Jax – Florida Politics

Jacksonville councilors accused of fraud scheme now have court-appointed lawyers

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.

AFSCME Florida backs Nancy Soderberg in CD 6

Former U.S. Ambassador Nancy Soderberg received an endorsement Thursday from the Florida branch of the nation’s largest public employee union in her bid for Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

AFSCME Florida is proud to endorse Nancy Soderberg, who will fight side by side with us to make sure we have the freedom to organize, collectively bargain and stand up for our rights,” said Jana Weaver, executive director of AFSCME Florida. “Nancy will fight to stop the assault on workers and do everything she can to provide people with the freedom and opportunity to join the middle class.”

Richard Flamm, an AFSCME member and chair of the Central Florida PEOPLE Committee, added that Soderberg will “fight for our freedom as workers to organize, collectively bargain and stand up so we can improve life for ourselves, our families and our communities across Florida.”

Soderberg, a Democrat who served as Ambassador to the United Nations under Bill Clinton, is one of six candidates vying for the seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who running in the Republican primary for Governor.

She has previously earned endorsements from former Vice President Joe Biden and the Florida Young Democrats and has also caught the attention of the national Democratic Party, which added her campaign to their “Red to Blue” program earlier this year.

Soderberg is running against Steven Sevigny and John Upchurch in the Democratic primary, while former state Rep. Fred Costello, Fox News contributor Michael Waltz and businessman John Ward are duking it out for the Republican nomination.

CD 6 is a Republican-leaning seat, though through the end of the first quarter of 2018 Soderberg led the Democratic field with an impressive $920,000 in total fundraising and $595,000 on hand. Sevigny, a Daytona Beach physician, entered the race halfway through Q1 and raised posted $250,000 in his first report.

Ward was the top Republican with $709,000 banked at the end of Q1, including $550,000 in candidate contributions, while Waltz was about $50K behind counting the $400,000 he’d pumped into his campaign.

CD 6 covers a stretch of Florida’s east coast, from southern Jacksonville to New Smyrna Beach.

East versus West dynamic still evident in Alvin Brown, Al Lawson race

The Democratic primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, a scrum between the Tallahassee incumbent Al Lawson and former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, looks to be a test of whether Duval Democrats can take back the district against Lawson, a genial career politician with friends on both sides of the aisle.

The battle has been one of dueling press releases on issues ranging from gun control to Lawson’s willingness to work with President Donald Trump, but with roughly two months before the primary, ground game is becoming a factor.

To that end, both Brown and Lawson are in the process of getting their campaign headquarters up and running. And predictably, those efforts are concentrated initially in each candidate’s geographic base.

Mayor Brown will be in attendance Thursday evening at his campaign headquarters (900-15 Dunn Avenue) for an event intended to engage campaign volunteers. That kicks off at 6 p.m.

While grassroots support is key, so too is the support of the Jacksonville money class. Though it has been slow in coming, Brown (as first reported by Florida Times-Union journalist Nate Monroe) is slated to have Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan host a fundraiser next week.

Khan, who supported Brown’s re-election campaign heavily, has not made a habit of supporting electoral challengers in local races. His preference has been to support incumbents with whom he can partner, so the decision to go against a sitting incumbent (one well-regarded by many in Jacksonville’s political class) is worth noting.

In addition to Khan, the host committee via the invite obtained by Florida Politics features dozens of Duval’s heavy hitters.

From Jacksonville University President Tim Cost and Gary Chartrand to trial lawyers Eddie and Chuck Farah to traditional Republican money men like John Baker and John Rood, what’s clear is that some of the power elite is backing their local candidate, even if Republican office holders like Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff John Rutherford seem to lean Lawson’s way.

Lawson is making moves of his own, opening a campaign headquarters in Tallahassee Saturday. That event is at 225 East Jennings Street from 3 p.m. – 6 p.m.

Lawson this week also pocketed a key endorsement from the western side of the 11-county district, via Gadsden County Sheriff Morris A. Young.

“Congressman Lawson has been dedicated to North Florida for a number of years,” Young said. “I have watched him grow as a state representative, state senator and, now, congressman. I am proud to know him. He is doing a great job in Washington.”

Ultimately, Brown will have to convince people west of Jacksonville that Lawson should be replaced. He will need endorsements and infrastructure west of I-295 to counteract the incumbent, who has gotten one key Jacksonville endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police.

Brown didn’t even make a play for that endorsement.

Watchers await new fundraising numbers for Brown and Lawson. As of the end of March, Lawson led in cash on hand, $159,710 to $127,764.


HD 15 roundup: AFL-CIO backs Tracye Polson, Joseph Hogan; GOP candidate forum looms

The race to succeed Rep. Jay Fant, a departing Jacksonville Republican who hopes to be commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation, continues apace.

The sole Democrat in the contest continues to receive meaningful endorsements, while the trio of Republicans vying for the party’s nomination in August is just beginning to dialogue with voters.

On the Democratic side, Tracye Polson scored the endorsement of the Florida AFL-CIO this week.

“Labor unions and their members have been the backbone of this country and our state for decades. It means a great deal to me to earn the endorsement of the Florida AFL-CIO, which works on behalf and fights for working families every day. I look forward to working with our North Florida Central Labor Council and labor unions across the state to fight for better pay and benefits, affordable health care, gender equality and a safe work environment for everyone,” Polson said via statement.

Meanwhile, the three Republicans in the race — lawyer/lobbyist Wyman Duggan, yacht broker Mark Zeigler, and Joseph Hogan (also endorsed by the labor union) — have a key candidate forum to look forward to next week.

The Republican Club of Westside Jacksonville will, on Monday night, host the trio of candidates.

They will make brief introductory statements, then take questions from the audience, per club VP Raymond Johnson.

“All three candidates have said they will attend and we will be giving them 5-10 minutes to make their campaign statements and then will take questions from the audience. Questions will be open for anyone to ask and whatever is asked the candidates can answer,” Johnson asserted.

The HD 15 money race shows Polson ahead of the Republicans with $118,000 cash on hand as of the end of May.

Of the GOP field, Duggan had $111,000 cash on hand, with Zeigler over $30,000 and Hogan with just under $7,000.

However, this event won’t be a test of financial bona fides, but an ability to connect with the grassroots; it will be interesting to see how the three Republican first-time candidates operate in that setting.

Jacksonville’s Clay Yarborough may extend money lead

State Rep. Clay Yarborough, a Jacksonville Republican in his first term, will likely expand his money lead over Democratic challenger Tim Yost at a fundraiser Thursday evening.

The event, kicking off at 5:30 p.m. at the Jacksonville offices of Foley & Lardner, includes numerous elected officials on the host committee.

From the Florida Senate: Rob Bradley, Aaron Bean, and Travis Hutson.

From the state House: Cord ByrdTravis CummingsJason FischerPaul Renner, and Cyndi Stevenson.

From the Jacksonville City Council: Danny BectonAl Ferraro, Bill Gulliford, and Matt Schellenberg.

At the end of May, Yarborough had over $105,000 on hand, and no primary competition, as he prepares for a general election clash with Yost, who had $3,600 on hand.

Yarborough’s HD 12 includes Arlington and other Southside neighborhoods in Jacksonville. It is historically Republican.

Those with interest in attending should RSVP to jennifer@jennifermcdougald.com.

aaron bean

Aaron Bean earns backing of Florida Retail Federation

Republican Sen. Aaron Bean, who faces challengers on all sides in his 2018 re-election bid, got a boost Thursday by way of an endorsement from the Florida Retail Federation.

The retail trade group highlighted the Fernandina Beach lawmaker’s help voting down a bill to increase the “felony threshold limit” — the value of goods an individual must steal before they can be charged with felony theft.

“Senator Bean’s support of Sunshine State retailers has been instrumental particularly in fighting to ensure the felony threshold wasn’t raised and expanding access to healthcare to help protect Florida families,” said FRF President/CEO R. Scott Shalley. “Our members are appreciative of the Senators’ efforts, and we know we can count on his continued support when he returns to the Florida Senate.”

The FRF endorsement also touted Bean’s background in elected office as well as his public service, including holding a board seat with the First Coast YMCA, Big Brothers & Big Sisters and the United Way.

Challenging Bean for the District 4 seat this year are Democrat Billie Bussard, Republican Carlos Slay and Libertarian Joanna Liberty Tavares.

When it comes to Bussard and Tavares, Bean has SD 4’s heavy Republican tilt in his corner. When it comes to Slay, who went negative from the jump, Bean is looking to out-campaign him the old-fashioned way — door knocking and fundraising.

Bean is in good shape on the fundraising front. As of May 31, he had more than $100,000 banked for his campaign with another $72,000 at the ready in his affiliated political committee. None of his opponents have posted a campaign finance report.

Primary or no, Tracie Davis exudes confidence in path forward

State Rep. Tracie Davis, a first-term Jacksonville Democrat, faces (at least through noon Friday) only nominal ballot opposition — in the form of state Rep. Kim Daniels‘ former aide.

Davis has already qualified for re-election. Her opponent, Roshanda Jackson, has not.

Despite any challenge, Davis isn’t changing her approach.

“I qualified Monday,” Davis related Tuesday in Jacksonville. “I’m just staying focused doing what I’m doing in the community now that I’m home [for the summer].”

“If I have a challenge, I run a race,” she added. “And if I don’t, I continue to work hard in my community.”

The state party offered support and resources, Davis said, similar to that offered (and extended) to state Sen. Audrey Gibson when Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown filed to oppose her.

Of course, Brown faces his own battle in a federal courtroom over fraud charges, with a status hearing Thursday afternoon.

If anything, it has been an interesting campaign season, Davis noted.

“Hopefully at noon on Friday,” she said, “we have the opportunity to get back to work for the people who elected us, without opposition.”

Jay Fant exiting Attorney General race, applying for OFR commissioner

The Republican race for Attorney General is now a two-candidate affair.

State Rep. Jay Fant of Jacksonville is bowing out and applying to be commissioner of Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation (OFR).

Commissioner Drew Breakspear is resigning effective June 30, after CFO Jimmy Patronis told him he “no longer ha(d) confidence” in Breakspear’s ability to lead the office, which acts as the state’s watchdog for the financial industry.

Fant explained  Tuesday the role would be a solid fit for his banking experience — including a high-profile loss.

“After years of work in the private sector,” Fant said, “I first decided to pursue elected office because I experienced first hand what wayward government policy does to business.”

He added: “I was running a small community bank during the Great Recession and Florida real estate crisis. Our company, like all banks and financial firms, suffered tremendously. The federal government intervened by passing a massive bank bailout that helped the largest banks and left the small community banks out in the cold. 64 banks in Florida alone, including ours, went out of business. Wall Street won. Main Street lost.”

“Businesses in Florida must operate on a level playing field, and our willingness to fight for that is vital to the success of free enterprise,” Fant said. “These beliefs led me to run for the Florida House, and then last year to run for Attorney General. The recent opening for Commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation, however, is the position most in line with my experience in banking, law and policymaking; I will seek that appointment.

“My passion is to see that limited government be fair for all Floridians.”

For Fant, who’s been struggling in the Attorney General’s race, this may be the closest he gets to a Cabinet position.

The OFR reports to the Financial Services Commission, which is made up of the Governor and Cabinet: Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer and Agriculture Commissioner.

State law says they can hire or fire the OFR’s head “by a majority vote consisting of at least three affirmative votes, with both the Governor and the Chief Financial Officer on the prevailing side.” Patronis is a friend and political ally of Gov. Rick Scott.

Fant was on Scott’s side last year, when he voted against a bill backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran that sought to abolish Scott’s favored Enterprise Florida economic development organization.

Fant said then that he doesn’t “like going against leadership on a vote, and I stick with them on just about everything, but this just isn’t one of those things.”

And Scott later had Fant’s back at an Enterprise Florida meeting later that year.

“There are not a lot of people in the Legislature that stood up for us and talked vocally about their support of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida,” Scott said. “Jay Fant was one of the few, and I want to thank Jay for doing that, and I wish all luck in your next endeavor.”

During a gaggle, Scott then amplified his comments, calling Fant a “leader.”

Remaining in the AG race are Ashley Moody, a former Circuit Court judge, and Frank White, a House colleague of Fant.

If Fant were to endorse, it likely wouldn’t be Moody, given the heated exchanges between the two during the primary.

Among White’s backers is Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry; the move could strengthen an important relationship locally for Fant, who left a safe House seat to pursue the AG job.

Second candidate Sharol Noblejas files for impending Jacksonville City Council vacancy

Even before the 2019 city elections, the Jacksonville City Council is in a time of turmoil.

Two members have been suspended, facing federal charges in a conspiracy to defraud. And a third member, Doyle Carter, has already submitted a resignation letter as he runs for Duval County Tax Collector.

Whereas the two suspended members will see their replacements picked by the Governor, Carter’s seat is subject (as is the Tax Collector position) to a contested special election on the August ballot — with a November runoff if no one candidate gets to 50.01 percent.

Republican Randy White, a former fire union head and friend of Councilman Carter, filed months ago and has close to $85,000 banked. On Monday, a second Republican, Sharol Noblejas, ensured there would be competition.

Noblejas, in the current class of Leadership Jacksonville, also is on the Mayor’s Asian-American Advisory Council, is on the Board of Directors for Night of Asia, and is on the Asian American Federation of Florida.

She has been mulling a run for some time, but the unique circumstances of the opening spurred her into action.

“I was thinking of 2023,” Noblejas said, “but this looked like a good opportunity.”

Noblejas counts Council President Anna Brosche as a supporter (but not an official endorser, she said Tuesday).

This sets up an interesting dynamic: White is friendly with Mayor Lenny Curry, and Curry’s chief lieutenants Mike Weinstein and Sam Mousa, and will see his campaign run by Curry’s political adviser Tim Baker.

She also expects to get support from women’s groups and Republican groups.

If elected, she wants to “make the Westside safe for families and children,” citing a need for pedestrian overpasses.

Now that the race is competitive, the oppo will float. And one such piece of business will be a Chapter 11 marital bankruptcy from 2011.

The story was a familiar one, Noblejas related. She lost her job, it took her a year to find a new one, and the bankruptcy was a way to “stay afloat.”

Leslie Dougher files another election complaint against Bill Nelson campaign

Former Republican Party of Florida Chair Leslie Dougher has reinvented herself as a gadfly for Sen. Bill Nelson’s re-election campaign in recent months, including protesting at his events.

Dougher, Gov. Rick Scott‘s choice for RPOF chair years back, has also not been averse to filing elections complaints against Scott’s opponent.

January saw a Senate Ethics Complaint filed against Nelson, for allegedly campaigning in a government building.

And June sees a Federal Elections Commission complaint about political signs near a Nelson May 29th fundraiser that lacked disclaimers.

The complaint asserts that it is a “logical presumption” that the campaign “paid for or authorized” the signs.

Dougher’s last complaint was deemed a “political stunt” by Team Nelson. We are reaching out now for what likely will be a similar comment.

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