Suspended Jacksonville City Council members Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown were in a federal courtroom Thursday afternoon.
The central question: Who would represent Katrina Brown?
The answer: Taxpayers will pay for her lawyer just as they will her former colleague and current co-defendant.
The two Browns (who are unrelated) allegedly committed a conspiracy to defraud, say federal prosecutors. United States Attorneys contend the pair extracted hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal use from a Small Business Administration-backed loan provided for Katrina Brown’s familial BBQ sauce plant.
Reggie Brown, who has been deemed indigent by the court, already had a court-appointed lawyer coming into Thursday.
Katrina Brown, meanwhile, expressed confidence that she could retain private barrister Curtis Fallgatter at a hearing last week. However, that didn’t prove to be the case.
Given the financial uncertainty on Katrina Brown’s part, Fallgatter said a court-appointed counsel might be in order until her financial situation was more certain.
Brown is accused of taking a $2.62M Small Business Administration loan and not developing a business, but instead using much of the money for personal purposes, which undoubtedly will lead some observers to skepticism of the claim of penury.
Brown was making $3,000 per month from the City Council; however, suspension from that body cut off that income.
Her debts, said Judge James Klindt, are greater than her income. Nonetheless, she will have to contribute $1,000 and pay a monthly stipend.
When asked about the seeming improbability of receiving loans and grants of over $3 million for a business and having nothing to show for it, Katrina Brown wasn’t talking. Fallgatter was.
Regarding the financial plan that would have allowed him to be retained, Fallgatter noted that “problems have developed” and it wouldn’t be “fair to Ms. Brown or the court” not to move forward with a court-appointed lawyer.
“This is a testament to the fact that all of the funds were put back into the business. She didn’t walk away with any boats, cars, planes,” Fallgatter said. “She’s upside down. She lives with her folks. Has very modest funds. A car that she owes more on than it’s worth.”
Katrina Brown would not answer questions related to Council, including whether or not she was stepping down or if she had been in contact with Council members — many of whom have been concerned about the bills she sponsored in recent weeks.
Reggie Brown also was engaged by the media. He would not answer questions about whether or not he still intended to run for Senate against Audrey Gibson.
“I’m just going to say that I’m innocent and we will wait and watch the process unfold,” the councilman said.
We asked if he intended to flip on Katrina Brown as part of proving his innocence.
“You’ll learn one day that just because people ask questions doesn’t mean you have to answer,” Reggie Brown said.
The Browns, upon indictment, issued a joint statement from their first-appearance lawyers proclaiming innocence: “Unlike cases where true fraud exists, no one took any money they were not entitled to. All funds were properly invested in the business.”
Thirty-eight counts from the federal government make a different case, with charges that could add up — at least in theory — to hundreds of years in prison and millions of dollars in fines for both.
Cumulative potential penalties for Katrina Brown: 720 years and a $12 million fine.
For Reggie Brown: 601 years and an $8.275 million fine.
Despite their suspension from the City Council, neither Brown will resign. Gov. Rick Scott will pick fill-in members in the coming weeks.
The arraignment of both Browns will be Monday afternoon. A trial is to be slated for September, as of now.