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Corrine Brown trial coverage: Jury selection continues into second day

In the federal courthouse in Jacksonville on Tuesday, jury selection continued in the trial of former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown. Monday’s events are chronicled here.

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.

FloridaPolitics.com will bring you ongoing coverage of the entire trial: jury selection; 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.

Currently ongoing: jury selection. This post will be updated at recesses in proceedings.

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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.

 

 

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: Day 1

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Jacksonville Bold for 4.21.17 — Political capital, boldfaced

Is there a politician in Florida right now on more of a hot streak than Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry?

This issue of Bold tells the tale.

Curry’s pension reform appears to be on a glide path toward ratification — a major accomplishment.

His moves toward downtown revitalization have a major shot in the arm, with Shad Khan getting the green light to go forward with Shipyards redevelopment.

And he is still in the CFO discussion — bigly.

It is a political season where everyone in Tallahassee looks a bit more diminished with each passing news cycle.

Yet, Curry — vilified as a “party boss” during the campaign two years ago — is looking like the embodiment of leadership.

At 70 percent in an internal poll (and above 60 percent of Democrats), the question has to be raised: Is Jacksonville enough for Curry, or is it time for him to make a play for something statewide?

Pension reform a done deal … almost

It appears that the long and winding path toward comprehensive pension reform in Jacksonville has all but completed after the Jacksonville City Council “committee of the whole” voted to recommend 14 pension reform bills to the full Council Monday.

Lenny Curry sells pension reform to the press corps.

What this means: all that’s left for the body to do is vote once more for the bills they approved in committee.

Of the bills, 11 ratify collective bargaining agreements. One authorizes the ½ penny sales tax extension, which provides actuarial certainty that there will be money to pay down and eventually pay off the city’s $2.8B unfunded pension liability. And two more bills reconfigure the city’s retirement plans.

Existing defined benefit pension plans will close to new entrants. Hires after Oct. 1 will enter defined contribution plans.

Done deal — and maybe the biggest accomplishment of Curry’s political career.

Thus far …

Curry visits Tallahassee, not lobbying for CFO

Curry made his way to Tallahassee this week … but not to buck for the CFO slot.

Curry, who is at 70 percent in a recent internal poll conducted by his political committee, was there advocating for a friend and CEO of a Jacksonville company, reports Tia Mitchell.

“Curry introduced APR Energy Chair and Chief Executive John Campion to Scott and explained the company’s issues, which have tied up $44 million and could cost even more. He asked Scott to reach out to President Donald Trump in hopes of that the president can help bring the yearslong case to resolution,” Mitchell writes.

Lenny Curry, always emphatic.

Turbines owned by APR were rented by an Australian company that went bankrupt, frustrating attempts to retrieve the equipment.

Curry, meanwhile, is willing to have a “conversation” about the CFO position, he told Mitchell.

Does Jacksonville need block grants?

Does the city of Jacksonville need Community Development Block Grants? As an urban city with all kinds of legacy problems, one would think the federal money would come in handy.

But getting Curry to take a position on CDBGs has been a slog.

The city kicked off the beginning of a week of events designed to call attention to the utility of CDBGs with a mayoral proclamation — but with no one authorized to deliver it.

Mayor’s Office MIA at CDBG event, raises questions for one councilman.

TV was there — no worries, they didn’t notice. But there is a school of thought that Curry’s reticence is related to the desire of President Trump to zero out these grants — weekend travel to one’s private clubs isn’t cheap.

Curry’s spokesperson, Marsha Oliver, projected agnosticism on the issue on behalf of her boss.

“As long as the program exists and funds are available, we will utilize them,” Oliver said.

Oliver stressed that the mayor was not taking a position on whether the program should or shouldn’t be in existence; however, as budget discussions loom, Curry’s financial team likely will have to factor in the current uncertainty from the White House.

Aaron Bean is lobbying for CFO

Sen Bean — already filed for re-election to the Senate — is in the mix for the CFO opening that will be created soon.

“My name is in the hat for CFO,” Bean said. He has met with Gov. Rick Scott, who said he would announce the process for selection “after Session ends.”

Bean’s high-five game is on fleek, but will that get him CFO?

Bean is part of a crowded field of candidates, which includes Curry and Pat Neal, who has been touted by statewide political media as a strong candidate for the caretaker role.

Trouble for Paul Renner?

Rep. Renner has made no secret of his desire to be House Speaker in 2022 — and that may be a dealbreaker.

A week after POLITICO Florida reported Renner discussed his speaker’s bid with House Republicans — violating prohibitions against campaigning for the slot — new draft rules may knock him out of the running.

Paul Renner’s back may be against the wall in Speaker race.

Peter Schorsch lays it out.

“According to the latest version of the rules, a caucus member would be ineligible to be nominated if the House Speaker declares the member in violation of House Republican Conference Rules,” Schorsch writes.

Adopted last year, those rules state a “candidate for the office of Republican Leader-designate may not have directly or indirectly solicited or accepted a formal or informal pledge of support before June 30 of the year following the general election which the final members of their legislative class were elected.”

Conference rules go on to say a violation would render that candidate “ineligible to stand for election before the House Republican Conference as either the Republican Leader-designate or the Republican Leader.”

Corrine Brown trial boasts witness star power

Federal court awaits Brown next week, and political watchers will appreciate the star power brought forth to testify on the questionable charity graced by Brown’s name.

Shaking the tip jar? Bad visual for a defendant in a fraud trial.

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.

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.

Testifying for the state: the congresswoman’s daughter, Shantrel Brown and her two alleged co-conspirators: Carla Wiley and former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons. Simmons also is on deck for the defense.

Both Wiley and Simmons have pleaded out, and their sentences are contingent on cooperation with the feds.

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

Nikolai Vitti, Motown-bound

The Detroit Free Press reported this week that Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is moving on to the Motor City, wrapping up a tenure that saw Vitti with more buy-in from community “stakeholders” than rank and file.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire: Vitti might miss Jacksonville sooner than later.

Going forward, It looks to be a wild ride for Vitti.

The Free Press reported “jeers” from some audience members, with the objection being that Vitti is not African-American.

And there is a lawsuit challenging the openness of the search process also.

And the teacher’s union wants the interim superintendent kept on as an assistant superintendent.

Vitti’s tagline during this process has been a claim that he has Detroit in his DNA.

There’s still time to order a kit from 23AndMe, doctor.

Meanwhile, the Duval County School Board meets Friday to discuss next steps.

Shad Khan gets greenlit for Shipyards development

The “future of the Shipyards” is in the hands of Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan.

No, it’s not kismet. Rather, it’s the result of Khan’s Iguana Investments emerging as the best of three competitive bids for redevelopment of the Shipyards and Metropolitan Park. Indeed, Iguana’s score of 85.5 was well ahead of the other two hopefuls.

Shad Khan always has incredible concept drawings. How will reality look?

Action News Jax reports that “Khan’s vision for Downtown stays true to his prior ‘Live. Work. Stay. Play’ pitch. His aim is to create an atmosphere around the stadium where the City and Jaguars both benefit. In addition to residential and park space, the plan calls for a luxury hotel that connects to the stadium through a pedestrian tunnel and a pedestrian and bicycle bridge park, similar to the High Line in New York.”

City Council will approve this deal later this spring.

Jax Chamber pushes Players economic impact

The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce ascribes $151M of economic impact from May’s PLAYERS Championship for Northeast Florida.

The Chamber hosted a news conference this week that involved representatives from the PLAYERS and US Assure, and as has been the case previously, all parties discussed the unique economic synergy created by the event.

“The tournament has hosting opportunities for businesses of all sizes and the PLAYERS Club is an excellent way to showcase our community, the tournament, and your company. If you have not already, I would highly suggest reaching out to staff of THE PLAYERS to figure out how they can help your company host clients at this amazing event,” US Assure chief operating officer Ryan Schwartz asserted.

Jax Chamber tees up for TPC again. These pressers are a yearly tradition.

“During May 9-14, Northeast Florida is on an international stage thanks to THE PLAYERS Championship,” Jax Chamber Chair Darnell Smith said. “As a community, we must continue to take advantage of this spectacular tournament and venue to showcase how wonderful this city is and to help grow business here in Northeast Florida.”

Ed Burr, double booked

When it comes to the JEA Board, almost-Chair Burr has left the building, reports the Florida Times-Union.

Ed Burr is a busy man.

“Mayor Lenny Curry appointed Burr, along with other business leaders, to the board in 2015 following a shake-up of the board in the wake of controversy over governance at JEA. Curry reappointed Burr for another term this year, but Burr asked for his name to be withdrawn from reappointment because of continued ambiguity in state law about whether he is a dual officeholder,” Sebastian Kitchen writes.

Burr, chairman of the Jacksonville Civic Council and a Lenny Curry ally, also serves on the FSU Board.

Tom Petway will serve as interim chair until a new chair is formally selected.

March Madness comes to Jacksonville in 2019

The NCAA awarded Jacksonville a Division I Men’s Basketball Regional for 2019. The Florida Times-Union reports it is the fourth time since 2006 that the city has been a part of March Madness.

Jacksonville is the Florida site chosen for an NCAA regional for the next two years. Tampa received a regional for 2020.

“We have worked on this for the past year, and I think our track record from hosting in 2006, 2010 and 2015 spoke for itself,” said Alan Verlander, chief operating officer and executive director of the Jacksonville Sports Council. “We’re very excited to welcome March Madness back to Jacksonville.”

University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium will host the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Track and Field Outdoor Championships in May 2019 and May 2021.

Hoop dreams come true for Dirty Duval again.

“We are thrilled to welcome NCAA Championship events back to Jacksonville,” said Curry. “Our community continues to demonstrate that we are a premiere destination for many of the biggest and brightest sporting events. This is another great opportunity to support and celebrate student-athletes who are competing at the highest level.”

Motivational Speaker Doug Dvorak to give Flagler College commencement

Approximately 358 Flagler University students will get a motivational speech from Doug Dvorak when they receive their diplomas at a commencement ceremony next weekend.

Dvorak, an alum who graduated from Flager with a bachelor’s in business administration in 1984, is the CEO of DMG International, an organization that assists clients with sales, productivity and motivational workshops. His background in sales, leadership and management has allowed him to become one of the world’s most sought-after consultants, lecturers and teachers, and in 2014 he was inducted into the Motivational Speakers Hall of Fame.

Miscellany

JAXPORT now offers expanded service to Asia through Hamburg Süd’s new Asia- North America East Coast rotation. JAXPORT’s Blount Island Marine Terminal serves as the last port of call for the new service offered through the 2M Alliance. Ships in the rotation offer direct service from Jacksonville to Busan in South Korea as well as Qingdao, Xingang, Shanghai and Ningbo in China. SSA Marine furnishes stevedoring services at Blount Island.

UF Health Jacksonville neurology patients needing medical imaging are getting scans much quicker after an in-house, multiple-department efforts have reduced turnaround times. The change brings more efficiency, increased throughput, and improved patient satisfaction. Overall, there was a 52 percent decrease in the number of scans that took more than a day to complete. Data for the study were collected through early 2016.

Jacksonville-based Community Hospice of Northeast Florida has a new name — Community Hospice & Palliative Care. The Florida Times-Union reports the change reflects Community Hospice’s growing line of services and programs. Since 1979, Community Hospice has served the end-of-life needs of patients and families in Northeast Florida. In February it received a certificate of need start offering hospice services to an 11-county region of north and north-central Florida.

Armada FC appoints Marshall Happer as chief operating officer

Coming off a 0-0 draw this week with San Francisco that kept the Armada unbeaten, Kartik Krishnaiyer reports the club has promoted Happer to chief operating officer. Happer was appointed by the North American Soccer League (NASL), which took over ownership of Armada FC in early 2017.

A former NFL executive, Happer helped launch Armada FC, previously serving as the club’s senior vice president of club and team operations. He has been with Jacksonville since it kicked off NASL play in front of a crowd of 16,164 at EverBank Field on April 4, 2015, against FC Edmonton. The Armada beat Edmonton twice to start the 2017 campaign and now picked up a draw against San Francisco.

Armada FC COO Marshall Happer, a former NFL executive, who helped launch Armada FC, previously serving as the club’s senior vice president of club and team operations.

Happer will lead the club’s day-to-day business efforts and manage its front office staff. Under the current ownership landscape, all Armada FC assets have been transferred to the NASL. The Jacksonville Armada FC Youth Academy will continue to operate as a separate nonprofit organization.

“It’s an honor to lead this club and continue to bring high-level soccer and quality entertainment to our loyal fans here in Jacksonville,” Happer said. “The team is off to an undefeated start on the field, the front office is eager to connect with the community in new and exciting ways, and the move to Hodges Stadium — a new facility for us — has been extremely well-received by the Armada FC faithful.”

The Armada’s quick start has raised eyebrows throughout the NASL. The club sits in first place with seven points through three games and has yet to concede a goal. Jacksonville travels to New York to face the defending champion Cosmos on Saturday at 7 p.m. The game can be seen live on beIN SPORTS USA nationally.

 

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