonville councilors interested in these issues: the unintentional blight created by CCG-2 zoning — which, years back, was intended to drive neighborhood vitality on Beach Boulevard and other similar older thoroughfares.

Those complaints resurfaced yet again on Friday, an indication of the intractability of the larger issue.

Corrine Brown prosecution presents 49-page exhibit list

On Friday, federal prosecutors released a 49 page exhibit list ahead of the trial of Corrine Brown next week.

The exhibits flesh out the indictment issued last year regarding the One Door for Education charity, an indictment asserting that Brown, former chief of staff and co-defendant Ronnie Simmons, and Carla Wiley exploited Brown’s membership in Congress to fraudulently solicit and receive hundreds of thousands of dollars of payments on the false pretense they would be used for charity.

Simmons and Wiley are cooperating with prosecutors, and have already struck plea deals; they will be testifying for the state.

Promotional material, social media, donation requests, and meetings and conversations with donors, first by Brown, then by Simmons in a follow-up, are all enumerated in the exhibits.

Money, say the feds, also flowed from Brown’s campaign, “Friends of Corrine Brown,” and her “Florida Delivers Leadership PAC,” to One Door and, “at times,” Brown’s personal account.

Lavish travel, luxury boxes, and events benefiting Brown were funded with One Door money.

Brown also solicited donors, say the feds, with letters signed by Brown, saying that One Door funds went to “youth mentoring, scholarships, and programming.”

Various checks followed, with what prosecutors call “fraudulent misrepresentations and omissions” by Brown and Simmons bringing money into the One Door account.

And the 49 pages document that process in exhaustive detail.

Items to be presented in court next week include a “Summary Chart” of cash withdrawals from the One Door for Education Capital One Account and cash applied to Corrine Brown’s personal accounts.

As well, documentation will be offered of cash going into the personal accounts of Wiley, Simmons, and Shantrel Brown, Corrine’s daughter who already filed a motion not to testify on the grounds she will just plead the Fifth Amendment.

Emails between those parties will also be presented, though the details of those aren’t in the list.

Flyers promoting events benefiting One Door for Education, going back to 2012, will also be presented as evidence of a conspiracy to defraud.

As well, signed letters from Brown will be exhibited, such as a “One Door For Education letter signed by Corrine Brown to Gasper Lazzara seeking sponsorship to send seniors to Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C. in January 2013.”

Surveillance video of Simmons making transactions also will be provided, as will financial records for the infamous Beyonce concert sky box that One Door money went toward.

Evidence of Brown schmoozing Jacksonville powerbrokers will abound, such as a “letter on Congressional letterhead to John Baker, dated June 25, 2015, regarding sending students and chaperones to China for an exchange program and seeking contributions to One Door For Education.”

Also submitted for perusal: vacation records for junkets, such as Wiley and Simmons traveling to Miami to stay at the tony Fontainebleu Hotel in 2013.

Jurors will also get to review proof of payment for advertising in “Onyx Magazine,” a vanity-press style publication that often featured Brown and other political allies, from the ostensibly charitable fund.

Copious evidence of ATM withdrawals will be used to buttress the case of ongoing conspiracy — and have no doubt that Ronnie Simmons’ testimony will be central to that.

As well, Fed Ex labels and correspondence from Brown’s Congressional office to Wiley will also be used to make the case for conspiracy.

If the exhibits are a reliable indication, Brown was happy to route contributions to friends, such as a June 2013 reroute of a contribution to Community Rehabilitation Center, the business of current Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, who was a close associate of Brown’s for a long time.

Brown also seemed to urge donors to give to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation; Don Miller of Orlando made a $22,500 donation in 2014, which is part of the exhibit list.

Big names, such as Florida Democratic Party head Stephen Bittel, were regular donors and correspondents.

Bittel even allowed the use of his private plane at one point.

Brown, according to exhibits, made numerous charitable contributions to CRC, as well as to Bethel Baptist — an influential downtown Jacksonville church.

Corrine Brown’s daughter will be called to testify against her in court

One of the highest-profile and most interesting prosecution witnesses in the trial of Corrine Brown: her own daughter, Shantrel Brown.

However, Shantrel did want to testify against her mother — as a “motion to quash” filed Apr. 19 revealed.

Federal prosecutors filed a countermotion, and Shantrel’s motion was thrown out Friday afternoon

Shantrel Brown will  plead the Fifth Amendment, the original motion claimed.

“If called to testify, Shantrel Brown will invoke the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and will remain silent in response to any questions by the government. Thus, the only purpose for calling Shantrel Brown would be for the atmospheric effect upon the jury to see the defendant’s daughter invoke her Fifth Amendment rights. The Fifth Amendment applies ‘where a witness is asked to incriminate himself-in other words, to give testimony which may possibly expose him to a criminal charge’,” reads the filing from her attorney.

Shantrel is “Person B” in the indictment, a “close relative” of the Congresswoman who traveled with her to Los Angeles, where money earmarked for the One Door for Education charity was spent for non-educational purposes.

___

Shantrel is one name on an all-star witness list.

Among the names reporters will track starting Apr. 26: Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel, former Jacksonville Sheriff Nat Glover, current Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, Jacksonville superdonors John Baker and Ed Burr, JEA Board member Husein Cumber, Jacksonville lawyer and one-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Pajcic, and former chair of the Donald Trump campaign in Florida, Susie Wiles.

Also testifying for the state: the Congresswoman’s two alleged co-conspirators in the One Door for Education trial: Carla Wiley and former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons.

___

Corrine Brown is the last co-defendant in the One Door for Education trial who has not pleaded guilty in exchange for cooperation.

She faces 22 counts.

If found guilty of all, she could be sentenced to 357 years in prison, and $4.8M in fines

Georgia/Florida football game to be in Jacksonville through 2021

The World’s Largest Cocktail Party is slated for five more years in the Bold New City of the South.

City Council Ordinance 2017-322, filed this week, would keep the Georgia/Florida football game in Jacksonville through the 2021 event.

Contract oversight will be provided by Dave Herrell of Sports and Entertainment, and the deal represents the product of finalized negotiations between the city and the schools.

John Rutherford: ‘Securing our southern border is an achievable challenge’

As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, Rep. John Rutherford led fellow committee members in a trip to the U.S. southern border this week.

The committee members visited the border in California, Arizona, and Texas; the goal, to examine immigration enforcement and emerging national security threats.

“For far too long, the U.S. has failed to dedicate the resources and effort needed to secure our southern border. As Congress works with the Trump Administration to gain operational control of the border, this first-hand visit to the border allows my congressional colleagues and me to better understand the personnel, infrastructure and technology needs on the ground,” Rutherford said.

“Securing our southern border is a complex, but achievable, challenge. I will continue to work with my colleagues on the House Committee on Homeland Security to commit the resources and strategy needed to achieve control of our southern border and to stop illegal immigration, human trafficking, and drug smuggling,” Rutherford added.

Duval School Board mulls post-Nikolai Vitti era

The Duval County School Board moved Friday toward transition from the superintendency of Nikolai Vitti, who is moving on to Detroit.

In a special board meeting Friday morning in a mostly empty chambers, the board discussed next steps … even as reliable sources say that Gov. Rick Scott would like to see Clay County Superintendent Addison Davis (Vitti’s former assistant) brought in to fill Vitti’s role.

Board Chair Paula Wright noted that Vitti pledged to work with whatever process the board determined necessary.

“He’s high and he’s positive and he’s excited,” Wright said about his move to Detroit, though a date for his “conclusion of the contract” is unknown.

Board member Scott Shine said that “we can change this situation, if we present a united board asking him to stay.”

“The reason he wants to leave is because he hasn’t been supported,” Shine said, outlining a perceived lack of board support and delineating Vitti’s virtues, including agitating against charter schools in Tallahassee.

“There will be consequences for all of us … the most concerning consequence is I think this will be harmful to our children and our educational system,” Shine said.

No second was coming for Shine’s entreaty.

Wright discussed “opportunities for new leadership,” disputing that “board contentiousness” drove Vitti out.

“I do not know why we are continuing to have this conversation,” Wright said.

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