Corrine Brown and her co-conspirators, Ronnie Simmons and Carla Wiley, may want to avoid prison time for their One Door for Education hustle.
But federal prosecutors don’t appear to be moved, per a 50 page sentencing memorandum dropped on Thursday.
The feds contend that in the history of “public corruption” cases involving former Reps. Richard Jefferson, Chaka Fattah, Jesse Jackson Jr., and Rick Renzi, that “no court sentenced any of these defendants to a probationary sentence.”
The government also has tabulated the cost of restitution, offering a “conservative estimate” of $452,515.87, itemized per donor.
The stentorian 50-page memo is blunt from the outset: “Society expects courts to punish convicted and corrupt politicians. If the legal system does not do so, our system of justice loses credibility, and the public is left with the impression that there are some citizens who are truly above the law. This cannot be the case.”
Central to the government’s case for an actual sentence here: the fraud was ongoing.
“The tax fraud scheme spanned three election cycles. Brown’s fraud, scheme to make false statements, and tax
fraud convictions illustrate that her entitlement disposition transitioned into criminal conduct that persisted for years. Brown’s culture of fraud became more brazen over time and culminated in the One Door For Education fraud, which was the primary focus of the government’s prosecution,” the sentencing memo asserts.
Prosecutors lambaste Brown for her rhetorical rodomontade, singling out a statement made in which she “ridiculed the American system of justice and rule of law” by conflating her investigation with the feds’ failure to stop Omar Matteen from the Pulse massacre.
“I represent Orlando. These are the same agents that was not able to do a thorough investigation of [Omar Mateen] and we ended up with fifty dead people, and over forty-eight people injured. Same Justice Department. Same
agents. And with that, I will see you in court,” Brown told media last July.
“Brown stooped so low as to state that if the Jacksonville FBI had not spent resources investigating her fraudulent conduct, then the Pulse nightclub tragedy in Orlando on June 12, 2016 would not have occurred,” prosecutors assert.
The memo also charges Brown with fraudulent charges of racism, saying they were “a complete fabrication meant to distract the public – and no doubt potential jurors – from the very serious allegations against her.”
Key to the hardline position: lost opportunities.
“The real travesty of this case is what One Door could have been. Corrine Brown had the power, willing donation base, and clear opportunity to transform One Door into a life changing charity,” the Feds assert. “Brown, Simmons, and Wiley not only squandered this opportunity, they abused it for their own benefit. The victims in this case are the students who received nothing.”
The feds also note Brown’s flippancy on the stand, including when she was asked about money transfers.
“I had birthdays. I had Christmas. You know, and sometimes I had boyfriends. So I mean, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Brown quipped about money received one January.
“None of this money could be attributable to her birthday (which is in November) or Christmas, and it is highly unlikely that this money entirely consists of annual exclusion gifts or cash gifts from boyfriends,” the Feds remark.
Deceit is a leit motif in the memo, with the feds coming back over and over again to brazen fabrications from Brown: “Corrine Brown’s trial testimony was replete with material falsehoods. After taking an oath to tell the truth, Brown treated the witness stand in this Courthouse as a kind of political pulpit to say anything – no matter the degree of falsity.”
Brown’s attempts to pin the blame on Simmons, her former chief of staff, are described as one manifestation of a “common defense strategy to discredit a testifying co-defendant.”
The memo’s descriptions of serial perjury, coupled with the defense’s inability to score a single win in this case, suggest that sentencing for Brown next week will be brutal.
That’s the strategy in a sentencing memorandum from Carla Wiley, one of the co-conspirators with Corrine Brown in the One Door for Education case.
Wiley, along with her former boyfriend Ronnie Simmons (Brown’s erstwhile chief of staff), is to be sentenced along with Simmons next Wednesday — a day before the sentencing of Brown herself.
Wiley testified for the prosecution in the Brown trial, outlining how a doomed love and circumstance led to fraud on a felony scale.
She outlined something key to the prosecution case: a narrative that Brown had a key role in orchestrating the scheme.
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. Wiley got her cut though: spending $140,000.
“Immediately after being confronted by investigating agents, Ms. Wiley obtained counsel and quickly began providing truthful cooperation in the Government’s investigation,” the memo asserts, describing her cooperation as “early and significant, leading to the indictment of a then-sitting member of Congress and her chief of staff, and ultimately to the plea and cooperation of Mr. Simmons, her testimony and his testimony at trial and the conviction of Corrine Brown.”
The memo asserts that Wiley’s “significant role” in the scheme that went on for three years is outweighed by her cooperation. Also asserted: that Wiley has “no significant risk of recidivism.”
Notable: one of Wiley’s attorneys, Justin Fairfax, will be the next Lt. Gov. of Virginia, elected in the Old Dominion’s anti-Trump wave Tuesday.
It was only a matter of time before U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat, drew a primary challenge in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.
However, that challenge isn’t coming from former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, at least not yet.
Rather, the first primary opponent for Lawson is Rontel Batie, a 29 year-old former Tallahassee lobbyist and former Corrine Brown policy director who overcame a lot of childhood adversity, including but not limited to his father being killed in a drive-by shooting and serious poverty.
Batie framed that as part of his narrative, both in a campaign launch video, and a press release, in which he claimed to have “excited the millennial base in Tallahassee and Jacksonville with his campaign launch video, which now has over 7,000 views and over 300 shares on Facebook. Young people in this district are a demographic that have been in a political slumber since the election of President Barack Obama in 2012.”
Batie claims to have received 50 donations thus far for his committee, “Rontel for Florida,” but he didn’t want to say how much cash he has on hand. (To put that in perspective, Lawson had $190,126 raised (all but $51,000 of that from committees), with $97,876 cash on hand at the end of September).
Batie, who worked in D.C. for Congresswoman Brown, was surprisingly removed from the details of her high-profile court case that ended her political career and set up sentencing for next week on 18 felony counts.
“I didn’t follow the case,” Batie said, “but I never saw her do anything illegal.”
Corrine Brown, as we reported exclusively, was introducing Alvin Brown to power players in D.C., which many would interpret as a signal of support.
Batie hasn’t talked to Corrine Brown about his campaign; he is giving her “space to process” her legal issues.
Likewise, Batie had little to say about Alvin Brown.
“I don’t know much about him,” Batie said, other than “he was mayor for a brief stint.”
(Alvin Brown served a full four-year term from 2011 to 2015.)
Batie, a St. Augustine native, moved to Jacksonville a few months back; however, he said “that district is home to me in more ways than one.”
He’s a FAMU alum, for one thing. And he has spent most of his time in Jacksonville, with family in the area.
As well, he sees himself as having a unique value add, having had “very different experiences than Brown and Lawson” in terms of the adversity he has overcome.
He started working when he was 12 — his first job being cleaning the restrooms at a Greyhound station. And he sees his narrative as one that is relatable to people in the district.
(Of course, both Alvin Brown and Al Lawson have their own documented rises from childhood adversity as well).
A motion filed earlier this month by former Rep. Corrine Brown to delay her sentencing was rejected Friday, finalizing the Nov. 16 sentencing on 18 counts related to a nonperforming educational charity, One Door for Education.
Brown sought a sentence of probation, and invoked health issues as a justification for the sentencing delay.
The “defendant is still undergoing testing and evaluation by physicians at a local facility mentioned therein, for which additional suspected medical conditions have not yet been fully diagnosed. It is probable that the anticipated findings and evaluation are significant.”
Judge Timothy Corrigan rejected that argument, contending that “the Court has reviewed medical records provided by Ms. Brown under seal. Nothing in those medical records provides a reason for the Court to postpone the sentencing.”
Brown cited difficulty in compiling documentary evidence of her “history of good works.”
“Numerous documents indispensable to establishing such information were destroyed in the defendant’s home in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Although the defendant has been diligently endeavoring to recreate those documents, several third-party custodians of records are still in the process of either reconstructing or reissuing such documents.”
The Court asserted that “if Ms. Brown can demonstrate at the sentencing hearing that there is some document or information that she was unable to obtain, the Court will consider whether to allow her additional time to produce it.”
“The best is yet to come for Duval — you will see my name on the ballot.”
Multiple sources have confirmed that former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown told a crowd of Democrats Wednesday evening that he has at least one more campaign in him.
And one source confirms the quote above from the meeting of the Duval Democrats — an audacious statement, and a long-awaited political rebirth after a tough loss two years ago, one that most Democrats didn’t see coming.
Brown’s comments were described as a “big announcement soon,” and Dems were told they should expect to see his name on a ballot soon.
But for what? That’s the question.
Brown has been most persistently linked with a run against Rep. Al Lawson, the Tallahassee Democrat who upended Corrine Brown in the 2016 primary.
Brown has told at least one leading Jacksonville Democrat that his plan was to launch a campaign after Corrine Brown is out of the news, which could happen as soon as her November sentencing date. The former Jacksonville Mayor has been talking to consultants as well.
Lawson would present some challenges for Alvin Brown, whose name identification fades west of the Duval County line. In his primary election against Corrine Brown in 2016, Corrine Brown won just two counties of the 11 in the sprawling east-west North Florida district.
However, there is opportunity for a Jacksonville challenger against Lawson — especially a challenger with a proven donor track record.
Lawson’s fundraising thus far is credible — $190,126 raised (all but $51,000 of that from committees), with $97,876 cash on hand. However, he only raised roughly $32,000 in Q3 — a potentially worrying sign.
Meanwhile, Alvin Brown — though he lost to Republican Mayor Lenny Curry in 2015 — didn’t do so for lack of resources.
His political committee brought in $2.85 million, reported the Florida Times-Union, along with $750,369 in hard money, and $1.37 million from in-kind contributions.
Lawson has attempted to build Duval bona fides, but as an older politician much more yoked to Tallahassee than to Duval, there clearly is opportunity for Brown.
That opportunity is burnished, we hear, by Corrine Brown showing Alvin Brown around D.C. in recent weeks. Brown, we hear, is excited to get back up there — a place he worked during the Clinton Administration.
Brown has deep connections with Congressional Black Caucus members as well, which could help his primary insurgency.
Though Corrine Brown wants to bring the seat back to Duval, Jacksonville’s leading politician is much more agnostic.
However, when asked about the unique utility of having Alvin Brown — a former mayor, one who knows City Hall’s needs — in Congress, Mayor Curry seemed nonplussed.
“I have a great working relationship with the delegation in and around Duval County, including Al Lawson. I’m not going to get into encouraging folks to challenge incumbents or not challenge incumbents. They’re going to have to make those decisions. But I have a great working relationship with Al Lawson,” Curry said.
Curry would not assess in any meaningful way any unique value add Brown would bring to Congress for Jacksonville.
Brown could be hurt most if other candidates, such as State Sen. Audrey Gibson, get into the scrum — splitting the Jacksonville vote.
Gibson has yet to reply to a message from Wednesday evening seeking comment.
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.