Jax Archives - Florida Politics

Bill to protect voter info filed in both houses

A bill that would shield the personal information of voters and preregistered minor voter registration applicants has been filed in both houses of the Legislature as of Monday.

Rep. Cyndi Stevenson is carrying the House version (HB 761), while Sen. Tom Lee is carrying the Senate iteration (SB 532).

The bill would exempt the “legal residential address, date of birth, telephone number, and e-mail address of a voter registration applicant or voter” from public records requirements, in addition to “information concerning preregistered voter registration applicants who are 16 or 17 years of age.”

Election officials, as well as political candidates, committees, and parties, would have access to this information.

House sponsor Stevenson explained her motivations for filing the bill.

“We have had numerous complaints over the years from voters who are angry and frustrated that their information or the information of their minor children are public information.  Those concerns have increased along with the ability of our technology to accumulate and sort our personal information to add to our public dossier,” Stevenson said.

The goal of the bill: to “return some level of privacy to voting information that has no business being in the public realm.”

Stevenson also cited “reports from across the state that people have withdrawn from our voting rolls because of privacy concerns.”

“That is unacceptable,” Stevenson said.

White Male, age 33, on the Westside: Portrait of a Jacksonville opioid OD

In a Jacksonville City Council committee hearing Monday morning, representatives from the city’s fire and rescue department painted a picture of the typical overdose.

More than likely, he is white, male, and 33 years old. And he lives in the general area of 103rd Street on Jacksonville’s  Westside — the worst side of town for overdoses, replete with faded strip malls and working class neighborhoods that long since transitioned from owner-occupied to rented homes.

“A 33 year old white male is our target overdose patient,” asserted a Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department official Monday.

He also noted that 19 percent — or 350 — of Jacksonville’s total overdose calls this year have happened in Council District 9; a measure of that clustering of ODs on the Westside.

Zip Code 32210 — bordered on the south by 103rd Street and the north by Normandy Blvd. — gets ten percent of the call volume.

The evenings are the peak for call volume, with 36 percent of calls between 5 and 10 p.m.

The city’s pilot treatment program kicked off last weekend, after Mayor Lenny Curry signed legislation authorizing the six-month initiative.

Eight overdose patients were treated, and there are four participants in the program — which is voluntary and in itself is not a magic bullet.

Councilman Bill Gulliford‘s bill, intended to address the mounting body count from fentanyl and derivatives, established the St. Vincent Hospital emergency room as a feeder for two in-patient treatment programs, housed at Gateway and River Region.

Overdoses, at last count, end four times as many lives as homicides in Duval County, with 2016’s count of 464 casualties more than doubling 2015’s count of 201.

Caucasians represent 86 percent of the deaths, and over half of those passing away are in their 30s and 40s.

And things could get worse: a fentanyl derivative being used to cut heroin in the Ohio Valley doesn’t respond to Narcan — which has been the most reliable treatment for overdose patients up until now.

911 calls for ODs to the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department have tripled. Narcan administrations: up 500 percent. JFRD responded to over 3,411 calls in 2016, and the cost of transporting OD victims could near $4.5M this year.

The city is considering a lawsuit against one or more pharmaceutical companies.

Jax Councilwoman’s family biz to pay back city over busted eco dev deal

The city of Jacksonville may get back some of the money a City Councilwoman’s family business owes it after all.

The city agreed last week to a deal with KJB Specialties, the family business of Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown, to pay back $1,000 a month for 84 straight months.

Earlier this year, the city won a default judgement against KJB Specialties, amounting to $222,000 against two businesses owned by the Councilwoman’s family (with the Councilwoman as title manager)’

The city received $210,000 in grant money related to a failed BBQ sauce plant; the Browns failed to create any of the 56 jobs required, via a 2011 economic development agreement. This led to a city lawsuit against the Brown family companies earlier this year.

The Browns’ companies scored $640,000 from the city of Jacksonville in grants and loans altogether, in addition to an SBA loan of $2,652,600.

KJB filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March.

Councilwoman Brown has been a member of the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee for the majority of the time she has been in office.

Brown, who also made news recently for accusing Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office members of racial profiling, has never been under serious consideration for even a censure — a measure of the esteem with which her colleagues regard her.

 

Former Florida Democrat Party chair candidate Lisa King decries ‘failure of leadership’

In the aftermath of Stephen Bittel‘s resignation as chair of the Florida Democratic Party and president Sally Boynton Brown‘s apologetics, one former candidate for chair has a message for those who “told the truth about” Bittel.

That message, from Lisa King of Jacksonville: that the FDP has suffered from a “failure of leadership” and that women must feel empowered to speak “truth to power.”

King, a current committeewoman from Duval County who is also an active candidate for party chair now that Sen. Audrey Gibson is relinquishing the gavel, asserts that she saw through Bittel’s act — and that’s why she mounted her longshot bid for the top job in the FDP.

“I did my research on Bittel and took a measure of his character. He did not have the qualities I could support to lead any organization in which I had a say. I felt so strongly about it,” King wrote on Facebook Sunday.

“I ran myself,” King reminds.

“Some of the folks on the State Committee are more concerned about you and reforming our political culture than what office or job we might get because of the special election caused by his resignation,” King added.

“We are ready to listen to you and to support you. We are in awe of your bravery,” King continued, discussing this “watershed moment in our culture” as “not just another bump in the road that can be swept under the rug with a simple apology.”

“This is a failure of leadership on so many levels. We must truly learn from this or we will fail again. ALWAYS speak truth to power,” King added.

King is one of the more prominent Democrats in Jacksonville.

In 2015, she ran a competitive campaign for Jacksonville City Council in a deep red district, amassing key endorsements and fundraising along the way.

She was also Chair of the Jacksonville Planning Commission until Mayor Lenny Curry removed her, for what some claimed were partisan reasons.

She also handled a regional leadership position in the primary campaign of Hillary Clinton.

Second Democrat emerges to primary Al Lawson

The race for the Democratic nomination in Florida’s 5th Congressional District is getting more crowded, with yet another candidate filing last week.

In addition to Rontel Batie, a former Corrine Brown staffer who jumped in this month, Shanton Detrell Edwards has also entered the fray.

Edwards, a 33-year-old from Greenville, has never run for office before. By trade, he’s the Area Director for the Boys and Girls Club.

He knows that he’s the longest of longshots.

“Maybe I’ll get 500 votes, maybe I’ll get 200,” he told us Friday.

So why is he running?

“I’m disgusted with the way everything is going,” Edwards told us. “We lost touch on how things work.”

Edwards decried career politicians who “get elected and on their first day start running for re-election.”

We asked if that applied to Lawson, a legend in the western part of the sprawling east-west district in North Florida.

“Al’s a little laid back,” Edwards said, adding that he’s a “good man” and “we agree on a lot of stuff.”

One of those issues on which they agree: the Republican tax bill that just cleared the House.

Lawson said Thursday that the bill “will have a negative impact on thousands of residents in Florida’s 5th Congressional District and millions all across this country.”

Edwards sounded similar notes in our interview Friday, noting that the tax reform bill is “clearly going to raise the deficit.”

“The American people need to know,” Edwards said, “that this bill is not for you.”

Edwards also told a story about a conversation with an octogenarian in his home town who asked him straight up why he’s running against Lawson.

While he knows he doesn’t have “the name, the money, the fame, or the fortune,” Edwards is running as a “call to action” on some issues that aren’t being addressed currently.

One such issue: crime.

Edwards, who works with youth, believes that “a lot of the crime is coming from young people with too much free time on their hands,” and that “getting young folks off of the street and into classrooms” is key to stemming the tide of violence.

As well, the criminal justice system is an issue in need of reform.

Edwards notes the disparity in prison time for young black men and young white men, with the former being “incarcerated for minor drug offenses, you name it.”

“We need criminal justice reform,” Edwards said, as the current schematic is “unfairly spiked against us.”

“That’s why you see Black Lives Matter, and people kneeling for the National Anthem,” Edwards said. “Prison is a business. It’s got to stop being a business.”

‘Trumpsgiving’ turkey shoot to delight Duval Republicans Saturday

Duval County Republicans will be shooting straight Saturday at the Diamond D ranch, as a “Trumpsgiving” turkey shoot is planned.

Per the Facebook invite, Duval Republicans will celebrate “our right to keep & bear arms.”

No word as of yet whether events will occur celebrating the other nine Amendments in the Bill of Rights.

The Saturday event will be hosted by conservative personalities Bill Hay and Ed Dean, and will feature a panoply of candidates/pols.

Senator Denise Grimsley, Representative Matt Caldwell, and Baxter Troutman — all candidates to succeed Adam Putnam as Agriculture Commissioner — will be there.

Local Rep. Jay Fant will be there also to make his case in the Attorney General race, and Bob White and Bruce Nathan will be in attendance to make their Gubernatorial pitches.

Congressman John Rutherford, Senator Aaron Bean, and Jacksonville City Councilman Scott Wilson will all be in the house also.

Jacksonville City Council candidates Wyman DugganRandy White, Matt Carlucci, Rory Diamond and Rose Conry likewise will be on hand.

Al Lawson seeks $116M for Jacksonville flood mitigation

Even as former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown mulls a primary challenge to him, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson filed a bill Thursday that would bring over $100M to projects in Brown’s political base.

The Flood Water Relief Act would make supplemental appropriations for flood control and storm damage reduction projects in Jacksonville, via the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

$116,968,000 would be available through fiscal year 2027 for areas that received a major disaster declaration after recent storms, and that money would be used for Corps projects that reduced flooding and storm damage risks.

Florida Politics readers will remember attention Lawson gave to these issues earlier this month.

Lawson wrote a letter to Mick Mulvaney, chairman of the Federal Office of Management and Budget, that outlined the ask: $79 million for 11 flood and storm surge projects, funding for a US Army Corps of Engineers flood study, and $20 million more for flood resiliency efforts in Jacksonville.

The common thread in the projects: these flooding issues are influenced by the St. Johns River, making them eligible for federal funding. Though legislation has yet to be filed, groundwork is being laid.

The extra $7 million would encompass projects that are in Jacksonville, yet outside of Congressional District 5, encompassing any project in the Duval County Local Mitigation Strategy that could be paid for with federal funds.

Among some of the projects this money could go to perform are the following.

The McCoy Creek Drainage Improvement Project, for example, would bring relief to an area that has suffered flooding since well before consolidation of the city and county in 1967. McCoy’s Creek Boulevard — a cut-through for commuters in North Riverside — would be closed. A retention pond would be created. And repetitive loss properties would be eligible for residential relocation.

Hogan’s Creek, another flood-prone tributary of the St. Johns, would see improved conveyance under the Arlington Expressway, and two Regional Stormwater Facilities.

The Moncrief Creek project would abate flooding in the Northside neighborhood, and would offer bank stabilization and a couple of regional stormwater facilities.

Drainage improvements, per the Lawson plan, would be slated for the Emerald Necklace, Dinsmore, and the “Emerald Necklace” area around Hogan’s Creek and Springfield.

Money would also be allocated for the Liberty Street bridge project, as well as replacements for 35 drawbridges on evacuation routes.

Additionally, money would be earmarked for studies of stormwater retention and Jacksonville’s hurricane risk sheltering program.

Corrine Brown bids for ‘mercy & compassion’ in emotional sentencing hearing

Thursday saw Corrine Brown make her case for sentence leniency in Jacksonville’s federal courthouse, ahead of a Dec. 4 sentencing date.

Brown, convicted of 18 felony counts in the One Door for Education fraud case this year, saw her co-conspirators turn on her in the trial; their “substantial cooperation” may earn them shorter prison stretches.

Prosecutors insist on Brown getting prison time.

However, Brown was supported by emotional testimony, including Rep. Sheila Jackson-LeeMarissa Alexander and more, along with an emotional apology for letting the three-year One Door scam happen under her nose.

Brown’s own sentencing memo cited her lack of criminal history, her history of public service, and the unlikeliness of recidivism as mitigating factors, noting that there was no “statutory requirement” that she be sent to prison.

Beyond a cavalcade of character witnesses on hand, Brown also had epistolary support from those who have known her for decades: approximately 100 letters, “99 percent” of which were in support of Corrine Brown — and all of them were read, said Judge Timothy Corrigan.

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Objections: Brown’s attorney, James W. Smith III, kicked off the hearing with objections to the sentencing guidelines, given that Brown continues to maintain her innocence. Among his objections: the calculated loss amount, which Smith said was just an inflated estimate, with money spent on events ($330,000) erroneously added to push the level above $550,000.

“The money solicited for events was actually used for events,” Smith said, speaking of the golf tournament and other fundraising events under One Door auspices. “Brown told the donors that the money would be used for various events … every event did in fact take place.”

Smith also countered the government’s assertion that Brown lied on the stand, and had letters produced in support of phony charitable deductions.

The government, meanwhile, objected that the loss totals were too low, noting that a $10,000 check for a vanity magazine publication was left out of calculations, pushing the number to $644,000.

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The government’s case: U.S. Attorney A. Tysen Duva began his presentation, distilling the government’s case against Brown into roughly half an hour.

Duva argued that there was “absolutely no intention ever to raise money for scholarships” through the various events over the three years of her raising money for One Door, despite claiming such to donors — a “who’s who of the business community.”

Duva also said that Brown, Carla Wiley, and Ronnie Simmons taking money donated for events represented a concerted effort to expropriate donor cash for personal spending, passing the “reasonable foreseeability” threshold.

While there were things that each defendant did that the others didn’t know about, Duva contended that the preponderance of evidence supported the evidence of conspiracy.

Duva also argued that Brown’s “flat denial of criminal conduct” and “fabricated” attempts to pin the blame on Simmons “simply wasn’t credible and was a lie,” supporting the claim of perjury.

“The lies came both on direct and cross examination,” Duva asserted. “Corrine Brown committed crimes on that witness stand. She lied for hours on end.”

Duva outlined specific lies about checks and disbursements, the role of hired assistant Von Alexander and others in her employ, and the probity of the FBI and IRS — narrative tropes that are familiar to those who followed this case closely earlier this year.

Duva also contended that Brown exploited her position of “public trust,” scuttling relationships of long-standing to exploit donors’ “benevolent bent for education” — including donors who wouldn’t have otherwise cut checks.

“She knew where to hit ’em, how to hit ’em, and she did it time and time again,” Duva argued.

Finally, Duva raised objections to criticisms raised by Brown of the unfairness of the trial and the justice system as “totally ludicrous … nonsense.”

“She’ll probably go out today and say something. She can’t help herself. That’s who she is,” Duva said.

Duva went on to note that Brown cast aspersions on FBI investigators for spending time on her instead of stopping Omar Mateen, the man who committed the Orlando Pulse massacre, calling them ludicrous — and also linking them into a larger narrative designed to destroy the credibility of investigators.

Duva took exception to “inflammatory” comments, such as Brown saying that she’s “not the first black legislator to be targeted, and won’t be the last.”

“She got targeted because she committed fraud,” Duva said. “For no other reason.”

Brown’s misrepresentations, Duva contended, merited a harsher enhanced sentence — and definitely not probation.

“Imprisonment,” said Duva, “is undeniably necessary.”

And probation, Duva said, “is not an appropriate request. And not an appropriate result.”

Attempting to further thwart attempts at pathos, Duva said that Brown “is not too old for prison,” given that she’s “vibrant,” “looks relatively healthy,” and would have run for re-election in 2018.

The lowest possible sentence Duva finds acceptable: 60 months.

For Duva, One Door is part of a larger pattern of fraud, including eight years of false tax reporting and dummied up charitable contributions. However, Brown’s attorney, witnesses, and the Congresswoman herself were to contend differently.

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Sheila Jackson-Lee, Marissa Alexander lead witness parade: Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee was the first of the 15 character witnesses scheduled; she appeared by phone.

Jackson-Lee described it as a “privilege” to characterize Corrine Brown as the most “soft-hearted and loving person” to serve in Congress, one with a dedication to helping others.

Jackson-Lee lauded Brown’s work for rebuilding a New Orleans hospital for Veterans that was wrecked in Hurricane Katrina, showing “the character of giving to others unselfishly.”

“There was no more eloquent voice,” Jackson-Lee said, citing Brown’s “character of spirituality.”

“We miss her,” Jackson-Lee said of her former colleague.

Marissa Alexander, who Brown defended vigorously against an overcharge from former State Attorney Angela Corey in a “stand your ground” case in 2012, noted that “it’s ironic that I’m here today, doing for her what she did for me in court.”

“Because of that, I’m here for you today,” Alexander said to Brown, “instead of serving a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence.”

“There’s a difference between transactional leadership and transformative. 71 years old, and she continues to be transformative,” Alexander asserted.

Orlando Bishop Kelvin Cobaris also spoke to Brown’s character, describing her as “devoted, faithful, and committed” over the course of her 24-year career “to the needs of Veterans and others.”

Cobaris, president of the African-American Council of Christian Clergy. noted Brown’s organizing of job fairs, and lauded her for delivering on needs that “local officials couldn’t get done.”

Richard Danforth, President of the Jacksonville Urban League, spoke of a 50-year friendship with Brown, his children’s godmother.

Pastor Rudolph McKissick Sr. spoke of pastoring for “Sister Corrine” for 45 years, speaking of her as a “Christian woman,” and lauding her as “one of the great persons of our time.”

“She made sure that she worked for all people,” McKissick asserted. “I pray that mercy be given unto her.”

And a former Jacksonville city employee, Andre Martin, spoke of Brown bringing federal funds home for projects like the Automated Skyway Express; he estimated that she has brought “billions” of dollars of economic benefit to Jacksonville.

Others spoke to Brown’s charitable spirit, including a young woman who got a computer from Brown in 2006 — a device she retains to this day, a retired Colonel who spoke to Brown’s work corralling donors to stave off closure of the Five-Star Veterans Center, and another gentleman who spoke to Brown’s help in getting people home loan modifications that saved their homes.

“It wasn’t just saving people’s homes. It was saving people’s lives,” he said.

____

Corrine Brown speaks: “I am sorry that you have to be here today to see me in this situation. I have always strived to protect my name and my reputation.”

Corrine Brown, in an emotional, but brief, speech, castigated herself for “trusting without verifying.”

“I never would have put anyone intentionally in this situation,” Brown added, saying that “these charges … run contrary to everything I am and everything I’ve done in my life.”

Brown asked for “consideration” and “mercy and compassion”, urging that “everything she has done in her life” be taken into consideration.

Brown’s attorney, James W. Smith III, then took over.

He reiterated his case that the amount of the financial loss to donors was overstated, asserting again that donors were not misled, and that “there’s been a twisting of the facts regarding what happened with these events.”

He also reiterated his contention that money taken by Wiley and Simmons should not factor into Brown’s calculation.

Judge Timothy Corrigan spoke up, finally, asking Smith about inconsistencies in Brown’s testimony adding up to obstruction of justice — a contention of the federal government.

Smith attempted to draw a distinction between perjury and “the facts as she saw them.”

“How do you sentence someone who is a legend,” Smith asked, as he began to break into tears.

Smith noted that Brown “sometimes says things that are rude and inappropriate” in no small part because she remembers a time when America didn’t recognize the humanity of African-Americans.

“It’s easy to dismiss those issues if you didn’t grow up poor or working-class or black or a woman in the 1950s and 1960s in Florida,” Smith said, noting that many people look at Brown and “see themselves, and what they can be and do, if the barriers of racism and sexism are removed.”

One African-American lawyer from Jacksonville told Smith that “to us, she was our Martin Luther King. We were raised to believe that there were certain places we couldn’t be. Jacksonville’s a very unique town, and there were some places we were told we couldn’t be.”

Such as Congress, where Brown “broke the glass ceiling” in 1992.

“If you recognize what she had to do to achieve that,” Smith said, “to become one of the most respected politicians in the United States … none of them had to push the boulder up the hill.”

Though “sometimes as a 71-year-old black woman she’s reminded of the scars,” Smith’s contention is clear.

That Brown’s life work should be dispositive, and that the One Door era is, by no means, the full measure of her legacy.

Will all of that add up to probation? An opportunity to live out her years serving the community, working with service organizations that would happily have her offering her unique talents to them?

That’s the question to be answered Dec. 4.

Corrine Brown to apologize during sentencing hearing

Thursday sees Corrine Brown making a case for sentence leniency in Jacksonville’s federal courthouse.

Brown was convicted of 18 felony counts in the One Door for Education fraud case this year.

Her two co-conspirators, charity CEO Carla Wiley and former Brown chief of staff Ronnie Simmons, came out of Wednesday’s hearing looking at shorter prison stretches than might have seemed possible when they pleaded out.

The feds are willing to give Wiley as few as 21 months, and Simmons as few as 33 months; both proposed sentences were reduced due to “substantial assistance” in the case against the former Congresswoman.

The feds insist on prison time for both of them — and for Corrine Brown as well, who they frame as the ringleader of what one prosecutor called “one of the top two or three public corruption cases in the history of this courthouse … a significant case” with “deplorable conduct” by a Congresswoman and her chief of staff.

Brown will apologize on the stand Thursday, said Brown’s attorney, James W. Smith III.

But make no mistake: the apology will not be for the crimes for which she was convicted.

“She will take accountability for not having better measures in her office to make sure these things didn’t take place,” Smith asserted Wednesday afternoon.

And that’s where the apologies likely will stop, as the feds will make the case that prison time is needed, and Brown and her attorney (and witnesses) will

But will prison do any good? That’s an open question for who noted after proceedings Wednesday that in cases like this — “non-violent economic offenses” — it’s useful to consider that “we’re dealing with human beings here.”

Human beings in what Smith sums up as a “tragic situation.”

Indeed, every story in this case is a sad one. Wiley, who saw a charity dedicated to her mother transformed into a vehicle for money laundering. Simmons, who rose from adversity to handle the mechanics of that scam.

And Brown — the Congresswoman, called “Queen Corrine” by her admirers, and called all kinds of other things by her detractors.

“She’s still revered here in Jacksonville,” Smith noted, describing a potential path to “restorative justice” for Brown that would include marshalling her noted fundraising skills for “a number of community service organizations that could benefit.”

This kind of “community service” work — ironically, the work that One Door was supposed to be doing — is a better way, Smith said, “to get people on the right path rather than punishing them excessively.”

Smith is realistic; he knows prison time is likely, despite his belief that restorative justice would be the appropriate way forward.

If that happens, “for a period of time she will be deprived of her liberty.”

We asked Smith how Brown was as she prepared for Thursday’s hearing.

“Nervous,” he said, “but also confident. She has a compelling story to tell, and she’s looking forward to witnesses speaking on her behalf.”

Indeed, 22 witnesses are slated: everyone from Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee and Marissa Alexander to former city of Jacksonville employees and people who have benefited from her charity.

These witnesses, Smith said, will “paint a picture” of a Corrine Brown that is more than the sum total of these convictions.

Smith urges sentence leniency also because this case isn’t like other public corruption cases, such as the recent convictions of former Reps. Chaka Fattah and William Jefferson.

“They allowed their offices to become corrupt,” Smith said, with favors available “to the highest bidder.”

Remarkably, Ronnie Simmons’ attorney said during Wednesday’s hearing that Brown’s operation was “pay to play.”

“The corporate culture of Corrine Brown’s office was to do business the way she told you to do business,” Anthony Suarez said. “Washington and politics is pay to play. That’s what she does. That’s what she taught him. And there was no way around it.”

Smith didn’t make much of that, describing Suarez as “someone trying to provide mitigation for his client,” adding that there was “no indication” that donors — including those companies that might benefit from Brown’s standing on the Transportation Committee — expected anything in return, despite the appearance of “strategic philanthropy.”

Expect updates during court recesses all day on our site.

Light prison stretches look likely for Corrine Brown cohorts

Wednesday saw Carla Wiley and Ronnie Simmons in Jacksonville’s federal courthouse for sentencing hearings in the One Door for Education case.

Wiley, the former CEO of the sham charity, and Simmons, Wiley’s former boyfriend who was also Corrine Brown‘s chief of staff, are to be sentenced Dec. 4 along with former Rep. Brown.

The only question left to answer: will they get prison or probation?

The feds are willing to give Wiley as few as 21 months, and Simmons as few as 33 months; both sentences were granted a sentence reduction due to “substantial assistance” in the case against the former Congresswoman.

Simmons pleaded guilty to two counts: a conspiracy charge, as well as theft of government funds — for congressional staff pay for a relative who didn’t actually do work.

Wiley pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud — a count that could have meant up to 20 years in prison, but mitigating circumstances will cut that sentence.

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Wiley, represented by Gray Thomas and Virginia Lt. Gov. Elect Justin Fairfax, contended that she had a “minor role” in the scheme, which would justify a role reduction beyond that recommended by the government.

Wiley had limited participation, “decision-making authority,” and benefit, Thomas continued.

“While she bought the car, she gave the keys to Mr. Simmons,” Thomas added.

The feds had their own take, via US Attorney Eric Olsham.

“Ms. Wiley was not substantially less culpable,” Olsham said, noting that she “knew” as early as 2013 that “One Door was not doing what they were telling people” as she continued to take money out of the account.

“It doesn’t really absolve her of culpability,” Olsham said. “She continued to benefit substantially … to the tune of $182,000 and change.”

Judge Timothy Corrigan sided with the prosecution, and promised a written order giving more detail to that effect.

“I don’t think it’s particularly a close call,” Corrigan said.

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US prosecutor A. Tysen Duva discussed the suggested reductions of sentences based on the aforementioned substantial assistance — so-called “5K” motions filed by the government to factor in assistance from the defendants against Brown.

Duva noted Wiley making the “very difficult decision to cooperate” immediately, “taking a substantial leap of faith as she didn’t know what was coming next,” offering “important cooperation” regarding the case against Simmons.

“Her cooperation strengthened a good case against Simmons … her attitude was stellar,” Duva added, citing her “authentic” remorse and “deliberate” veracity — all of which justifies a six-level sentence reduction.

“She had to withstand lots of media scrutiny,” Duva noted, and also had to withstand Brown attempting to pin the blame on Wiley.

Her testimony, meanwhile, “gave the jury a feel of who Carla Wiley is,” allowing them to understand how the charity metastasized into conspiracy.

Justin Fairfax, on behalf of Wiley, said that “six levels is the minimum” acceptable sentence mitigation.

“Wiley cooperated virtually immediately,” Fairfax said, reaching out to the FBI just hours after the initial interrogation.

Two weeks after the initial approach, Fairfax said, Wiley was actively cooperating with the government.

“She did this far before there was any certainty that anyone else would be held accountable in this case,” Fairfax said.

Fairfax mentioned Simmons’ recommended five-level reduction, saying his client was much more readily cooperative than Simmons, who pleaded out “much later” after his own indictment.

“A one-point difference in the recommendation doesn’t accurately reflect the cooperation of the defendants,” Fairfax said.

Prosceutor Duva allowed that “maybe we didn’t” get the levels right.

“It was a difficult decision,” Duva said, noting that “the relationship Simmons severed was almost a parent-child situation.”

“She was his mentor … that decision had to be heartbreaking,” Duva added. “I think five is appropriate.”

“To have Ronnie Simmons on the witness stand allowed things to come out that wouldn’t have come out,” Duva said, citing the mechanics of the transactions, which often included Simmons taking the money out of the One Door account and distributing it.

“We had a very long meeting with Mr. Simmons,” Duva said, who noted that he struggled at first but cooperated in the end.

Anthony Suarez, on behalf of Simmons, noted that his client’s help was “critical,” and that even the recommended sentence doesn’t account for the “crisis” he was going through.

Suarez noted that Brown actually interviewed him to be her own lawyer, finding out at the last minute he was going to represent Simmons — a measure of the trust between Simmons and Brown.

Suarez spoke at considerable length about Simmons’ awe of Brown, and deep respect for her.

“The quality of the testimony was so much more critical,” Suarez said, noting that “he had to turn his back on Brown [and friends] after 24 years.”

“Currently with the five level reduction, we’d be at 33 to 41 months. I think we need to get to something less than 20 months,” Suarez said. “He had to change his life, his friends — he had to change everything.”

“He’s taking his medicine, but he crossed a long way to get here,” Suarez added.

Judge Timothy Corrigan ruled on the “5K” motions, citing principles of substantial assistance.

The assistance was “significant” from both parties, Corrigan said, and “early” in Wiley’s case.

Corrigan accepted the six-level reduction in the case of Wiley, but wouldn’t go beyond that, leading to a 21-27 month “guideline exposure.” Before the 5K motion, she would have had 41-51 months in prison.

Additionally, Wiley is potentially on the hook for restitution, 1-3 years of supervised probation, and $50,000 to $100,000 of fines.

Regarding Simmons, who was facing 57-71 months before the 5K motion factored in, there was also some good news relative to the 5K motion. (In addition to 1-3 years of supervised release, significant restitution, $20,000 – $200,000 in fines.)

The government’s motion was granted for a five-level reduction, which cuts potential prison time for Simmons to 33-41 months.

“This is just the beginning of the process,” Corrigan noted, adding that sentences could vary from the guidelines.

____

Of course, neither Simmons nor Wiley will avoid prison altogether, if the feds have anything to say about it.

“Without Wiley, this doesn’t happen,” noted federal prosecutor Eric Olsham. “She had the opportunity at any point from 2013 on to put a stop to it. She didn’t.”

Olsham allowed that mitigating factors could put Wiley’s prison stretch below the advisory level of 21-33 months.

Gray Thomas, on behalf of Wiley, described a “little charity that didn’t do anything” until she had a relationship with Simmons.

“She has not from day one tried to run from what she did,” Thomas said, describing Wiley as devoted to her mother and a pillar of her community, via recommending a “non-incarcerative sentence” with probation and home confinement as appropriate sanctions.

Judge Corrigan objected, noting that Wiley had control of the charity and materially benefited from the fraud.

“What accountability does the law require for this,” Corrigan asked. “This was not an isolated event, nor was it minor fraud. A lot of money was coming in, a lot of money was going out — and $182,000 of that was going to your client.”

“Wiley didn’t have to turn this over to Simmons and say ‘here, go for it’.” Corrigan noted.

Wiley’s co-counsel, Justin Fairfax, noted that she came forward despite pressure from Ronnie Simmons to stay mum, and that she has “been through so much in the last 22 months,” including losing her mother, “for whom the scholarship was intended to honor.”

Sending her to a federal prison, Fairfax said, “would break this woman.”

Wiley had her say also, starting off with an apology to everyone who has been affected by her actions.

“Since the beginning, I have taken responsibility for my actions,” Wiley said, citing a desire to “help” seniors and kids.

“This ordeal has been more than an awakening,” Wiley added.

“One Door for Education was not set up to do any harm for anyone. It was set up to honor my mother,” Wiley said, vowing to continue to honor her mother, who died two months ago.

“I am not self-serving. I am someone who made a mistake,” Wiley added.

“It got out of control very quickly, and sometimes when they get out of control, you don’t know how to bring them back,” Wiley said. “I don’t have any one answer how that happened.”

“The worst part,” Wiley said, was leaving her mother — who was in a lot of pain.

When Brown was found guilty, Wiley found out her mother had just four months to live.

____

Ronnie Simmons closed the afternoon’s proceedings.

U.S. Attorney A. Tysen Duva described the case as “one of the top two or three public corruption cases in the history of this courthouse … a significant case” with “deplorable conduct” by a Congresswoman and her chief of staff.

Duva noted that this case came down to something very basic, however; trying to get money to throw a party during Congressional Black Caucus events.

From there, the serial expropriation of funds — “wrong and criminal” — didn’t stop.

“I know Simmons severely regrets that,” Duva said, but “there was absolutely no intent by Ronnie Simmons to benefit anybody through One Door for Education.”

The “clear association” with Brown brought money into the One Door account, and Simmons was the conduit to take it out.

“She became accustomed to getting that money, and Simmons did not tell her no,” Duva said, with the fraud spanning the 2012 and 2014 election cycles. “They were stealing together. To not divulge that during an election cycle is extremely poor conduct.”

“But once he severed himself from her, he did right,” Duva said, citing his decision to roll on Brown as a “very wise choice.”

That said, prison is necessary: for deterrence and to show respect for the law, Duva said.

“This sentence needs to send a message to the public that there is zero room for fraudulent conduct by a member of the House of Representatives or her staff. For years and years, Ronnie Simmons and Corrine Brown did not do that,” Duva added, eventually saying that donations to One Door may have been “pay to play” in some cases.

Anthony Suarez, on behalf of Simmons, painted a colorful narrative of how Simmons “went from where he came from to the hallowed halls of Washington … an incredible story” that would not have happened without Corrine Brown.

Brown, his sponsor, was uniquely able to manipulate him, Suarez said.

But Simmons, in coming forward, showed his character — as opposed to Brown, “who went her own way.”

“The corporate culture of Corrine Brown’s office was to do business the way she told you to do business,” Suarez said. “Washington and politics is pay to play. That’s what she does. That’s what she taught him. And there was no way around it.”

Many of the donations came from companies with interests with the Transportation Committee in the House, Suarez said, augmenting the “pay to play” motif.

“These people would not have given a check to Ronnie Simmons … just a worker, pushing paper around,” Suarez said, contending “he has a lesser role” than Brown.

Simmons’ mother, Frances Simmons, described her son as the man of the house; his dad died when he was young.

“Please make our burden light,” Simmons said, noting that her son would be better served “mentoring young professionals” than serving a prison stretch.

Suarez suggested that Simmons “go out on a tour,” to become a voice “in the community” saying that the system works, becoming an “aide to the perception of justice.”

Simmons then spoke on his own behalf, kicking off with an apology to the court and the people of Congressional District 5.

“I am truly remorseful for the actions I took and should have paid better attention,” Simmons said, adding that a “period of incarceration would be harmful to me and my family.”

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