Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown filed a motion on Tuesday to delay her sentencing past mid-November, citing impacts from Hurricane Irma.
Federal prosecutors didn’t take long to file a response in opposition, saying Brown’s “bare bones” motion is “without merit and should be denied.”
And on Thursday, the court sided with the prosecution.
“Defendant has not articulated why a continuance of “at least four months” is justified. While the Court is sympathetic to Ms. Brown’s circumstances following the hurricane, it is in the interest of justice for the sentencing to go forward as scheduled. If defendant can demonstrate at the sentencing hearing that there is some document or information that she was unable to obtain, the Court will consider at that time whether to allow her additional time to produce it,” Judge Timothy Corrigan asserted.
Brown, a Congresswoman representing Jacksonville and other areas mapped into the district from 1993 to 2016, was convicted of 18 counts in a federal fraud trial regarding “One Door for Education,” a sham educational charity Brown and her cohorts raised money for and extracted money from between 2012 and 2015.
Brown’s fate will be known Nov. 16. That is one day after sentencing for One Door co-conspirators Ronnie Simmons and Carla Wiley.
Judge Corrigan, as has been the case throughout the trial, sympathized with Brown, but essentially sided with the prosecution logic.
“Brown’s bare bones motion—filed two days before she is required to submit objections to the initial Pre-Sentence Report (PSR)— cites her loss of “personal papers and effects” during Hurricane Irma as a basis to justify a four-month continuance without any explanation as to how such loss renders her incapable of preparing for her sentencing on November 16,” the prosecution noted Wednesday, adding that no other criminal case with sentencing scheduled nine weeks after the storm has been delayed four months.
Monday saw post-conviction motion hearings for acquittal and for a new trial in the matter of Corrine Brown, the former Congresswoman who was found guilty on 18 counts in a fraud trial earlier this year.
Rulings have yet to be rendered on either motion, yet the hearings were lively.
Brown’s attorney, Orlando barrister James Smith, asserted Monday that Brown’s guilt was a “myth.”
And one of Brown’s allies and friends — State Sen. Audrey Gibson — backed that up, telling us exclusively on Friday that she believed that Brown was innocent of the 18 counts.
Gibson’s emphatic statement: “CB says she is innocent and that is that!”
We asked Gibson why it was so difficult to prove that innocence, suggesting that an outmatched lawyer or systemic bias against the Congresswoman may be factors.
“You will have to ask the jury,” the Senator said.
We also asked Gibson for her take on the viability of the motions still under consideration by Judge Timothy Corrigan.
“That will be determined by the judge,” the Senator said.
Gibson has been unwavering in her support for Corrine Brown, even if she hasn’t been able to be in the courtroom.
Committees and the Legislative Session, Gibson asserted, made it “less realistic” to be “‘visible’ in a courtroom at multiple hearings.”
“Offering support and uplifting is not about photo ops and neither is real work in the community!”
Those who work at Jacksonville City Hall have received a political education of late, demonstrated by a recent City Council bill on funding after-school programs.
With apologies to Ric Flair, but his famous catchphrase “now we go to school” applies here … and not just because this bill was education-related.
Finance Chair Garrett Dennis wanted to tap into general fund reserves for one-time money to fund after-school program expansion — a position at odds with that of Mayor Lenny Curry, on yet another issue.
In a statement, Curry said that would not be “prudent” and would send the wrong message to ratings agencies, and if the bill passed with that condition, “the mayor would evaluate it when it lands on his desk.”
Instead, here’s what happened. The Finance Chair’s amendments got turfed, with the old guard of the Council — Bill Gulliford, John Crescimbeni and others — again controlling the discourse at the expense of Dennis and Council President Anna Brosche.
As with previous conflicts between Dennis and Curry (see: swimming lessons money), the battle took a familiar track. Dennis got out in front of consensus on an issue, and Team Curry picked off potential supporters in quiet conversations after that.
With budget discussions beginning this week in Dennis’ committee, we are reminded of another famous Flair phrase.
“To be the man,” the Nature Boy often said when defending his world title, “you’ve got to beat the man.”
Does Dennis have the juice? We’ll watch that this month, along with all kinds of other excitement in state and federal politics, some of which you will see below.
John Rutherford heads to Israel
U.S. Rep. John Rutherford has settled in quickly to his role in Congress and this recess week found the Jacksonville Republican burnishing his foreign policy chops with a trip to the Middle East.
Per a news release from Rutherford’s office, the congressman left for Israel Monday “as part of a delegation of Members of Congress to meet with various leaders in the region including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas.”
The delegation discussed “US relations in the region including economic, military and security cooperation.”
Rutherford met “with Nafatali Bennet, the Minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs, IDF Soldiers, as well as Israeli military leaders, professors and business leaders. The group will also tour Israeli military bases, as well as visit historic and holy sites.”
Guilt is a ‘myth,’ says Corrine Brown lawyer
Rep. Brown was in court this week fighting guilty convictions on 18 counts, contending that she should a] get a new trial and/or b] be acquitted.
The arguments had been rehearsed in the written motions and during the trial, as the prosecution noted.
“The defense is not saying anything different today than it did [during] the proceedings,” one of the prosecutors asserted, hammering in on repeated instances of “fraudulent omissions” regarding pitches to donors, statements on tax returns, and so on — with Brown’s word being the only evidence to the contrary.
Evidentiary points, such as Brown holding blank checks from One Door, loomed large as evidence of Brown’s involvement.
“She had hijacked the charity, had her chief of staff take control of the finances, and was bleeding it dry,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Coolican said.
Rev. Jesse Jackson was there in support — yet another nostalgia act on this never-ending road show that is the end of Corrine Brown’s political career.
Quiet July for Paul Renner committees
July was the first month of fundraising for future Florida House Speaker Renner‘s political committees since he won the honor in late June.
Some observers may have anticipated an avalanche of activity, but in reality, the committees had modest contributions and spends.
“Florida Foundation for Liberty,” Renner’s primary committee, brought in just $25,500 in July (spending $20,383 of that), pushing the committee just over $240,000 on hand.
Donations came in from political committees, including the Realtors, Surgi-PAC, and the Florida Credit Union’s political action committee.
The biggest donation: $10,000 from MHK of Volusia County.
Of the over $20,000 spent, $4,000 went to Ballard Consulting, $2,685 went to Renner’s campaign account for reimbursements, $10,000 went to another Renner committee, “Conservatives for Principled Leadership.”
Meanwhile, there were just two external donations, and both were in the Jacksonville metro area.
The committee gave $1,000 to Clay Yarborough‘s campaign, and $2,500 to “A Safe Jacksonville,” the political committee of Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams.
The aforementioned “Conservatives for Principled Leadership,” meanwhile, has just under $18,000 on hand after a $12,500 July.
Beyond the $10,000 from Renner’s other committee, the other $2,500 came from the “Florida Prosperity Fund” committee.
Yarboroughcontinues strong fundraising
Rep.Yarborough, the Jacksonville Republican representing State House District 12, hauled in $7,500 in July fundraising.
Among the bigger names from the nine donors: Foley and Lardner and Florida Foundation for Liberty (the committee of future House Speaker Renner).
Yarborough has raised nearly $49,000 this cycle, and has just under $41,000 of that on hand, as he prepares for a general election challenge in the deep red district.
Yarborough is slated to face a general election opponent: Tim Yost, a local college instructor running as a Democrat.
Yost filed for this race in the middle of July and has raised $2,215, largely from small-dollar donors, with a few bearing the surname of Yost.
Bobby Payne draws competition in HD 19
GOP state Rep. Payne, whose district encompasses parts of Union, Clay, Bradford and Putnam counties, has drawn both primary and general election opposition in recent days.
Green Cove Springs Republican Boyce Royal filed July 31 to run against Payne in the GOP primary.
Royal is a real estate agent by trade.
The winner of that primary will go on to face a Libertarian, Ryan Russell Ramsey, in the general election.
Payne, a Palatka native, has just under $23,000 on hand after a $6,500 July comprised of donations from Jacksonville’s power elite — Peter Rummell, the Fiorentino Group, Jacksonville Kennel Club and so on.
Expect that war chest to grow.
Despite being a rookie legislator, Payne will be a tough out; he has a strong working relationship with Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings of the Clay Delegation, and with Gov. Rick Scott.
In the contested GOP primary in 2016, Payne won his native Putnam with 55 percent of the vote, but he held his own — and then some — elsewhere. He got 47 percent of the vote in Union, 31 percent in Clay, and 35 percent in Bradford.
Curry fundraising machine churns on
Jacksonville Mayor Curry hasn’t officially launched his re-election campaign, but the donor class is all in.
Already this month, Curry raised over $100K at an event at the JAX Chamber.
Chamber CEO Daniel Davis tweeted out an understatement: “looks like JAX Chamber wants to see Lenny Curry re-elected.”
Curry’s committee continues the momentum one would expect from a popular incumbent.
July saw Curry’s committee raise $52.5K, and disperse $19,647 — including $5,000 to “Seamless Florida,” the committee of St. Petersburg Republican mayoral candidate Rick Baker.
The big donor: Jaguars owner Shad Khan, who ponied up $25K.
There was no invoicing of the trip that Curry took on Khan’s private jet for an economic development trip last week to Baltimore, St. Louis, and Kansas City.
That trip explored, among other concepts, development ideas for future development of the area around Jacksonville’s football stadium and other athletic facilities.
Happy Consolidation anniversary
Jacksonville’s Consolidation (as in the city and the county became one) is 50 years old. And this week, the Florida Times-Union took a walk down memory lane, via an interesting piece from Matt Soergel that dug into the archives and looked at the debate at the time.
The Jacksonville Journal, which used to be the afternoon paper in Jacksonville, noted that “the people [won]” with “Floridians now know[ing] that the sleeping giant who sat at one of the most enviable spots in the state now means to shake off the slumber of years.”
Did that happen?
Depends on who you ask.
As we saw in July in Jacksonville’s City Council, a resolution in favor of a celebration of Consolidation didn’t muster unanimous support.
A movement for full Council sponsorship of the resolution was spiked by Councilman Reggie Brown, who spoke at length about infrastructural failings and broken promises.
Brown noted that JEA, for example, isn’t committed to sewer and water expansion in his district.
“Until we have a plan to say that if you live inside the Beltway, we will focus on installing sewer and water, there is no celebration,” Brown said.
Likewise, Councilwoman Katrina Brown would not sign on, citing “the same issues,” even as she lauded the Council and JEA for committing $30M over five years for septic tank phase out.
One ongoing initiative: a task force to deal with public health issues.
Employee health: another matter to be addressed. Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa suggested Mayor Curry may want to deal with that task force.
And changes in health care could be contemplated.
“The county hospital model is becoming a thing of the past in most cities,” Councilwoman Lori Boyer remarked.
The expansion of CPACs — Citizen Planning Advisory Committees — also was up for discussion.
“When we consolidated, we became a big bureaucratic entity,” Boyer said, with CPACs serving an important role to bring localism to the larger government.
And bringing the discussion back full circle, a discussion of allocating a fixed amount of the capital improvement program budget to the promises made before Consolidation happened.
“Part of the argument for Consolidation,” Boyer said, was standardizing city services.
“Much of [the work] hasn’t been done.”
JAXPORT dredge frustrates City Council
While JAXPORT and the state and federal governments are full steam ahead regarding dredging the St. Johns River to 47 feet, City Councilors wonder how much the city will be soaked for, per the Florida Times-Union.
“They’ve orchestrated it in a way that we’re not engaged until some point in the future,” Councilman Bill Gulliford said. “We don’t know what the actual number will be.”
“At this point, I’m probably in the category of one confused council member,” Councilman John Crescimbeni said. “My comfort level is not great, and it’s a very complicated issue because of all the different numbers and figures that are being bandied about by a variety of sources. I think I need to hire my own forensic accountant to try to reconcile everything down to two files — fact and fiction.”
“I am disappointed that they have chosen to phase this process in such a way that they’re not coming to the city for any approval prior to starting the project,” Councilwoman Boyer said. “That’s clearly the frustrating part.”
While some are on board, the reality is JAXPORT has more selling to do — and probably in noticed meetings.
Jax LGBT advocates laud HRO protections
With uncertainty now the watchword regarding federal protections for LGBT people, Jacksonville advocates are happy that the local Human Rights Ordinance protects them locally, reports the Florida Times-Union.
Jimmy Midyette, legislative director of the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality, described what the bill actually means in the new context.
“We had to make the point again and again and again that we’re not covered [and] we’re not doing a ‘feel-good’ bill to make people think we’re doing something,” Midyette said. “I think it just shows with so much uncertainty on the national level it’s more important than ever to have these local protections in place.”
Jacksonville General Counsel Jason Gabriel notes that no matter what happens on the federal level, the local protections are still actionable.
Since the HRO expansion became law in February, no claims have been filed that the law was broken.
St. Johns Republican Chair takes on transgender high schooler
Just across the county line from Jacksonville, the argument for HRO protections was made by a local GOP member going in on a transgender high-school student.
GOP Chairman Bill Korach said the “girl” is “confused,” saying that the student “ought to use the girl’s restroom” and “ought to get counseling.”
Adams has sued the school district, charging discrimination and petitioning to use the boys’ restroom.
Web.com coy on buyout rumors
If you’re looking for details on the future of Web.com, you might think CEO David Brown would give a hot quote. But you’d be mistaken.
The Jax Daily Record quoted his word salad from a quarterly call with investors, in which Brown was asked to address the rumor directly.
“Happy to comment on it and that comment is we don’t comment on market rumors about this type of topic,” he said.
“I think it’s worth noting that we’ve always been open to whatever would build long-term shareholder value, whatever maximizes our shareholders’ interests and we’ve said numerous times and continue to say that we talk to lots of people from strategic to financial players in the market. There are many reasons to talk to them,” Brown added.
As with another local business, CSX, lots of tea leaves are being read right now regarding the future.
Times-Union sells out
Morris Communications sold the Florida Times-Union to yet another big media company, Gatehouse, this week.
Morris billed the sale as “a strategic restructuring to focus its business on lifestyle publications, property development and new business.”
For T-U staffers, this ends a conflicted relationship with the parent company, which compelled the local paper to endorse President Donald Trump last year, and which also had introduced a more corporate feel in recent months, including electronic time card punches for reporters.
It’s going to get more corporate going forward. As the T-U reports, Gatehouse owns “more than 130 daily newspapers and more than 500 non-daily publications across the United States.”
T-U reporters who want to talk about this are welcome to get a beer sometime with our Jacksonville correspondent. He’s happy to listen.
JAXBIZ endorses Atlantic Beach incumbents
BeachesBIZ, a JAXBIZ subcommittee, is supporting incumbents in the races for Mayor of Atlantic Beach and Atlantic Beach City Commission.
The status quo will continue, with Mitch Reeves as the Mayoral pick, and Jimmy Hill and Mitch Harding getting commission nods.
“All of these candidates have proven their commitment to Atlantic Beach, focusing on a thriving local economy while continuing to improve the unmatched quality of life at the beach,” JAXBIZ Chair Denise Wallace said.
Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) launches a first-of-its-kind digital Manufacturers Marketplace at 3 p.m. EST at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, 111 Busch Drive in Jacksonville. A reception will follow the announcement.
The Manufacturers Marketplace is a web-based, searchable buyer/seller network featuring listings of hundreds of thousands of manufacturers in the United States, including Puerto Rico. Created in partnership with the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and other leading state manufacturing associations, the Manufacturers Marketplace is designed to bolster manufacturers in the United States by helping them find, get found and advance their businesses. Register at AIF.com/marketplace.
Pay to play
College football for students at Keiser University? While that may sound counterintuitive, it is happening, reports the Florida Times-Union.
How to field a team with students from campuses across the state? Here’s what the new coach had to say.
“There’s just a lot going on. We’ve got to fill a roster, we’ve got to recruit the state, fill a coaching staff … have daily conversations about facilities, where we’re going to play and where we’re going to put these kids.”
On a positive note, the new athletic director expects robust road support. The students are already commuters.
“We have the advantage in that we have faculty and students [from other campuses around the state] that can come to games while we’re on the road,” the AD said.
PLAYERS back to March
The PLAYERS Championship may be moving back to its more traditional March place on the calendar, after years of taking place in May, the T-U reports.
“The Associated Press reported on Monday, citing unnamed sources, that the PGA will be played at the Bethpage State Park Black Course on Long Island in New York in May of 2019, clearing the way for The Players to move back to the March date it held from 1977 to 2006,” per the T-U.
“The Players, contested at the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, will be held in May one more year under the expected schedule changes. The Tour has held a tournament on the First Coast since 1965, but was in March until Phil Mickelson won the 2007 Players in May,” the T-U adds.
Armada struggle in Puerto Rico
The Jacksonville Armada FC traveled to the Caribbean to take on Puerto Rico FC this past Saturday night for the first road trip of the Fall Season and the first trip under the new ownership of Robert Palm.
Puerto Rico claimed a 1-0 victory after what could only be described as a difficult 90 minutes for Jacksonville.
The Armada have been slumping of late, so Head Coach Mark Lowry boasted some changes in his starting lineup to show that eagerness. New forwards Brian Shriver and Tony Taylor received their first starts with the team, as well as defender Peabo Doue. Shriver and Taylor are both newcomers with Florida pedigree. Shriver is from Clearwater and previously played for Miami FC, Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Tampa Bay Rowdies. He led the NASL in playoff goals while playing for Fort Lauderdale in 2011. Taylor played for Jacksonville University and Lynch’s FC in 2009 an amateur Jacksonville club. He signed for Fort Lauderdale the next year and spent several years on loan in Europe before returning to North America to play in MLS.
The changes didn’t make much of a difference early as Puerto Rico was able to create opportunities and recorded 10 first half shots.
Jacksonville answered Puerto Rico’s offensive effort with a tough and resourceful defense, however. Mechack Jérôme cleared four chances, with Caleb Patterson-Sewell staying firm in front of the goal.
Puerto Rico’s effort was rewarded late in the first half. In the 43rd minute, Conor Doyle received a cross from Giuseppe Gentile to put the ball past Patterson-Sewell, and Puerto Rico took the 1-0 lead.
Jacksonville returned in the second half showing some initiative, but Puerto Rico continued to fire shots toward Patterson-Sewell.
Second half substitutions by the Armada FC brought some intensity to the side on the hot and humid Puerto Rico pitch.
Charles Eloundou was subbed in the 61st minute to give the Armada FC much-needed speed. He used it to motor up and around Puerto Rico’s defense and created a great chance in the 75th minute. He took a shot from a distance after receiving the ball from Zach Steinberger but Puerto Rico’s goalkeeper, Trevor Spangenberg, launched upward to knock it up and over the net. Doue received his second yellow card in the 85th minute and was ejected from the match. Although now only having 10 men, the Armada FC kept consistent defense to keep Puerto Rico from tallying another goal.
Jérôme attempted some late-match heroics with his effort just two minutes after Doue left the field. He launched a free kick straight toward the net, 550but it bounced off the crossbar and goal post to keep Puerto Rico in the lead.
Jacksonville could not find the net before the final whistle, so Puerto Rico took all three points at home. This marks the first loss of the Fall Season for the Armada FC and extends the Armada’s current winless streak to five.
On Monday afternoon, in Jacksonville’s federal courthouse, Corrine Brown came one step closer to learning whether or not she can avoid time in prison.
But she did not get a definitive answer in court.
Convicted of 18 counts in a federal fraud trial regarding “One Door for Education,” a sham educational charity Brown and her cohorts raised money for and extracted money from between 2012 and 2015, Brown has continued to maintain her innocence despite the guilty verdicts and the preponderance of facts supporting them.
Monday saw Brown’s lawyer, James Smith, present motions for a new trial and for acquittal. Judge Timothy Corrigan noted he was not inclined to rule from the bench Monday on those motions, which were presented at great length anyway.
The motion for a new trial was predicated on an interesting concept: Is the Holy Spirit an external force?
Brown posits that the jury was corrupted because a juror was removed for deeply held religious convictions that told him Brown was innocent, and that the Holy Spirit guiding someone does not disqualify that person from jury service.
The acquittal motion was much more quotidian, contending that the government did not prove its case, as some One Door money went toward charity, and there was no hard evidence that Brown conspired to defraud donors.
Ahead of the hearing, we caught up with Rev. Jesse Jackson, who told us why he stands with Brown.
“Corrine delivers,” Jackson said.
We asked Jackson to weigh in on the charges, and he was more circumspect.
“I came as a friend,” Jackson said, “not as a lawyer.”
Judge Timothy Corrigan noted that typically there is not oral argument on these motions; however, by special request from Brown’s attorney, he granted it.
“My purpose today is to listen to counsel’s arguments,” Corrigan said, noting he was “unlikely to rule from the bench” on these matters.
Acquittal was the first motion to be considered.
Brown’s attorney contended that there was not “one fundamental piece of evidence” presented in the trial that established Brown’s guilt conclusively, despite the length of the trial.
The conspiracy charge — unproven, beyond the testimony of former chief-of-staff and co-conspirator Ronnie Simmons, Brown’s defense said.
“There may have been an occasional use of the shorthand, ‘One Door Is my charity,'” Brown’s lawyer said. But that didn’t add up to conspiracy.
Brown’s lawyer also contended that there were no claims that the money would “solely be used for scholarships” in pitches to donors.
Regarding the lack of scholarships given out by One Door, Brown’s attorney said “that’s not a crime.” Nor was there a contention that she would give out the scholarships, he said.
Evidence presented, meanwhile, was “circumstantial,” because the government lacked direct evidence of conspiracy. And as a result, the government’s case rested in “myth”, such as portraying One Door as “Brown’s charity.”
Circumstantial evidence, Brown’s attorney said, led to Brown being convicted via “guilt by association.”
While Brown was associated with One Door and did solicit money and did derive benefit, the defense contends that doesn’t prove criminal intent.
Similar defenestrations of the government’s case on financial disclosures and fictional tax returns followed, with the case boiling down to Brown not being aware of the forms that were submitted over the course of years, as her crowded schedule precluded attention to those matters.
While these forms were “not done in a way befitting a person of her position,” and her financial affairs were a “mess,” that is not evidence of guilt.
The prosecution, via U.S. Attorney Michael Coolican, noted that “we had the facts on our side, and now we have the law on our side as well.”
“The defense is not saying anything different today than it did [during] the proceedings,” Coolican continued, hammering in on repeated instances of “fraudulent omissions” regarding pitches to donors, statements on tax returns, and so on — with Brown’s word being the only evidence to the contrary.
Evidentiary points, such as Brown holding blank checks from One Door, loomed large as evidence of Brown’s involvement.
“She had hijacked the charity, had her chief of staff take control of the finances, and was bleeding it dry,” Coolican said.
Brown’s attorney countered that the elderly Brown was taken advantage of by “thieves in her office,” and the fundraising events promoted by One Door in fact took place — even though the money did not make it to student scholarships.
The motion for a new trial proceeded much along the same lines, with Brown’s attorney contending that the claim of the booted juror that he was getting insight on Brown’s innocence from “higher beings” did not disrupt the “deliberative process.”
“There was not sufficient evidence in the record to support the court’s conclusion,” the defense attorney said, given that the discharged juror never said he would ignore tangible evidence in favor of guidance from “the Holy Spirit.”
“Simply seeking guidance from a higher power is not a sufficient basis for a juror to be dismissed,” the defense attorney continued.
While Brown’s attorney believes his client got a “fair trial,” on this matter an error was made.
“Ultimately, we believe the court made a mistake here,” he said, because the conclusion was “not supported by facts.”
“Is it proper for a person of faith to be dismissed from a jury … we’re dealing with someone who said that faith motivated and provided guidance on the issues,” the barrister continued.
The upshot of the argument: sending the juror home deprived Brown of her right to a fair trial.
The prosecution, via U.S. Attorney Eric Olsham, countered that the juror said he “was told by his Father in Heaven that the defendant was not guilty on all counts.”
He claimed to have had “received … this mandate from a Higher Power,” and such reception rendered the juror unfit for deliberation.
A “more searching inquiry” was not required in that context, the state contended.
On the matter of the discharged juror, Corrigan noted that the matter today boiled down to “did I do the right thing” or not.
The government noted a preponderance of evidence that he did, based on repeated claims of having “received information” from said Higher Power.
Brown’s attorney was more bearish, saying that no evidence was provided that the juror couldn’t evaluate the case independently of his input from the Christian conception of the supreme deity.
“He was kicked off, and that violated Congresswoman’s right to a fair trial.”
This “mistake,” however, could be “corrected,” the defense attorney said.
After the hearing, we attempted to get answers as to the status of Brown’s “legal defense trust fund,” which suffered a setback this week when a concert by gospel act Shirley Caesar was cancelled due to “inclement weather.”
We asked about the state of the fund, and about Brown’s ability to pay her attorney; for his part, he didn’t seem concerned about how much of the money owed to him will ever be paid.
As Brown’s supporters yelled messages of acclamation and affirmation behind her, and as Rev. Jesse Jackson stood nearby, Brown was silent.
On Monday afternoon, in Jacksonville’s federal courthouse, Corrine Brown and her supporters and detractors will be one step closer to learning whether or not she can avoid time in prison.
Earlier this year, Brown was found guilty on 18 of 22 counts related to conspiracy to defraud via what prosecutors describe as a fake charity: “One Door for Education.” Those charges include conspiracy to commit and aiding and abetting wire and mail fraud, and multiple counts of fraudulent filing of federal tax returns.
All told, over $800,000 was raised from donors. Of that, $330,000 of One Door money went to Corrine Brown events. And $141,000 of shady cash deposits coursed into her checking account from pass-through sources from 2009 to 2015.
Despite the tangible proof of conspiracy to defraud and unjust enrichment, and despite the feds generally hammering the overmatched defense throughout the case, Brown filed motions seeking a new trial and for acquittal.
On Monday, there are hearings for both requests.
The motion for a new trialis predicated on an interesting concept: Is the Holy Spirit an external force?
Brown posits that the jury was corrupted because a juror was removed for deeply held religious convictions, and the Holy Spirit guiding someone does not disqualify that person from jury service.
“During deliberations, Juror 13 said the holy spirit had told him that Ms. Brown was not guilty. The Court found that the holy spirit was an external force, and dismissed the juror. After Juror 13 was dismissed, Ms. Brown was found guilty. The Court’s finding that the holy spirit is an external force is not supported by the record … Therefore, justice requires that Ms. Brown be granted a new trial,” the motion reads.
The acquittal motion was much more quotidian, contending that the government did not prove its case, as some One Door money went toward charity, and there was no hard evidence that Brown conspired to defraud donors.
Essentially, it repeated contentions made and rejected by jurors during the course of the trial.
Most observers assume these hearings are just hiccups on the one-way street toward sentencing for Brown.
However, there is a case to be made that the sentence already began for Brown — and that sentence began with the indictment 13 months ago.
Brown, back in July 2016, couldn’t attend a court hearing without political allies by her side. State Sen. Audrey Gibson, state Rep. Kim Daniels, City Councilman Reggie Brown were just a few of those supporting Brown last summer.
Such support became less visible at the hearings and months since, as the optics of photo-ops became less convenient for those whose political futures now needed a different engine than the Corrine Machine.
The ink on the indictment was still drying as Brown limped through the ass-end of her final political campaign.
Brown couldn’t raise money for her race against Al Lawson. She likewise could not raise money for her legal defense. It seemed that all anyone wanted to talk to her about was the federal charges.
The nadir of that campaign: a post-debate press conference in Jacksonville, which devolved quickly into Brown attacking the media — including this correspondent.
“What if I said I thought you was a pedophile? You’d think something was wrong with me.”
Those words, voiced on the debate stage Thursday night at Jacksonville University by incumbent 5th District Rep. Corrine Brown, recurred during that post-debate presser.
“If I said ‘young man, you a pedophile’, that’s a charge,” Brown said to this reporter, by way of attempting to establish that an accusation is not tantamount to conviction, “because somebody makes an accusation against you doesn’t make you guilty.”
Brown suggested the media was “lazy” for not being able to figure out that she wasn’t guilty based simply on her assertions.
However, whether the press corps was just a pack of lazy pedophiles or not, Brown all but said that the game was over for her at that point.
When asked about her anemic $25,000 cash-on-hand in the campaign, and the loss of a third set of lawyers on Thursday, Brown said “yes” that she was having a cash issue.
“It’s a very challenging balance running a campaign and [paying] legal bills,” Brown said.
And indeed it was. Brown lost convincingly, and her post-campaign celebration reportedly included the saddest Electric Slide of all time.
Much like the Electric Slide phenomenon, there was a retro feel about Brown’s cash and carry operation, around which there have always been a series of salacious stories, usually with election hijinks as the setting. The closest anyone came to make those allegations on the record regarded her allegedly pay-to-play Quick Picks tout sheet, in which she endorsed and hit the endorsees up for “printing costs” — a malleable concept, to be sure.
The congresswoman took issue with the idea that her endorsements are controversial, given that the Chamber and the unions offer endorsements. “How am I different? Oh, I know,” she said, laughing ruefully.
“I’ve been doing this for over 20 years. People ask me how I’m voting. I’m so excited that it’s a discussion in the community. I’ve printed 50,000 of them,” she said. “It’s like the dog track: a cheat sheet.”
Brown even released 2016 Quick Picks; the story then was that her endorsement of Jacksonville’s pension reform vote was open for negotiation.
In the end, no endorsement. And no comment when asked.
Since the end of her political career, Brown has seen her co-defendant and former chief of staff roll on her, and has seen many of the old friends fade away.
A great indication of her diminished pull: recent fundraising for her legal defense fund. Or lack thereof.
Brown set up a series of fundraisers in recent weeks, with the culmination intended to be a Sunday concert at the 4,250 seat Bethel Baptist Church — Brown’s own church, helmed by a pastor with his own tax issues over the years totalling nearly a million dollars in arrears.
Brown attempted to book Shirley Caesar, whose gigs cost $30,000 each according to one booking agency. Tickets cost up to $100, which included VIP treatment and drinks.
Alas, Brown cancelled the concert — almost as if she couldn’t afford the booking fee.
However, Brown said the culprit was “inclement weather” — an interesting dodge for an indoor event, given the forecast Sunday only includes the “scattered thunderstorms” that are generally expected in Florida in August.
The storm clouds will be over the Federal Courthouse Monday afternoon. However, from the time the indictment dropped on her 13 months ago, Brown has been soaked — day after day — with legacy-killing revelations.
It’s hard to imagine a narrative pivot this late in the game.
Jay-Z famously rapped that one “can’t change a player’s game in the 9th inning.” And so is the case with Corrine Brown, who continues promoting fundraising events for her legal defense fund, as she fights convictions on 18 counts in a federal fraud trial.
A recent Facebook live video found Brown in a familiar salon in North Jacksonville, making a pitch that is almost as familiar: to buy tickets for the capstone of Brown’s benefit tour, a Shirley Caesar concert on Sunday.
The video begins awkwardly; the photog tells Brown she has “something on [her] lip,” which leads Brown to lick said lip until said obstruction is removed.
Brown then goes on to “thank the community for … support and prayers.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing everybody at 5:00 Sunday for the Shirley Caesar’s program,” Brown exclaimed.
“I know everybody said they’re praying for me, but I need to physically see you and touch you Sunday,” Brown said.
Caesar is name-checked with Brown saying Caesar is coming for “prayer with a purpose — to pray for me.”
Tickets, Brown reminded viewers, start at a “very reasonable” $25 and go up in price, with the “VIP tickets” representing even better value and $100 tickets allowing one to be “in the back with refreshments.”
The concert will be in a church. It is Brown’s hope that all 4,250 seats sell by Thursday.
Brown’s benefit concert is less than 24 hours before a hearing in her case to consider motions for acquittal and for a new trial.
It is currently unknown how much money is in the Corrine Brown Legal Defense Trust Fund. Even after two benefit events already, the website claims the account is “0% funded,” suggesting that the accounting practices that led to Brown’s conviction are still as loose as ever.
Corrine Brown is promoting a series of fundraisers to defray legal expenses, including a concert at Bethel Baptist Church billed as “Praise with a Purpose.”
The Aug. 6 event: less than 24 hours before a hearing on motions to acquit and for a new trial on her 18 felony convictions related to assorted types of fraud involving a non-performing educational charity for which she fundraised and from which she got paid over the course of three years.
In what was a sycophantic interview with the host referring to Brown as the “people’s champ,” the former congresswoman managed to promote a concert and paint herself as a martyr of sorts, one whose legal travails are just happenstance, rather than the result of being the center of a sustained and prolonged conspiracy to defraud.
“Everywhere I go, people come up and tell me they are praying for me,” Brown said. “God wanted me to go through this to have us be more prayerful.”
“This white gentleman came up to me and told me ‘Corrine, we’re praying for you in Georgia.”
Prayers help, but they likely won’t solve Brown’s problems.
“This is a tough time for me because of the lawyers and bringing on another lawyer — maybe one or two — so I really need the community to financially support me,” Brown pleaded.
The host chimed in at that point: “That’s right.”
“There are 4,200 seats — I want every seat taken. We have $25 tickets, $50 tickets, $100 tickets,” Brown added.
The host went on to say that “the judge messed up” the trial, to which Brown exclaimed “that’s right!”
“The judge is hearing two motions — a motion for a new trial and a motion for acquittal,” Brown replied.
She clapped her hands together.
“That’s what I’m praying for.”
As the half hour wrapped, Brown talked about young people seeing her on the street and wanting to take a picture with her, saying they’d seen her on TV.
“You want to be on TV for the right thing,” Brown said.
Brown added that at least one busload of supporters is coming to Jacksonville’s federal courthouse for her doubleheader hearing on Aug. 7, urging those interested in supporting her to show up before the 3:00 p.m state.
Celebrities, such as Rev. Jesse Jackson, may also be in attendance — schedules permitting, of course.
In other happy news, Brown added that the Corrine Brown Regional Transportation Center in Gainesville will notbe renamed, despite the best efforts of the pernicious “media,” as the public clamored to keep the public building named after someone convicted on 18 felony fraud counts.
Brown was convicted earlier this year on 18 counts related to a fraudulent educational charity; those counts included conspiracy to defraud, several counts of wire and mail fraud, tax fraud, and fraudulent financial disclosures.
For those wondering about the “Queen Corrine” nickname, it surfaced during the trial, when discussion of Brown’s signature drink — strawberry Bellini in a sugar-rimmed glass — titillated media and onlookers alike.
Corrine Brown recently re-affirmed motions for acquittal and for new trial, in response to federal prosecutors opposing those original motions. Her attorney wanted a chance to make oral arguments.
And he is getting that chance: Aug. 7 at 3:00 pm in Jacksonville Federal Courtroom 10-D.
Brown, found guilty on 18 counts related to wire, mail, tax, and financial disclosure fraud related to a charity that led to the unjust enrichment of her and co-conspirators, continues to vigorously maintain her innocence.
The motion for new trial continues with the pyrotechnics revolving around Juror 13, the juror dismissed as it was ascertained that the Holy Spirit telling him Brown was innocent interfered with his impartiality.
The juror’s removal, the memo holds, violated Brown’s Constitutional rights.
Moreover, it exposed religious bias from the court.
“The Court’s decision to dismiss the juror was based on its findings: (1) that God exists; and (2) that God is an external force. As with the juror’s statements, the Court’s findings were statements of faith. They reflected the Court’s religious beliefs.”
“In fact, the juror was not dismissed because of his religious beliefs. He was dismissed because of the Court’s
religious beliefs. He was dismissed because the Court believes that God exists, and that God is an external force. But the record does not support these beliefs,” the memo contends.
“The Court’s decision, if it is not corrected, will discourage a broad section of our population from productive jury service,” the memo warns.
In the memo arguing again for acquittal, the defense maintains that insufficient evidence of fraud existed, with “fraudulent intent” unproven.
As well, the defense contends, albeit unsympathetically, that there is no requirement that a charity dispense any amount of money — an interesting canard.
The defense also contends that Corrine Brown was not the “primary beneficiary” of the One Door for Education “fraud,” as she got just $37,000 out of it.
As well, Brown could not have been guilty of tax fraud: “A fair reading of the evidence show [SIC] that the Defendant’s taxes and financial disclosure forms are exactly what one would expect given the lack of attention
to detail and the last minute rushed nature of their preparation.”
In other words, contends her attorney, Brown was too sloppy with forms to commit tax fraud.
Brown was found guilty on 18 total counts, which sets her up potentially for a prison sentence of over 300 years, and fines and restitution in the millions of dollars.
On Count 1 — conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud — the jury ruled that Brown was found guilty of mail and wire fraud both.
Counts 2 through 17 involved mail fraud and wire fraud. Counts 2 through 8 — mail fraud — come down to shipments of checks via FedEx; counts 9 through 17 — wire fraud — involve interstate wire transfers, emails, et al.
Counts 2 through 8 saw the aforementioned co-conspirators, her former chief-of-staff Ronnie Simmons and his one-time girlfriend and CEO of the charity, Carla Wiley, at the other end of the mail solicited from donors, with the biggest pitch being for a check upward of $28,000 from a single donor.
The jury ruled that Brown was guilty on five of the seven counts.
Counts 9 through 17 saw Simmons soliciting checks from donors on some, with some “pass-through” transactions reflected in some counts, through the Alexander Agency — the agency of former Brown part-time employee Von Alexander.
The jury ruled that Brown was guilty on seven of the nine counts.
On Count 19 — scheme to conceal material facts on Congressional financial disclosure forms — the jury ruled that Brown was guilty.
Count 20 — scheme to conceal material facts — was predicated on “underreporting income” and “bogus” charitable deductions. The jury ruled that Brown was guilty.
Counts 21 to 24: four tax counts. 21 is to “obstruct and impede the due administration of Internal Revenue laws”, with false tax returns from 2012 to 2014 constituting the final three tax counts. Brown was found guilty on all.
The feds contend, contra Brown’s contention, that evidence was actually sufficient to convict her of 18 of 22 counts in her fraud trial for phantom educational charity One Door for Education.
And, despite best efforts from Brown’s attorney, James W. Smith III, the feds still don’t believe that the Holy Spirit’s ineffable input is compatible with evidentiary-based reasoning as to the former Congresswoman’s innocence or guilt, calling that argument a “self-serving view of the facts” that ignores voluminous case law in a vain attempt to prove that the removal of the Holy Roller was a miscarriage of justice.
Smith had filed for a leave to reply, contending that “Ms. Brown contends that the dismissal of Juror 13 violated
her Sixth Amendment rights to a unanimous verdict, and to a jury of her peers. This contention raises important and novel questions about the role religious beliefs may play in the deliberations of individual jurors. More specifically, it raises important and novel questions about the extent to which the Court may investigate and eliminate religious beliefs from the deliberations of individual jurors.”
Important and “novel,” or not, time is a-wastin’.
With former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown set to launch a run for Brown’s former Congressional seat once Corrine Brown is out of the news and into federal custody, time is of the essence to pull the final curtain on Motion Theater.
And Judge Timothy Corrigan set limits Tuesday on a response to the prosecutors’ rejection of a new trial motion and acquittal motion: no more than a ten-page memo on each, due no later than Jul. 7.
That date is almost one year after Brown’s 2016 indictment, one which effectively ended her political career and delivered her House seat to political veteran Al Lawson of Tallahassee.