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Closing arguments in Corrine Brown trial

Below: the closing arguments in the trial of Corrine Brown.

Defense: Simmons controlled the scheme, duped Corrine Brown

Corrine Brown’s attorney, James Smith, laid it out to the jurors, striking a garrulous tone with a reassuring voice, before showing a rare picture of Ronnie Simmons’ sister, Corrine Brown, and the One Door president to set the scene.

The picture showed Simmons’ “three major frauds,” Smith said, via “women close to him.”

And it led the Orlando barrister to a not-so-rhetorical question … one upon which Brown’s appeal to “reasonable doubt” on the 22 counts must be predicated.

“Who is Ronnie Simmons?”

Simmons – contended Smith – was a serial liar and thief, grifting Corrine Brown for years as she was distracted with “constituent services.” And his centrality to the scheme leads to one inexorable conclusion.

“For the next 90 minutes, it’s my intent to show you she’s not guilty,” Smith said, and that the government “failed to deliver” in proving otherwise.

Who is guilty? Ronnie Simmons – who duped Brown, Smith said, exploiting trust built over decades.

“Simmons’ handwriting is all over this case – checks, tax returns, financial disclosures,” the defense attorney said. “Ronnie Simmons is someone you can’t trust – and he controlled Corrine Brown’s finances.”

Brown’s career progressed, and Simmons – her daughter’s ex-boyfriend – progressed with her, serving as Brown’s chief of staff from 1993 until the end of Brown’s time in office – just weeks before Simmons rolled on her, pleading out and turning state’s evidence.

“He was her son … her boy,” Smith said, “he made the trains run on time.”

Brown, said Smith, needed Simmons – especially as she moved through her mid-60s.

Corrine Brown shows “glimpses” of the firebrand she once was, Smith says, but all of that is suffused by a barrel of 200-proof heartbreak.

“How could her son do this to her? Is she delusional. No, she’s human,” Smith said.

Smith noted that the government posited that Simmons was a “bit player … someone who decided to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars because he was ordered to do so.”

Simmons had, Smith said, “already learned to steal” before One Door opened up to Simmons in 2012.

Evidence of that: Simmons scheming to get his sister hired in Brown’s Congressional office as a “ghost employee,” with Brown relying on Simmons’ honesty as Simmons lined his pockets with his own sister’s name.

“That wouldn’t be the first time he used a woman close to him to lie, cheat, and steal … a leopard doesn’t change his spots … on to the next mark, the next victim,” Smith said.

That next victim: One Door President Carla Wiley, who gave Simmons the key to the kingdom after chit-chat on a cruise ship with Simmons.

Smith pointed out the explicit desire of One Door donors to give transactional money, before discussing the “nice parties and receptions” funded by One Door, “parties with a purpose” that were not “illegal.”

“Does the government really believe her ego is so big that she would steal … to go to a hotel and have nice things to eat,” Smith asked rhetorically.

“The case ultimately comes down to two people … a dedicated and recognized member of Congress … [or] a self-admitted liar and thief who has a criminal conviction, and a vested interest in what happens here today,” Smith said.

Simmons, said Smith, “controlled” One Door – the check card, the checks, and tabs on financial statements to know when money could go out ($800 at a time, from ATMs) … and when money needed to be put in.

One Door head Carla Wiley likewise benefited, and did so after Simmons took control, Smith noted.

And all the while, said Smith, Brown didn’t know of the transactions; indeed, Brown and Wiley knew each other but casually.

“What evidence is there that Carla Wiley went to the Congresswoman and said ‘I’m stealing a bunch of money’,” Smith asked. “There’s no conspiracy between the two.”

Smith continued to press on a failure in the government’s case: a “battalion” of witnesses, bank statements and so on obscure the counternarrative – which is that Simmons, with access to Brown’s own finances, was uniquely positioned to steal.

“They had these blinders,” Smith said, with a preordained position that Brown was guilty.

“If you believe something, you can find anything to confirm it,” Smith said.

This includes the catalog of transactions over the years, Smith said, boiled down and repeated for days in the courtroom as if catechism.

Smith urged a “deep dive” into details by the jury, a look at where Simmons “lied on the stand” regarding a pass-through check from the company of a Brown crony, Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney.

Simmons said he didn’t know anything about that or other such pass-through checks. However, that was a lie, Smith said – a lie that underscored the gap between authoritative indictment and conclusive proof.

The check, in the description line, was marked to Simmons’ own mother … just one example of a Simmons fabrication. And there were others: lies about using One Door’s debit card to pay for personal expenses, among them.

“Simmons looks for opportunities to use people, get close to them … their finances, their money,” Smith said. And in this case, the golden goose was Corrine Brown – who signed documents for him on demand.

And Simmons had been signing for others, said Smith – maybe as a “matter of convenience” in time crunches, but other times “because he wanted to commit a fraud.”

Simmons’ propensity for forgery, coupled with opportunity and the willingness to commit a pattern of crimes, make him culpable, Smith argued.

Yet the government “had these blinders on. They knew what they wanted,” Smith said, and they wanted Corrine Brown.

“If you have any doubt about the material things in this case,” Smith said – including Simmons – “the government’s case falls apart.”

One of those material things worthy of doubt, Smith said, a tax form purportedly signed by Brown, but that was not signed by Brown, said one independent witness.

“So absent was the Congresswoman from day to day affairs … that frankly it became office practice to sign for her,” Smith said.

Brown, said Smith, thought she was raising money through these events; Simmons, however, was responsible for the fraud the government asserts, Smith added.

Donors were Brown’s “friends … and they trusted her.” And it didn’t “make sense” for Brown to lie to donors for the three years of the scheme – personal sense or political sense, the defense lawyer added.

Simmons “wanted the checks to be sent to his home. Why?” The idea, said Smith, was “to hide it” from Corrine Brown.

The “circular theft pattern,” said Smith, proved that it was Simmons who was “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

That pattern explains, said Smith, even ephemera like the balance inquiries, many of them made multiple times in minutes before donor cash dropped into the One Door account.

All the while, Brown was ignorant of the pattern: too busy to notice that she was the mark, and her “boy,” her “son” was grifting her.

Simmons fooled his lover, said Smith. And so fooling his elderly, distracted boss was child’s play.

Simmons handing her cash, said Smith: a way to keep Brown from checking her balance, a way to keep her from knowing what the real situation was.

Desperate toward the end of the scheme, Simmons wrote one donor, saying he was “in a jam” and needed a promised $10,000 check. Another donor got hit up for a $5,000 check to a different pass-through – Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney’s Community Rehabilitation Center – after it was revealed One Door was not a registered non-profit.

“The Congresswoman’s never in the mix,” Smith said, of Simmons’ communiques with the donors.

“It’s so obvious – between the Congresswoman’s good intentions and the money being diverted, is her lying, cheating chief of staff,” Smith added, noting that money from pass-throughs to Simmons went unexamined by a prosecution bent on convicting Corrine Brown.

In closing, Smith brought discussion back to “character” – a leit motif in his presentation.

Wiley and Simmons, Smith reminded the jury, pleaded out – with Simmons changing his story once off Brown’s Congressional payroll.

“Before they can get to the promised land – no prison,” Smith said, the two have to provide “substantial assistance.”

Smith noted that the government had a lot of witnesses, but the two “star witnesses” are confessed fraudsters and serial liars.

The jury, which had been more or less attentive, looked to be fading as Smith wrapped his remarks.

“She’s not a mastermind,” Smith said, “she’s an old woman.”

Meanwhile, the government’s case: predicated on “caricature,” a caricature obscuring the busted trust and serial deceptions at the heart of this case – and the denouement of the Corrine Brown political machine.

The prosecution rebuttal noted that for many of the transactions, Ronnie Simmons was nowhere to be found – including checks routed through former Brown employee Von Alexander and a check cashed in Los Angeles during a Brown trip with her daughter Shantrel.

As well, the rebuttal noted that Brown had lied about donations that never happened.

And regarding Brown being busy, the prosecutor noted that Brown wasn’t too busy for extensive travel. Nor was she too busy to check balances in her account, far away from where Simmons was. Nor was she too much, the prosecutor said, to work the donors for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The case made by Smith found holes poked in it – with the prosecutor asserting, repeatedly, that “common sense” leads to taking the evidence at face value.

“This case is about the defendant delivering to herself … over and over again … and the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

____

Government: “When Corrine Brown wanted something, she got it.”

These words, from federal prosecutor Eric Olsham, set up the government’s closing argument: that she was the Queen Bee, and that drones “followed her orders.”

Errands of all types, including helping prepare her tax returns and depositing “almost $160,000 in cash” into her bank account, were among those orders.

“When the Congresswoman wanted something, there was only one answer: Yes, Congresswoman.”

Olsham noted that Brown’s history of “lying on her taxes” goes back to 2008, with false donations to cronies’ charities and inflated tax returns.

“She admitted that on the stand,” Olsham said.

“When Carla Wiley and One Door for Education came into her like, Corrine Brown knew exactly what to do,” Olsham added.

Brown, aided and abetted by Simmons, took control of the “fundraising powerhouse” – seeding it with a $25,000 donation from Brown’s PAC, which then went in — $800 at a time – into Brown’s account.

All told: $833,000 came into One Door in over three years. And it was Corrine Brown – the “expert” fundraiser – who made it rain. And said Olsham: she had to know much of the money was “being put into her bank account,” despite Brown’s claims otherwise.

Underprivileged kids? They may still be thirsty. But for Brown, her daughter, and her chief of staff, One Door for Education was Canaan: the land of milk and honey.

“Did the Congresswoman know that it was fraud? Absolutely it was fraud,” Olsham said.

Olsham cited lies to donors, exploiting their “soft spot for education,” with pitches varying depending on the mark she sought to work.

Most people, Olsham said, lacked “interest” in directly donating to Corrine – so they gave to what Brown called “my charity.”

“The donors picked the one that looked like it was going to help someone else. But you know it didn’t,” Olsham told the attentive jury.

The shady computer drives, the trip to China for underprivileged kids such as former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown’s son, the golf tournament and so-called money for “summer camps” that was spent by Brown and her daughter in Beverly Hills, the Beyonce skybox, the trip on FDP Chair Stephen Bittel’s jet to DC for a Jaguars/Redskins game, “face to face pitches” for donor money, and the $330,000 in One Door money that went for Brown’s political events, the Queen Corrine drinks, the $750 birthday cake for Brown’s daughter – all of these data points would come up in Olsham’s close.

“Self-promotion is almost as good as money in her pocket,” Olsham said about the events. “She got that too.”

Also coming up: signed checks, given to Brown or associates – the pass-through money that ensured that all parties could live beyond the threshold of their means.

Brown, said Olsham, said the donors were either “mistaken” or “lying.”

“Use your common sense,” the prosecutor advised the jury. “No one benefited more” than Corrine Brown.

“What makes more sense – that all of these witnesses were mistaken or lied? Or that the defendant told a convenient story,” Olsham said.

The donors, to a person, said they were bilked and duped – that they wouldn’t have wanted to pay for Brown’s lifestyle.

“The defendant lied to them. She fooled them. Don’t let them lie to you,” Olsham said.

Olsham depicted Brown as the person orchestrating the handling of the cash and checks, which Simmons called “the elephant in the room.”

The descriptions of the mechanism of taking money out of the One Door account and putting it into Brown’s – repeated again, a final reminder of how Simmons often would have to visit the Capitol One ATM multiple times in a week to get the money Brown needed from the One Door account — $800 at a time, in cash, so the money wouldn’t be on a check.

Brown spent and spent, the prosecutor asserted: designer clothes, lavish trips, spa treatments.

“None of this was spent at the dollar store,” Olsham contended.

“The defendant knew that it was bogus. She knew that it was a fraud,” Olsham added, summing up the government’s case into two simple sentences that even this jury would understand.

“She knows how to rob Peter to pay Paul. The defendant said that. And she’s right,” Olsham continued.

$833,000 of donor cash, said Olsham, came down to two scholarships, a China trip for some students three years into the scheme, and little else but personal enrichment for Brown and her chief aides.

“Without the defendant’s knowing involvement for three years,” Olsham said regarding the count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, “there couldn’t have been a conspiracy at all.”

Counts 2 through 17, Olsham said, come down to mail fraud (via FedEx) and wire fraud (emails, bank transfers, and other electronic conveyances).

Threshold of proof: “the defendant was part of a scheme, [voicing] material lies and half-truths.”

Counts 2 through 8 – mail fraud – come down to shipments of checks via FedEx; counts 9 through 17 – wire fraud – involve interstate wire transfers.

“Your job is only to conclude,” Olsham said, that these elements were “reasonably foreseeable” to Brown.

Count 19 – scheme to conceal material facts on Congressional financial disclosure forms – was explained next, in light of Brown’s “extra income” from One Door and other pass-through sources.

“The public knew nothing about any of that,” Olsham said, “and that was the point.”

Count 20 – scheme to conceal material facts – came down to “underreporting income” and “bogus” charitable deductions averaging over $27,000 a year (off $6,600 a year of actual, provable charity).

“She failed to tell Uncle Sam,” Olsham said, of “tens of thousands of dollars of unreported income” over six tax years.

“$142,000 in cash in six years … not the defendant’s salary or pension … almost $24,000 a year. Where did all that cash come from?”

Meanwhile, said Olsham, many of the claimed “charitable donations … just didn’t happen.”

“There is no more blatant proof of the defendant’s criminal intent in this case than this,” Olsham said about the repeated false claims of donation. “She did this all on her own.”

Counts 21 to 24: the first of the tax counts, to “obstruct and impede the due administration of internal revenue laws”, with false tax returns from 2012 to 2014 constituting the final three.

“The defendant exercised total control,” Olsham said, with no one able to “tell Brown no.”

“But that stops now … you are in the position … to tell the defendant what no one told her all those years … because the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Corrine Brown trial: jury deliberation highlights

Highlights from the jury deliberation in the trial of Corrine Brown include procedural questions, and questions about jurors themselves. 

Mail fraud question from jury: Does the government have to prove all elements of the jury instruction on the six counts of mail fraud for Corrine Brown to found guilty?

That was a question from the jury Wednesday afternoon.

The defense said that all elements of mail fraud had to apply, while the prosecution contended that “aiding and abetting” could also be a necessary threshold.

Yet another jury question with an uncontroversial answer.

___

Is Corrine Brown responsible for her tax filings?: It took almost two full days of deliberation and the removal of a juror whose religious mania caused concerns, but jurors actually raised a question Wednesday morning – the first one of the trial so far.

That question – at long last – offered insight into the jury’s actual deliberations.

The question: is Brown responsible for everything on her taxes, given that she didn’t prepare or sign them?

Of the 22 counts faced by the former Congresswoman, four are tax counts: one regarding false information, three regarding tax returns from 2012 to 2014.

Prosecutor A. Tysen Duva affirmed jury instructions addressed this issue, while Defense Attorney James Smith noted the feds have the “burden of proof.”

Judge Corrigan’s advice: “follow the jury instructions.”

If one is reading the tea leaves for signs of reasonable doubt prevailing from the jury on tax counts, that somewhat philosophical question provides the first glimpse – except for the religious mania documented below – that such exists.

Bounced juror shows mental strain, talks of ‘higher beings’: Judge Corrigan kicked off Wednesday noting that there was an “issue with a juror,” one that required discussion ahead of the beginning of the proceedings.

That issue: a juror made an “unsolicited call” to Corrigan’s courtroom deputy, which heard the juror say that she and other jurors were “concerned” about another juror talking about “higher beings” and Corrine Brown.

The courtroom deputy cut the juror off there, and the matter was brought to Corrigan’s attention, setting up the 8:15 hearing.

Corrigan asked counsel its position. The feds, citing case law, suggested that the court inquire with the juror to further develop a record, then discuss it with the foreperson. The defense cited the same case law, agreeing with the government that discussion with the juror should be “in camera.”

Corrigan noted the jury’s diligence and “smooth” deliberations, distinguishing from case law that had more radical examples (U.S. Vs Augustine, U.S. Vs Abel, U.S. Vs Godwin, U.S. Vs. Gibrard, U.S. Vs. Burress, U.S. Vs Decoud) where aberrational thinking became an issue for jurors.

“In all of those case, there was much more information that the court had … notes written by the foreperson of the jury … a letter written about religious beliefs … much more tangible evidence of a real problem in deliberations,” Corrigan noted.

“There is a strong statement in these cases,” Corrigan said, “that court should err on the side of too little inquiry as opposed to too much. In some of these cases … where there was the first sign of trouble … the jury was told its duty” and sent back for deliberations.

“It is difficult to tell how serious it is … it could be part of the natural … dialogue that goes on in any jury deliberations,” Corrigan said, regarding this case.

“I do want to make sure we don’t put this inquiry in the same category as these other cases,” Corrigan noted, adding that simply readvising the jury of their duties could be an option.

Prosecutor Duva said that wasn’t enough.

“This juror at night made the decision to pick up the phone, call the courtroom deputy, and play this out … from the beginning, this juror was saying these kinds of things … and other jurors felt the way she did.”

Smith likewise wants an “inquiry” into the evidence here, “as soon as possible.”

Corrigan noted that the complaining juror might also be the problem, necessitating further inquiry in any case in an in camera proceeding.

First Amendment and Sixth Amendment rights, regarding the public and the press hearing this part of the proceedings, are eclipsed, said Corrigan, by the “overriding interest” to protect the defendant’s right to a fair trial, and “shielding from public scrutiny … the jurors’ deliberations.”

“We’ve already discussed the issue in open court,” Corrigan said, and inquiries into “religion” and other such matters could lead to a “temporary” closure of the court.

After a hearing stretching over an hour and a half, the juror (an unemployed man from Middleburg) was excused – and an alternate was called into service.

Jacksonville Bold for 4.28.17 — Lyin’, Cheatin’, Stealin’

Readers have likely noticed our deep-dive coverage of the Corrine Brown trial this week.

As the trial moves into its evidentiary phase, it would be easy to forget Wednesday’s opening statements.

That would be ill-advised, as those statements represent the crux of the disagreement between the government and Brown.

The Feds maintain Brown orchestrated the criminal conspiracy; Brown’s defense is she was older, not technically savvy, and essentially exploited by her former chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, unaware that One Door for Education was One Big Scam.

Pretrial publicity revealed that quite a few people thought Brown guilty because of the indictment and the reporting on it. What didn’t help: Brown’s reputation over the years, which was often at odds with establishment media.

Of course, there is a flip side: the reality is Brown has (and had) plenty of cache in her community — and that, for those who have followed Brown over the years, the defense argument — that she could not have pulled this whole thing off — seems somewhat plausible.

Brown didn’t use email. Never texted, allegedly, until the last year. It’s why so much of the case depends on whether one finds Ronnie Simmons or Corrine Brown more plausible.

Did Simmons exploit Brown? Or did Brown call the shots?

If just one juror buys the idea that Brown was not in control of the operation, some — if not all — of the charges may not reach a guilty verdict.

She may have a tougher time with counts related to tax issues and inaccurate financial disclosures.

But there are no guarantees there either.

File this away for a couple of weeks. Either it’s eerily prophetic or completely off-base.

In any event, Florida Politics will cover this, pillar to post.

Pension reform a done deal

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry got his pension reform package through the Jacksonville City Council Monday.

The bill moves city employees hired after Oct. 1 to defined contribution plans, which feature a 25 percent match for public safety, and a 12 percent match for general employees.

Lenny Curry took a victory lap this week, then went to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Integral to the pitch: long-delayed pay raises for city employees —  police and firefighters will get 20 percent more over a three-year period. General employees will get 14 percent raises in the same timespan.

A measure of the success of Curry’s marketing plan: over 32,000 views on YouTube for the video clip from “Build Something That Lasts,” Curry’s political committee.

That commercial was pushed via digital targeting, coordinated with voter rolls.

Curry for CFO? T-U drives the narrative

With pension reform now a memory, could Mayor Curry’s next move by Florida CFO?

The Florida Times-Union stoked the fire this week.

The crossroads Curry faces: “appointment as the state’s next chief financial officer, which would vault Curry into a high-ranking position in the state Cabinet. Or Curry could continue as mayor of Jacksonville and use the budget relief from pension reform to focus on the unfinished business of turning the tide on the city’s violent crime problem and getting long-delayed construction projects underway.”

What will happen? Ultimately, it’s Rick Scott’s call. And Scott doesn’t blab to the press.

Decisions loom for Rick Scott and Lenny Curry in the coming weeks.

Those familiar with the thinking of Curry’s political advisers say that job is Curry’s — if he wants it.

The contra-narrative: Curry is entrenched in the community and devoted to his family, which leads to some speculation that he wouldn’t want to make a move.

Time is running out on the Legislative Session. With Jeff Atwater’s exit, it will be time next month for speculation to be borne out — one way or another.

Al Lawson, John Rutherford slow to fundraise

Jacksonville’s two U.S. Congressmen, Republican Rutherford of Florida’s 4th Congressional District and Democrat Lawson of the 5th, are perhaps lucky they don’t (yet?) face real challenges to re-election, as their fundraising was sluggish compared to some in Q1 2017.

Jacksonville’s two Congressmen had a slow Q1 fundraising. Will both recover?

Rutherford raised $45,700 and spent $16,000 for an on hand total of $32,000. Lawson brought in $72,000, reports Drew Wilson of Florida Politics.

Rutherford and Lawson weren’t particularly aggressive fundraisers in the 2016 cycle either. It didn’t matter, as Rutherford had great Name ID and a strong team, and Lawson had the advantage of running against an indicted Congresswoman Brown in a radically changed CD 5.

Lawson’s number is worth watching, as Jacksonville Democrats eye a run for the seat.

Rutherford moves to expand ‘yellow ribbon’ program

While Lawson still has yet to file a single bill, Rutherford is on the move, as WJXT reports.

John Rutherford presents a bill respecting the sacrifice of our fallen heroes.

Rutherford “introduced legislation to expand the eligibility for the Yellow Ribbon Program to people who have received the Fry Scholarship, a scholarship that allows education benefits to be transferred to the children of service members killed in the line of duty,” WJXT reports.

“The Yellow Ribbon Program allows higher education institutions to cover additional tuition costs for service members utilizing their GI benefits if the cost of attendance is above the cap set by the post-9/11 GI Bill,” the report adds.

The bill, formally entitled the “Julian Woods Yellow Ribbon Program Expansion Act,” honors Woods, who died by enemy fire on a foreign battlefield.

C is for ‘cryptic’ in CSX

New CSX CEO Hunter Harrison came in months back, shedding workforce and spiking share prices.

What’s his encore? Who the hell knows, reports the Jax Daily Record.

If Hunter Harrison were a DJ, he’d be “cut creator.” But what’s his endgame at CSX?

Here’s one analyst’s research note.

“On the topic of cost savings, there seems to be some confusion among the masses about Hunter Harrison’s pontification on what he was seeing as potential targets for improvements versus actual guidance. On the topic of mergers & acquisitions, there also appears to be confusion (rightfully so) on what was and wasn’t inferred.”

After cutting 800 employees, even before he would have had real time to see how they function, Harrison claims he has a “good hand” at CSX.

Convinced? We’re not. And we’re not convinced he’s telling the truth when he says his end game isn’t to fold up CSX into another, bigger company.

The reality is this: Hunter Harrison could be the reason CSX leaves Dirty Duval.

Karma 1, Ken Adkins 0

Life finally dealt Pastor Ken Adkins a decisive blow, as a jury in Brunswick, Georgia convicted the flamboyant African-American preacher on molestation charges that will ensure he spends his life in prison this week.

Adkins served his uses: he was the self-styled pied piper to the elusive black vote for Jacksonville Republicans, before he went off the rails after the 2015 election, when he went scorched earth against the Human Rights Ordinance expansion.

Ken Adkins’ horrifying tweet after the Pulse massacre in Orlando.

Adkins was best known for sending out pornographic memes depicting Jacksonville City Councilman Tommy Hazouri in flagranti delicto in a public restroom with a gentleman.

Now, of course, the truth has come out on Adkins — who groomed a vulnerable teenage couple in Brunswick, setting them up for sexual exploitation.

He will never be a part of Jacksonville politics again, though he should stand as a cautionary tale for those on the right who want to pretend they have an exclusive license on virtue.

This is 40?!

A year ago, no one in Jacksonville knew Gary Snow — the 40-year-old Chicago transplant who has become infamous for counter-protesting Jacksonville protest events.

Gary Snow was called a “catalyst” of a melee at Hemming Park by Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams.

Snow, a ubiquitous presence with his Donald Trump flag and bullhorn, has been shrouded in controversy since coming to Jacksonville, as the Florida Times-Union reports.

“Though Snow has lived in Jacksonville less than a year, he has been a frequent presence at local political demonstrations. Using a baby’s cry amplified by megaphone, he goaded protesters at a January rally against the president’s executive order seeking a temporary ban on travel from seven mostly Muslim countries. A YouTube page in his name contains a series of videos that show him disrupting various rallies — from a protest held outside the Jacksonville office of Sen. Marco Rubio to a routine meeting of the Progressive Democrats of America’s Duval County chapter,” writes the T-U’s Garrett Pelican.

Snow, who drove Donald Trump Jr. around Jacksonville’s football stadium on a golf cart during Florida/Georgia weekend last year, also has white power ties, Pelican writes.

“An example is the October 2015 post that boils skin color down to ‘adaptation to varied climates and levels of UV exposure.’ It goes on to say ‘God has predestined people for certain regions” and ‘they should all return to their home where nature had intended for them to thrive,’ following by hashtags including #GoBlacktotheMotherland.”

Stop! Thief!

More bad publicity for JEA, via THE Local Station.

66-year-old Hugh Popell was charged with theft and falsifying an official document this week.

WJXT reports “that there were several days when Popell’s time sheet and overtime requests differed from his vehicle’s GPS data, badging history and email data.”

JEA got another round of bad press this week.

As well, “Popell would say he was working when he was instead making personal stops. One example of a personal stop, police said, was when he visited his niece for about an hour and a half while being paid time-and-a-half for holiday pay.”

Turnabout is fair play. That niece will now be able to visit Popell.

In the Duval County Jail.

Chickens coming home to roost

A couple of years back, Jacksonville passed an ordinance allowing backyard hens after considerable deliberation.

Orange Park is possibly next, if a draft ordinance reported on by the Florida Times-Union becomes law.

The 12-month pilot program, claims Councilman Steve Howard, is rooted in “the concept of local sustainability,” which “has inspired an interest in backyard and community food production to provide local food services.”

Fine feathered friends are fowl in Orange Park, for now.

The move apparently would be controversial, as it was in Jacksonville initially, and as it ultimately was in Atlantic Beach, which voted 3-2 against a similar ordinance in February.

JAXPORT ‘Cycles Up’ with new supply chain partner

Cycle Up Supply Chain Services, a South Florida-based logistics company, is expanding to JAXPORT, bringing new transportation and logistics options for shippers. Cycle Up recently signed a five-year lease on an 80,000-square-foot warehousing and distribution facility located near JAXPORT’s North Jacksonville Marine Terminals.

Cycle Up provides warehousing, pick and pack, and transloading services. The facility brings new business, including several of Cycle Up’s existing customers, among them major online as well as brick and mortar retailers

“A convenient geographic location, reduced inland transportation costs and increased backhaul opportunities all make Northeast Florida an ideal location for expansion,” said Cycle Up Managing Partner Tony Albanese. “We are confident our customers will benefit from all the supply chain efficiencies Jacksonville offers.”

According to Cycle The expansion brings a $1 million investment and creates 35 new jobs according to the company. Cycle Up operates three other distribution centers around the nation.

Armada growing ‘little by little,’ remain unbeaten

The Jacksonville Armada FC is still undefeated and stayed in first place in the NASL after a 1-1 draw against the defending champions, the New York Cosmos Saturday night in Brooklyn. The Cosmos have won three of the last four NASL titles.

Kartik Krishnaiyer reports that Armada’s goal came courtesy of J.C. Banks in the second half and ensured Jacksonville would remain at the top of the table.

For the fourth successive game, the Armada was outstanding defensively. Mechack Jérôme began defensive play in the sixth minute with an intervention just outside the goal when New York’s Walter Restrepo sent a shot his way. The Cosmos took the lead in the 22nd minute when Javi Márquez found his way through the box to take a shot toward the far post — it went into the bottom right corner.

Jacksonville Armada FC remain undefeated in NASL after a 1-1 draw against the defending champions, the New York Cosmos.

Jacksonville defender Kalen Ryden came close to an equalizing in the 32nd minute. A timely cross from Nicklas Maripuu was connected with by Ryden, who sent a header just short of the net to the right.

Although goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell lost his clean sheet streak at three, he made three saves in the game.

Despite having the majority of the possession and shots in the first half, the Armada FC failed to find the back of the net.

Banks scored the equalizer in the 67th minute from a headed pass by Ryden. He gained possession about 30 yards out to drive the ball toward the Cosmos and fired it just inside the 18-yard box. Banks goal was selected as NASL’s play of the week. Following the goal Armada FC Head Coach Mark Lowery was ejected from the technical area and sent to the stands perhaps for being demonstrative in his celebration?

Cosmos Head Coach and Sporting Director Giovanni Savarese said.

“We are growing little by little. We need time, and I think we are showing now that we are a different team, tonight, we looked more balanced, dynamic and created more chances.”

Nonetheless, the Cosmos are looking up at the surprising Armada FC in the table. Jacksonville’s start has been one of the big surprises of American soccer thus far in 2017.

The Armada FC returns home to face defending NASL runners-up Indy Eleven at Hodges Stadium Saturday.

Uber to service Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach

Officials with The Players announced the on-demand ridesharing service will have designated pickup and drop-off points at the Sawgrass Marriott hotel during the tournament May 9-14. Drop offs will be at the Sawgrass Marriott Conference Center area, and a shuttle will lake to the Davis Love III entry area at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. Uber pickup services will also be at the hotel.

“With the increasing popularity of The Players both in Northeast Florida and nationally, efficiently getting fans into and out of the tournament in a timely and safe manner is one of our key goals,” said The Players executive director Jared Rice.

Jacksonville Zoo Bowling for Rhinos

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is holding the 27th Annual Bowling for Rhinos event June 16-17. The Zoo’s chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers has raised over $117,000 with BFR since 1990.

The international conservation event is at Beach Bowl, 818 Beach Blvd. in Jacksonville Beach. Activities start Friday from 7 — 9 p.m.; registration opens at 6 p.m.; Saturday, from 1 — 3 p.m., registration at noon (more family-friendly) and 7 — 9 p.m., registration begins at 6 p.m. Registration is $25 per person, which includes two games of bowling and shoe rental. Registration for non-bowlers is $10 per person.

BFR includes a silent auction, raffle, and Archie’s Rhino Rye Pale Ale from Bold City Brewery. Limited edition BFR T-shirts will be available. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the event go directly to support Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya, Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Sumatra, Indonesia.

 

In Corrine Brown’s trial, a chapter of Jacksonville history will be written

For decades, Corrine Brown (Jacksonville’s longtime Democratic Congresswoman) served many functions. And the witness list at her trial, which starts Monday, reflects that.

This may be the trial of a generation.

It certainly has generational resonance for political types: of donors and behind-the-scenes types, of glad handers and hangers on, and of real-deal active politicians … past and present.

Corrine Brown, for a quarter century in the U.S. House, and for longer than that in other roles, served as a nexus between the Jacksonville establishment and her constituents.

That ended in July 2016, when Brown and her former Chief of Staff, Ronnie Simmons, were indicted on 24 counts combined, related to a conspiracy to defraud via a charity under Brown’s name: One Door for Education.

Simmons took a plea deal, and won’t be sentenced until after he testifies against his former boss; Brown maintains her innocence.

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

Jury selection is anticipated to last two days, ending – if all goes well – no later than Tuesday afternoon.

At that point, the parade of witnesses, for both the state and the defense, will proceed through the federal courtroom.

Testifying for the prosecution: Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel, former Jacksonville Sheriff Nat Glover, current Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, Jacksonville super-donors John Baker and Ed Burr, Jacksonville lawyer, and one-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Steve Pajcic, and former chair of the Donald Trump campaign in Florida, Susie Wiles.

Also on the prosecution witness list: the congresswoman’s daughter, Shantrel Brown and her two alleged co-conspirators: Carla Wiley and Simmons.

Friday saw the prosecution drop a 49-page list of exhibits.

Items to be presented in court next week include a “Summary Chart” of cash withdrawals from the One Door for Education Capital One Account and cash applied to Corrine Brown’s personal accounts.

As well, documentation will be offered of cash going into the personal accounts of Wiley, Simmons, and Shantrel Brown, Corrine’s daughter who filed a failed motion not to testify on the grounds she will just plead the Fifth Amendment.

Emails between those parties will also be presented, though the details of those aren’t in the list.

Flyers promoting events benefiting One Door for Education, going back to 2012, will also be presented as evidence of a conspiracy to defraud.

As well, signed letters from Brown to donors will be exhibited to, establishing prosecutorial claims of conspiracy.

Big names, such as Florida Democratic Party head Stephen Bittel, were regular donors and correspondents.

Bittel even allowed the use of his private plane at one point.

The defense team, helmed by Orlando attorney James Smith, is not without its own big names.

Among the defense witnesses: Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Rep. Bennie Thompson.

Jacksonville luminaries will also testify, including former Mayor John Delaney.

Delaney, in an interview with Florida Politics last year, spoke about the charges that had dropped just days before, delineating the political fallout: a tragedy beyond the fall of a politician at stake.

“We’re losing [the seat] if the congresswoman gets defeated or removed. Lawson’s about Tallahassee.”

And, for better or worse, Jacksonville’s loss is a subtext of the trial.

Corrine Brown prosecution presents 49-page exhibit list

On Friday, federal prosecutors released a 49 page exhibit list ahead of the trial of Corrine Brown next week.

The exhibits flesh out the indictment issued last year regarding the One Door for Education charity, an indictment asserting that Brown, former chief of staff and co-defendant Ronnie Simmons, and Carla Wiley exploited Brown’s membership in Congress to fraudulently solicit and receive hundreds of thousands of dollars of payments on the false pretense they would be used for charity.

Simmons and Wiley are cooperating with prosecutors, and have already struck plea deals; they will be testifying for the state.

Promotional material, social media, donation requests, and meetings and conversations with donors, first by Brown, then by Simmons in a follow-up, are all enumerated in the exhibits.

Money, say the feds, also flowed from Brown’s campaign, “Friends of Corrine Brown,” and her “Florida Delivers Leadership PAC,” to One Door and, “at times,” Brown’s personal account.

Lavish travel, luxury boxes, and events benefiting Brown were funded with One Door money.

Brown also solicited donors, say the feds, with letters signed by Brown, saying that One Door funds went to “youth mentoring, scholarships, and programming.”

Various checks followed, with what prosecutors call “fraudulent misrepresentations and omissions” by Brown and Simmons bringing money into the One Door account.

And the 49 pages document that process in exhaustive detail.

Items to be presented in court next week include a “Summary Chart” of cash withdrawals from the One Door for Education Capital One Account and cash applied to Corrine Brown’s personal accounts.

As well, documentation will be offered of cash going into the personal accounts of Wiley, Simmons, and Shantrel Brown, Corrine’s daughter who already filed a motion not to testify on the grounds she will just plead the Fifth Amendment.

Emails between those parties will also be presented, though the details of those aren’t in the list.

Flyers promoting events benefiting One Door for Education, going back to 2012, will also be presented as evidence of a conspiracy to defraud.

As well, signed letters from Brown will be exhibited, such as a “One Door For Education letter signed by Corrine Brown to Gasper Lazzara seeking sponsorship to send seniors to Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C. in January 2013.”

Surveillance video of Simmons making transactions also will be provided, as will financial records for the infamous Beyonce concert sky box that One Door money went toward.

Evidence of Brown schmoozing Jacksonville powerbrokers will abound, such as a “letter on Congressional letterhead to John Baker, dated June 25, 2015, regarding sending students and chaperones to China for an exchange program and seeking contributions to One Door For Education.”

Also submitted for perusal: vacation records for junkets, such as Wiley and Simmons traveling to Miami to stay at the tony Fontainebleu Hotel in 2013.

Jurors will also get to review proof of payment for advertising in “Onyx Magazine,” a vanity-press style publication that often featured Brown and other political allies, from the ostensibly charitable fund.

Copious evidence of ATM withdrawals will be used to buttress the case of ongoing conspiracy — and have no doubt that Ronnie Simmons’ testimony will be central to that.

As well, Fed Ex labels and correspondence from Brown’s Congressional office to Wiley will also be used to make the case for conspiracy.

If the exhibits are a reliable indication, Brown was happy to route contributions to friends, such as a June 2013 reroute of a contribution to Community Rehabilitation Center, the business of current Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, who was a close associate of Brown’s for a long time.

Brown also seemed to urge donors to give to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation; Don Miller of Orlando made a $22,500 donation in 2014, which is part of the exhibit list.

Big names, such as Florida Democratic Party head Stephen Bittel, were regular donors and correspondents.

Bittel even allowed the use of his private plane at one point.

Brown, according to exhibits, made numerous charitable contributions to CRC, as well as to Bethel Baptist — an influential downtown Jacksonville church.

Corrine Brown’s daughter will be called to testify against her in court

One of the highest-profile and most interesting prosecution witnesses in the trial of Corrine Brown: her own daughter, Shantrel Brown.

However, Shantrel did want to testify against her mother — as a “motion to quash” filed Apr. 19 revealed.

Federal prosecutors filed a countermotion, and Shantrel’s motion was thrown out Friday afternoon

Shantrel Brown will  plead the Fifth Amendment, the original motion claimed.

“If called to testify, Shantrel Brown will invoke the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and will remain silent in response to any questions by the government. Thus, the only purpose for calling Shantrel Brown would be for the atmospheric effect upon the jury to see the defendant’s daughter invoke her Fifth Amendment rights. The Fifth Amendment applies ‘where a witness is asked to incriminate himself-in other words, to give testimony which may possibly expose him to a criminal charge’,” reads the filing from her attorney.

Shantrel is “Person B” in the indictment, a “close relative” of the Congresswoman who traveled with her to Los Angeles, where money earmarked for the One Door for Education charity was spent for non-educational purposes.

___

Shantrel is one name on an all-star witness list.

Among the names reporters will track starting Apr. 26: Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel, former Jacksonville Sheriff Nat Glover, current Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, Jacksonville superdonors John Baker and Ed Burr, JEA Board member Husein Cumber, Jacksonville lawyer and one-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Pajcic, and former chair of the Donald Trump campaign in Florida, Susie Wiles.

Also testifying for the state: the Congresswoman’s two alleged co-conspirators in the One Door for Education trial: Carla Wiley and former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons.

___

Corrine Brown is the last co-defendant in the One Door for Education trial who has not pleaded guilty in exchange for cooperation.

She faces 22 counts.

If found guilty of all, she could be sentenced to 357 years in prison, and $4.8M in fines

Feds move to compel Corrine Brown’s daughter to testify

Corrine Brown‘s trial begins Monday, and the pre-trial drama continues.

Earlier this week, Brown’s daughter Shantrel Brown filed a motion to quash the state’s desire to have her testify.

Shantrel would plead the Fifth Amendment, the motion claimed, and the only purpose served would be the “atmospheric effect” of having jurors watch her plead the Fifth.

Unsurprisingly, prosecutors filed a motion in opposition Friday.

“The motion is premature and grounded on the legally infirm notion that a witness can be excused from even appearing at trial by prospectively refusing to answer each and every question that could be posed – without knowing what the questions will be,” claims the prosecution.

“Before excusing Ms. Brown from testifying, the Court cannot rely on her motion’s empty invocation of the Fifth Amendment, but instead must review each specific area that the United States (or conceivably the defendant) may wish to explore to determine whether the claimed privilege is well-founded,” the feds’ motion continues.

“There are a variety of topics about which Shantrel Brown could be questioned at trial. Candidly, certain areas of inquiry may tend to incriminate her, but other areas of inquiry would not. There is evidence that Shantrel Brown planned and attended parties in the defendant’s honor (as well as other events). Those events were paid for with money raised by the defendant, ostensibly for educational and charitable purposes, through the entity known as for One Door for Education,” the feds maintain.

“She is also privy to information about the defendant because – separate from any involvement with One Door – she has lived with the defendant and has known her for her entire life. She naturally would be familiar with the defendant’s habits, practices, and often her whereabouts – information that would not implicate Shantrel Brown in wrongdoing, but that might be relevant to the case,” the motion continues.

The prosecutors claim they don’t know what they will ask Shantrel Brown, given that she is toward the end of the list of witnesses, and given the shifting nature of Corrine Brown’s defense.

“the defendant has publically blamed others for the alleged fraud, at first taking aim at One Door’s president and government cooperator, Carla Wiley, but then turning her fire on her former chief of staff, Elias “Ronnie” Simmons after he pleaded guilty and also began cooperating. There is reason to believe that blame will be shifted next to Shantrel Brown. The shifting nature of the defense’s position complicates the United States’ ability to determine prospectively the precise role that Shantrel Brown will play at trial,” the motion asserts.

Jesse Jackson to testify in Corrine Brown’s defense

Keep hope alive?

Rev. Jesse Jackson is one of more than 30 defense witnesses to be called to testify in the defense of Corrine Brown during her One Door for Education trial starting later this month.

Former Congressional colleagues will testify also, including Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Rep. Bennie Thompson.

Jacksonville luminaries will testify also, including former Mayor John Delaney, who has emphatically spoken of Brown as a useful Jacksonville asset in Congress.

As well, Brown’s former co-defendant Ronnie Simmons, who flipped to state’s evidence in exchange for a plea deal, is slated to testify both for the defense and the prosecution.

___

The Feds have their own big-time witness list.

Corrine Brown faces charges in federal court this month — and the feds have a star studded witness list.

Among the names reporters will track starting Apr. 26: Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel, former Jacksonville Sheriff Nat Glover, current Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, Jacksonville superdonors John Baker and Ed Burr, JEA Board member Husein Cumber, Jacksonville lawyer and one-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Pajcic, and former chair of the Donald Trump campaign in Florida, Susie Wiles.

Also testifying for the state: the Congresswoman’s daughter, Shantrel Brown, and her two alleged co-conspirators in the One Door for Education trial: Carla Wiley and the aforementioned Ronnie Simmons.

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

___

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and her chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, were named as co-defendants in a federal suit about One Door for Education.

One Door was a charity, marketed with Brown’s name and likeness, that did a great job bringing money in: $800,000 of it over four years earlier this decade.

The money, however, went elsewhere — while roughly $2,000 went for the purposes of helping underprivileged students achieve educational parity, the feds claim the vast majority of it financed the lifestyle of Rep. Brown and Simmons.

Simmons cut a plea deal in February, undermining Brown’s defense — as Simmons admitted culpability to just enough of the federal charges to implicate Brown, and as the Congresswoman’s former confidant is offering state evidence before his own sentencing.

However, Brown’s attorney (James Smith) asserts that Simmons changed his narrative, that Brown was taken advantage of by Simmons and One Door for Education head Carla Wiley, that she was not on the board of One Door, and that other factors, which will come out in trial, reveal that she was the target, not the agent, of a conspiracy to defraud.

That conspiracy, the defense will reveal, took advantage of an older woman, stretched to her limit by unique demands ranging from a far-flung district to fighting attempts to redraw that district.

Brown will have what is being called a “fairly substantial” list of pols — local, state, and national — testifying on her behalf about the process that led them to donate to One Door.

That list is still pending.

Brown now stands alone, ahead of a trial slated to start on Apr. 24. The prosecution case could take six to eight trial days, with the defense case beginning in the middle of the week of May 1.

Stephen Bittel among prosecution witnesses in Corrine Brown trial

Corrine Brown faces charges in federal court this month — and the feds have a star studded witness list.

Among the names reporters will track starting Apr. 26: Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel, former Jacksonville Sheriff Nat Glover, current Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, Jacksonville superdonors John Baker and Ed Burr, JEA Board member Husein Cumber, Jacksonville lawyer and one-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Pajcic, and former chair of the Donald Trump campaign in Florida, Susie Wiles.

Also testifying for the state: the Congresswoman’s daughter, Shantrel Brown, and her two alleged co-conspirators in the One Door for Education trial: Carla Wiley and Ronnie Simmons.

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

___

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and her chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, were named as co-defendants in a federal suit about One Door for Education.

One Door was a charity, marketed with Brown’s name and likeness, that did a great job bringing money in: $800,000 of it over four years earlier this decade.

The money, however, went elsewhere — while roughly $2,000 went for the purposes of helping underprivileged students achieve educational parity, the feds claim the vast majority of it financed the lifestyle of Rep. Brown and Simmons.

Simmons cut a plea deal in February, undermining Brown’s defense — as Simmons admitted culpability to just enough of the federal charges to implicate Brown, and as the Congresswoman’s former confidant is offering state evidence before his own sentencing.

However, Brown’s attorney (James Smith) asserts that Simmons changed his narrative, that Brown was taken advantage of by Simmons and One Door for Education head Carla Wiley, that she was not on the board of One Door, and that other factors, which will come out in trial, reveal that she was the target, not the agent, of a conspiracy to defraud.

That conspiracy, the defense will reveal, took advantage of an older woman, stretched to her limit by unique demands ranging from a far-flung district to fighting attempts to redraw that district.

Brown will have what is being called a “fairly substantial” list of pols — local, state, and national — testifying on her behalf about the process that led them to donate to One Door.

That list is still pending.

Brown now stands alone, ahead of a trial slated to start on Apr. 24. The prosecution case could take six to eight trial days, with the defense case beginning in the middle of the week of May 1.

Jacksonville Bold for 4.14.17 — My city was gone

Does Al Lawson ‘get’ Jacksonville?

Questions still remain as to whether Congressman Lawson understands Jacksonville, as his visits to the Jacksonville City Council Tuesday, and town hall Wednesday indicate.

On Tuesday, one could sense among certain council members (specifically, those representing districts that overlap Lawson’s) a grating irritation over Lawson’s constant use of Eureka Garden Apartments as a stand-in for All Things Jacksonville

Councilwoman Katrina Brown (a Corrine Brown ally) asked about community development block grants and pointedly noted that Lawson had yet to visit her district.

Wednesday’s town hall saw had no elected Jacksonville officials in attendance; a point perhaps less meaningful if Lawson demonstrated an understanding of local issues.

Instead, he wasn’t able to.

Discussions of an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site in Fairfax and the city’s participation in the federal National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) program revealed a fundamental ignorance of local issues.

NBD. Only the biggest city in the district.

Lawson, when asked about his Jacksonville disconnect, noted that there are lots of “city commissions” in his district. While true, that is also tone-deaf, especially with a lot of locals looking at Florida’s 5th Congressional District and seeing it as a Jacksonville seat.

Lots of Jacksonville folks wanted to run Corrine Brown out of town on a rail.

“Oh, the corruption,” they said. “She’s such an embarrassment,” they said. “Go Gata,” they quipped — as Corrine Brown served as a punching bag for white liberals and conservatives who didn’t understand how instrumental she was to the local appropriations process.

Lawson, when asked, couldn’t even name a local appropriation he is championing.

CD 5 was a Jacksonville seat. Now it’s a Tallahassee seat.

Lawson is pushing 70 and has been at this for over a year, counting the campaign; he has five minutes worth of talking points for a city of a million people.

Issues Lawson faces … a lack of both seniority and local connections.

2018 will get real. And the Corrine Brown machine will reconfigure, even without her.

Like a Transformer, there is more than meets the eye.

Will the Corrine Brown machine reassemble with a different face? Time will tell.

After a troubled 2016, will the Corrine Brown machine transform? And if so, into what?

The 43-year plan takes center stage

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is, more than likely, less than two weeks away from knowing if his pension reform plan will be approved by the City Council.

The projections look to be finalized after a Wednesday meeting, which incorporated new numbers from a Monday impact statement from the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund.

Its actuaries thought the plan was too optimistic in assumptions regarding both payroll growth and sales tax revenue, speculating that even after the proposed sunset of Jacksonville’s halfpenny tax in 2060, the $2.8B unfunded liability for the defined benefit pension plans that would be closed this year still would not be resolved.

The big news was the downward impact of adjustments to payroll growth projections and COLA calculations after Monday’s meeting of the Police and Fire Pension Fund.

“We still save a lot. But we save less,” was how Jacksonville’s CFO, Mike Weinstein, described the impacts of $13M of tweaks that would hit the process for FY 2018.

Though some council members, especially those in Districts 7-10, seek commitments for allocations funded by the budget relief provided by the pension reform plan, most see the mechanism as a “tool in the toolbox.”

The discretionary sales tax: not a magic bullet, but part of a larger arsenal.

That’s the sales pitch, and the administration can get at least 13 votes with it.

Interesting tweet of the week:

Ben Carson talks HUD reform

In Jacksonville with Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Lawson, HUD Secretary Ben Carson discussed his plans for HUD reform.

Carson’s meandering rhetoric (at one point, he discussed external malefactors wanting to “destroy” America) didn’t always jibe with what one might expect from HUD secretaries of the past.

But his reform proposals are worth noting, including “housing savings accounts,” which would (in theory) allow HUD residents to save money for incidental repairs or for down payments on their own homes.

Carson sent mixed signals about allocations, hinting that a large portion of Trump’s proposed $1T infrastructure infusion would go to HUD projects.

Meanwhile, he also outlined the importance of public-private partnerships in terms of HUD construction and rehab.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson and Sen. Marco Rubio share a laugh during a Jacksonville visit this week.

CBN lauds Kim Daniels for school prayer bill

State Rep. Kim Daniels got Hosannas recently from the Christian Broadcasting Network for her “big win for prayer,” via HB 303 — a measure she introduced to the Florida House to permit religious expression in public schools.

CBN notes that her testimony has been featured previously on the 700 Club.

In a session where the diminished clout of the Duval Delegation has been a depressing leitmotif for local political watchers, Daniels’ bill (poised to become law once signed by Gov. Rick Scott) is a high-profile success.

Kim Daniels, sponsor of HB 303, the religious expression bill that was one of the few successes from the Duval Legislative Delegation in 2017.

Jason Fischer extols Session accomplishments

In an email to constituents, state Rep. Fischer offers a “glimpse of what we’ve accomplished in Tallahassee so far this session.”

Among the accomplishments Fischer cites: “HB-65 Civil Remedies for Terrorism, unanimously passed the House floor … HB-245 Self-Defense Immunity passed the House floor … HB-969 Pregnancy Support and Wellness Services passed the House floor.”

Beyond these measures, Fischer also thanked the Florida Association of Sheriffs for backing his “HJR-721, Selection and Duties of County Sheriff.”

The resolution proposes an amendment to the state constitution that would require the constitutional officer of sheriff be an elected position, Fischer notes.

In a recent email to constituents, State Rep. Jason Fischer gives a brief glimpse of Duval Delegation accomplishments for 2017 Session.

NE Florida legislators roll out March fundraising

Some mild surprises in fundraising reports from members of the First Coast Legislative Delegation emerged in March.

Sens. Keith Perry and Audrey Gibson led the field. Perry was a ham sandwich away from a $30,000 March, and already has $102K to defend his competitive Gainesville seat. Gibson (also chair of the Duval Democrats) broke the $20,000 barrier; she will face no competition for re-election.

Meanwhile, the political committee of Rep. Jay Fant (“Pledge This Day”) raised $54K of establishment Jacksonville money. Fant, described by many as persona non grata in the House after bucking Speaker Richard Corcoran on incentive voters, is still looking at a run for Attorney General.

Those with long-term memories will remember that, in October, Fant ran against a write-in for re-election to the Florida House … and burned through $70K on advertising designed to drive name identification up.

Could he use that money now?

Jay Fant showing off his glad-handing talents.

It will take more than ambidextrous handshaking to get Jay Fant to the next level.

Osteopaths name Aaron Bean Legislator of the Year

The Florida Osteopathic Medical Association announced this week that Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Bean is its 2017 Legislator of the Year.

FOMA said the annual award goes to a lawmaker that has proved their support for osteopathic medicine and the delivery of quality health care to the citizens of Florida.

“I am beyond honored to be FOMA’s 2017 Legislator of the Year,” Bean said. “As a longtime advocate for health care issues and a former chair of the Senate Health Policy Committee, I understand how important it is to be constantly working to improve our health care and adopt treatment, prevention and alleviation advancements that benefit all Floridians.”

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams fingered “activist” Gary Snow as a catalyst for the near-riot at Hemming Park last week.

Jax Sheriff: Gary Snow ‘catalyst’ of Hemming Park melee

What happens when someone working a pro-police gimmick gets tagged, by the sheriff no less, as being a “catalyst” of a riot?

This is what happened to Gary Snow, a Rust Belt transplant who moved to Jacksonville last year and was immediately cradled to the bosom of the local GOP.

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams told us Tuesday that Snow, in fact, was a “catalyst” of the melee in Hemming Park between protesters and police — and the JSO is reviewing video of the event, as well as its procedures.

“That event Friday — he clearly was a catalyst” for the violence that occurred, Williams said.

“We had dozens and dozens of protests in Jacksonville, peacefully. We’ve got a great working relationship with the Progressive Coalition and many other groups in that protest.”

With another protest slated for April 15, it will be interesting to see the short-term and long-term procedural changes with regard to managing protests and the counter-protester, whose actions “catalyzed” what is sure to be numerous lawsuits and news cycles to come.

Curry talks Journey to One

Though Duval County is now down to 55th among Florida’s 67 counties, Curry is still pushing the city toward a “Journey to One.”

That #1 spot is held by St. Johns County.

Jacksonville residents, reports WJXT, lost 75,000 pounds last year in response to Curry’s challenge to the city to lose a million pounds; 3,900 locals participated in the mayor’s challenge.

“I am here today to support this, to remain committed to it,” Curry said. “While I am very good at the daily exercise I will tell you, the daily diet continues to be a fight and struggle, but I’m accountable knowing that we are all in this together.

Lenny Curry taking stock in Jacksonville’s physical and fiscal health.

Springfield Overlay controversy grinds on

Springfield residents continue to resist changing their zoning category to allow a 12-unit residential facility for the disabled and the chronically homeless.

There are a number of bills related to zoning changes and to financial settlements with the federal government, Disability Rights Florida, and Ability Housing that keeps getting deferred by the Jacksonville City Council. And a Monday public notice meeting offered little that looked like resolution.

Community activists and advocates won the battle, challenging all manner of zoning changes, with the backup of certain council members who objected to the zoning change legislation.

More meetings will follow, says Land Use and Zoning Chairman Danny Becton. But given the realities of pension reform, they won’t be anytime soon.

Appointed — Sara Gaver to the Florida Rehabilitation Council.

AppointedChristopher Joson as Special Officer of CSX Transportation.

Spotted — Marty Fiorentino at Omarosa Manigault‘s wedding and reception in Washington, D.C. at Trump International Hotel. She married pastor John Allen Newman. Also in attendance were Kent and Ashley Justice, Eric and April Green, and Cantrece Jones. Jacksonville’s Bishop Rudolph McKissick, Jr. and Bishop John E. Guns served in the wedding.

Avalanche coming

More jobs may be coming to Jacksonville, reports WOKV.

“An economic incentives agreement filed for City Council consideration as ‘Project Avalanche’ says a health care information technology services business that already exists in Jacksonville is considering three cities for its expansion. They say the incentives are a ‘material factor’ for whether to choose Jacksonville,” WOKV says.

Jacksonville leaders have sounded the alarm for economic incentives, including passing a City Council resolution in support of Enterprise Florida this week.

The company, located in Southeast Jacksonville, seeks a $1.25M QTI grant. The company, unnamed as a condition of negotiations, has 300 employees — and would add 250 more.

Important, as Jacksonville reels from the massive cuts to the CSX workforce.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao taps Fiorentino as senior ports adviser

Addressing an American Association of Port Authorities event in Washington last week, POLITICO Florida reports that Chao announced Fiorentino, former chairman of the Jacksonville Port Authority, is serving as her senior adviser on ports. “We are less than two months old in this new administration, and I so desperately needed veterans and experts,” Chao told the gathering of port officials. “So please be assured that you have someone, your advocate, in the office of the secretary.”

JAXPORT honored for auto excellence

JAXPORT announced last Thursday that it picked up an award for auto excellence from Automotive Global Awards North America.

The 2017 Terminals and Ports Operator award recognizes the port for its collaboration with auto processors and ocean carriers and was presented at a ceremony in New Orleans.

More than 600,000 vehicles moved through JAXPORT during the 2016 fiscal year, and the port is home to three major auto processors which offer processing facilities as close as 100 yards from ship berths.

Jacksonville Armada FC topped NASL standings after a 1-0 victory against FC Edmonton Saturday night. The second-straight win leaves Armada FC undefeated. (Photo via Armada)

Kartik Krishnaiyer’s Armada recap

The Jacksonville Armada FC are off to a flying start — one that’s caught Armada fans and NASL watchers off guard. The club under Mark Lowery has beaten Edmonton in successive weeks by back-to-back 1-0 scorelines to race out to the top of the NASL table. The surprising start for the Armada puts the club in early contention for the most surprising team in any U.S.-based professional soccer league.

The Armada made quick work of the Eddies in Alberta on Saturday, recording the winning goal in the eighth minute. After an aggressive start, Jacksonville won a corner. Playing a short corner to  Zach Steinberger who was positioned at the corner of the area, resulted in a clean finish from the Armada midfielder into the bottom left corner.

Edmonton appeared shellshocked and didn’t really push the issue with the exception of an 18th-minute chance until the second half. In that second half though the Eddies pushed forward with numbers, creating several chances and half chances. Caleb Patterson-Sewell, the Armada goalkeeper, kept a second successive clean sheet, making four saves in the process.

“They put a lot of pressure on us in the second half,” said head coach Lowry, “but I’m a big believer that you have to stick to your principles. Our principles are trying to play, trying to pass the ball, and trying to build out from the back. Edmonton made it very tough for us to do that tonight but we stuck to it. If you stick to your principles, you get the reward.”

The Armada will test its fast start against the San Francisco Deltas at Hodges Stadium Saturday. Kickoff is 7 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally on beIN Sports.

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