Jax Archives - Page 7 of 401 - Florida Politics

‘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.

____

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.

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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.”

LeAnna Cumber continues aggressive fundraising in Jax Council race

LeAnna Cumber, a Republican candidate for termed-out Lori Boyer‘s District 5 Jacksonville City Council seat, brought in over $101,000 in her first month in the race.

Lest some think she’s resting on laurels, a fundraiser slated for Thursday evening says differently.

Cumber will have a fundraiser at the home of Kristen and Andy Allen, two of Mayor Lenny Curry‘s close friends.

In fact, they are so close that the Currys and the Allens took a trip to Orlando to check out rapper Jay-Z‘s latest tour.

Those close to the Cumber campaign note that in addition to establishing early financial dominance, this event also is allowing Cumber to consolidate the support of the most influential people in the district before another serious candidate enters the race.

Cumber does have an opponent, Democrat James Jacobs, who has roughly $400 cash on hand.

Expect uneventful One Door sentencing hearing Wednesday

Wednesday sees 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, will not be sentenced Wednesday.

Rather, the sentence will be rendered Dec. 4.

Both Wiley and Simmons pleaded out and cooperated in the case against Brown, and prosecutors have factored that in to sentencing recommendations. The feds are willing to give Wiley as few as 21 months, and Simmons as few as 33 months.

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

Wiley, meanwhile, provided the shell of a sleepy charity, one that became a money machine for the One Door 3.

Wiley, in her testimony during Brown’s trial, outlined something key to the prosecution case: a narrative that Brown had a key role in orchestrating the scheme, even though emails and surveillance video show that Simmons did most of the withdrawals from One Door and transfers to Brown’s accounts, along with cash withdrawals.

Wiley’s charity and consulting business served as a pass-through for One Door donations, which went to lavish travel for herself and Simmons.

When asked if she engaged in “fraud” for One Door, Wiley said yes – and that Brown and Simmons did also.

Brown and Simmons were the rainmakers, raising all but “two or three thousand dollars” of the $800,000 brought in, she said.

And, through all that time, she knew of one scholarship for One Door.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars came in, said Wiley, who owned up to wire fraud and profiting off of the charity.

The charity had closed its original bank account, with some thought of finding a different way of helping children, before on-again/off-again boyfriend Simmons convinced Wiley to let her non-profit host a reception for Brown in Sept. 2012.

Wiley offered the charity for that use.

Wiley stopped soliciting donations herself; the machine was run by Simmons within months after the arrangement was struck, even though donations would sometimes be FedEx’d to the office of Wiley’s former employer.

Money for car payments and other expenses, for Wiley and her family, coursed from the One Door account also, the witness said.

Meanwhile, even with Wiley’s mother’s name on the charity and Wiley as the president, the charity was essentially Simmons’ machine to run and deploy, including sending out fundraising pitch letters to money marks, with forged signatures a specialty of his.

Cooperation in Brown’s trial and the plea deal obscures the actual offenses committed by Simmons and Wiley, and should result in light sentences next month.

Since both have rolled on Brown, it’s tough to imagine what else there is to say Wednesday, especially given the prosecution is not insisting on long prison stretches for the erstwhile co-conspirators.

Jax moves closer to opioid lawsuit; lawyers to be chosen in December

The opioid overdose epidemic continues in Jacksonville, and a Jacksonville City Council Special Committee is still addressing the matter.

Even as legislators mull a path forward on treatment, the city is also considering legal action against pharmaceutical companies — continuing a trend we are seeing nationwide.

Committee Chairman Bill Gulliford told a story of a 29 year old who overdosed — the son of a friend.

“It encouraged me even more to do everything we can to address this scourge,” Gulliford said, noting that the overdose victim first took opioids after a motorcycle accident.

One means of addressing the scourge: legal action against the pharmaceutical companies.

The Office of General Counsel is vetting what are called “prestigious” law firms, with a decision expected early in December.

Earlier this year, the Jacksonville City Council approved a resolution OKing legal action.

“The general counsel’s approved it, and I don’t feel like there’s any impediment,” Gulliford said.

The city has absorbed real costs from the opioid epidemic.

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.

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.

JFRD is dealing with, on average, 321 calls a month related to overdoses alone, a representative said in the meeting.

Audrey Gibson resigns as chair of Duval Democrats

On Monday evening, State Sen. Audrey Gibson — the next Caucus leader for Senate Democrats — resigned as chair of the Duval County Democratic Party.

“As you may know,” Gibson wrote in an email to local Democrats, “last week I was elected Leader Designate of the Senate Democrat Caucus. I am deeply honored and realize the efforts I must give to winning more Dem seats will require 100% plus of my focus.”

Gibson thought the year she was chair was successful, noting that having “candidates ready to run” was among the party’s successes.

A new chair will be chosen Dec. 4. Until then, Darren Mason is in the interim role.

“I plan to continue to recruit and mobilize our party as we prepare for the important local and state races in 2018 and 2019,” Mason asserted Tuesday, adding that Duval Dems “will finish this year strong.”

Jax Council President quashes in-meeting texts between lawmakers, Mayor’s Office

In early 2016, the Jacksonville City Council adopted a policy of official “discouragement” of in-meeting texts between Council members and lobbyists and union representatives.

Councilors were discouraged from sending or receiving text messages with lobbyists or union reps during committee and council meetings when it’s related to public business on the agenda.

That change happened after an unexpected change on budget night 2015, when money was moved from public works to public safety, to pay for promotions that had already been given to safety officers.

After a second vote, the money went the unions’ way — and the texting imbroglio, which some wags called “Textghazi” — had just begun.

Legal action was launched against some Councilors, though settlements were reached in the cases. And — after a period in which cellphones were outright banned among Councilors on the dais — a more understanding policy was reached, in which “discouragement”, rather than a ban, became the watchword.

Through it all, no such discouragement of texts between Councilors and representatives of the Mayor’s Office was discussed.

On Monday, the policy was revised by Council President Anna Brosche — and representatives of the executive branch are now lumped in with special interest lobbyists and union bosses as “discouraged” communication.

“Guided by the principles of equal access and transparency, I have revised the policy originally issued on March 1, 2016 to be as follows,” Brosche wrote.

“Sending or receiving text messages with a registered lobbyist, union member or union representative, or a member of the administration of the City of Jacksonville during any Committee or any City Council meeting related to official public business on the agenda is discouraged,” the memo starts.

“During a Committee or City Council meeting, Council Members shall not reply to any text message from a registered lobbyist, union member or union representative, or a member of the administration of the City of Jacksonville related to official public business on the agenda,” the memo continues.

“In the event a Council Member receives a text message during any Committee or any City Council meeting from a registered lobbyist, union member or union representative, or a member of the administration of the City of Jacksonville related to official public business on the agenda, the Council Member must disclose the receipt of such communication by filing it with the Legislative Services Division within 48 hours of receipt.  The communications will be placed in the permanent bill file,” the memo concludes.

On a number of issues, the Council President has been out of step with some of the rest of the Council, especially when the rest of the Council takes the Lenny Curry Administration’s position. This was notable especially during the 18-1 vote to move Kids Hope Alliance legislation to the floor for a vote one Council night; Brosche was the solitary no.

In that context, it will be interesting to see if this “discouragement” results in material changes to how business is done on the Council floor.

We asked Brosche the impetus for the change.

“The impetus for change is transparency, open government, and equal access. During our meetings, all Council members and, more importantly, the public should be part of the conversations taking place regarding legislation actively being debated,” Brosche said.

Brosche also noted that administration members have been texting Council members during meetings.

“While I have observed colleagues receiving texts from the administration during meetings, I am going to give everyone the benefit of the doubt that such communications were not about active legislation. My revision of the policy is a proactive measure to uphold the principles of transparency and open government and allow all Council Members and the public to know they are participating in all communications happening during Council meetings.”

The Mayor’s Office is fine with this, meanwhile.

“The mayor has always said he respects the Council and Council President’s roles in conducting themselves and setting policies as they see fit. The mayor has also been a proponent for transparency and accountability, and is always encouraged to see practices that support that,” asserted a statement from Marsha Oliver, Director of Public Affairs.

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