Corrine Brown Archives - Page 6 of 36 - Florida Politics

Jacksonville Bold for 4.7.17 — See you at the crossroads

You may notice a running theme with this issue of Bold: much of it deals with crossroads situations (to borrow a phrase from 90s rappers Bone Thugs-N-Harmony).

Will the city dredge JAXPORT? Or will years of deliberation and consternation lead — as they so often do — to nothing?

Will Corrine Brown beat the rap on the One Door charges? Or will we see her in orange — delighting those outside the process, who see her as a caricature, much more than those who got to know and have worked with her over the years?

Will Lenny Curry sell his pension reform deal? If so, what will victory look like? And what happens to the mayor’s messaging, as the Alvin Brown era recedes further into the memory hole with each passing news cycle?

Will the city’s budgets stabilize?

Moving beyond the current issue, questions linger about what happens with Jacksonville in D.C.

Our local lobby presence is strong — but are both members of congress getting in appropriations requests for long-deferred infrastructural upgrades?

Does Curry manage to cash in on stumping for Trump?

Never mind other questions — like who the next city council president will be.

So many questions, and time will resolve them all.

Corrine delivers

Former U.S. Rep. Brown will spend a couple of weeks at the Jacksonville federal courthouse, the last live defendant in the One Door for Education case.

Wednesday’s status conference revealed the contours of the case. Both the state and Brown’s defense team will need about a week each to make their case in the trial starting April 24.

After a two-day jury selection process, the actual trial will start April 26.

Expect a couple of sitting members of Congress to testify on Brown’s behalf.

However, once the trial starts, don’t expect her to talk to the press.

“The one thing she respects is authority,” her lawyer said after the hearing.

An enterprising story

If Jacksonville had a statewide stroke, the fate of Enterprise Florida would not be an issue.

Yet another week saw city leaders preaching the gospel of incentives; this time, at a roundtable event at Florida State College Jacksonville.

Being Scott’s fourth visit to Jacksonville in a month (with a trip to Orange Park thrown in, making five for Northeast Florida), nothing really new was to be said.

Wednesday saw a Jacksonville City Council committee unanimously approve a resolution in support of Enterprise Florida.

While city leaders aren’t always pragmatic, most know full well Jacksonville needs incentives more acutely than other major cities in the state.

Hogan knows best

In 2015, Mike Hogan defeated current Jacksonville State Rep. Tracie Davis to become Duval County Supervisor of Elections. And two years later, Hogan is still throwing salt in Davis’ game.

Exhibit A from Tia Mitchell: Hogan lobbying Sen. Aaron Bean to water down a voting access bill.

In a Senate committee this week, a Bean amendment neatly eviscerated the intent of the bill, by allowing SOEs to opt out.

“Early voting being a project that I literally made my own while I was there, I’m very disappointed that Duval County was the only county today making a request to opt out,” Davis (a former deputy SOE) said.

The House version lacks an opt-out clause.

The waiting game

Jacksonville City Council Rules Chair Garrett Dennis is a Democrat on a majority GOP council. Faced with a loss on a controversial commission appointee, Mike Anania, Dennis had a novel solution Tuesday in Rules.

He ran out the clock.

The vote appeared to be headed toward a 4-3 party line split in favor of moving the abrasive Anania through the committee — his third vote by the body.

However, there is a rule this year by the committee: a 3:15 “hard stop,” to facilitate the special committee.

Anania’s appointment was the last item requiring a vote, and a meandering procedural discussion about whether there could be a truncated, quasi-probationary three-year term ate up some time.

Though the Republicans on council groused, wanting a vote, Dennis noticed the clock — and adjourned the committee, with Anania and the chair of the local GOP in the crowd.

The next day, Dennis was ready to outline his case to the Finance Committee — however, Anania withdrew his nomination, in a stunner of a move that, because it happened in committees, won’t go any farther than chatter among the city’s political junkies.

Jacksonville, Liberty Counsel spar over HRO judge

The Liberty Counsel wants Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance expansion (the city has LGBT rights now) thrown out.

They filed a case — and the judge’s mother is a prominent anti-HRO activist, one who was on a corporate board with Roger Gannam, the Liberty Counsel’s lawyer.

For the Office of General Counsel, that’s problematic — impeaching the credibility of Judge Adrian Soud.

The Liberty Counsel, meanwhile, asserts that there is no conflict of interest that would require the judge to be disqualified — and that the city’s claim is specious, desperate and untimely.

The city, meanwhile, thought the judge would recuse himself. But that didn’t happen, and the beat goes on.

Local preacher takes wedding on the road

Tough break for Rev. John Allen Newman. He wanted to marry reality show star/presidential aide Omarosa Manigault in his Jacksonville church — yet threats raised “security concerns.”

So Newman and Manigault are slated to get married in DC this weekend.

There are upsides to that, the Florida Times-Union reports.

For one, a White House rehearsal dinner.

And for another, a special surprise guest walking Manigault down the aisle.

Newman, arguably one of the most professorial Jacksonville pastors, likely never expected a wedding in the White House of the most bombastic occupant since Lyndon Johnson.

But politics makes strange bedfellows. And, by all accounts, the soon-to-be-newlyweds are headed for connubial bliss — with a yuuuge wedding ceremony in the nation’s capital.

Fanatics gets Majestic

Another audacious acquisition this week for sports merchandising colossus Fanatics.

Fanatics bought VF Corp.’s Licensed Sports Group — which includes the Tampa-based Majestic Athletics, the official Major League Baseball uniform provider until 2020.

Fanatics’ model involves acquiring licensing, often in collaboration with major sports leagues and collegiate conferences, and then aggressively promoting the product by dominating SEO and PPC.

Not bad for a company started in the 1990s as a retail store selling “Jagwire” gear in the Orange Park Mall.

JU professor finishes Jeopardy! run after two wins

Jacksonville University English professor Julie Brannon came up short on Final Jeopardy! Thursday, but she said she has no regrets about the way things turned out.

Brannon was the victor in two episodes of the show, with winnings totaling $47,000, but opponents out-wagered her Thursday, even though she had the right answer to the final question.

“I just threw down a number when I should have bet everything, but then I started second-guessing myself and that’s all she wrote,” Brannon said.

Brannon’s had to keep quiet about how her stint on the show went down, but now that her final episode has aired, Brannon is expecting a big check to arrive.

“They send them out after the final air date, so I’m not sure when I’m going to get them. I can’t spend it just yet,” she said.

JAXPORT gets new liquefied natural gas tanks

JAXPORT is now home to a pair of 260-ton cryogenic LNG tanks, thanks to the Crowley Maritime Corporation’s new shore-side fueling facility.

The massive tanks made it to Jacksonville on a vessel from Hamburg, Germany, and it took a special 26-axle trailer to get them to their permanent spot at the Talleyrand Marine Terminal.

The tanks will be used to provide a greener way to fuel up Crowley’s “Commitment Class” ships under construction for the Puerto Rico trade lane.

United Airlines chief talks global aviation at JU

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz will stop by the Jacksonville University business school next week to give a talk on the “Changing Global Dynamic Commercial Aviation.”

Munoz, the former president and chief operating officer of CSX Corp., has served in various financial and strategic positions at major brands such as Coca-Cola and AT&T. The talk is April 13 at noon at the Davis College of Business. It is open to the public.

Jumbo Shrimp look to make a big splash at Home Opener

When team owner Ken Babby decided to explore a new name for Northeast Florida’s Jacksonville Suns minor league baseball franchise, he knew there would be pushback. The decades-old Suns brand was well-known in the community, but Babby’s arrival in Jacksonville and acquisition of the team coincided with a renewed effort to rework and re-energize the city’s Class-AA ball team.

“This is a way for s to differentiate itself,” Babby told Channel 4 News. “We are not trying to be the NFL team in town or any other sports team. We are about affordable family entertainment. And that is what the Jumbo Shrimp are here to do and we are excited about it.”

Now several months beyond the new name — Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp — the energy is expanding far beyond Jacksonville. The team has sold merchandise in all 50 states and internationally to customers in Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, France, Germany, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Babby and fans across the city are eagerly awaiting the Shrimp’s debut April 12 at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. Tickets are available at the Jumbo Shrimp website.

Jacksonville Zoo Conservation Speaker Series

Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens presents its Conservation Speaker Series with Save the Frogs! — a discussion about the amphibian extinction crisis, and current threats facing amphibian populations, and what individuals can do to help. Event is May 11, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. with Michael Starkey, International Campaigns Coordinator and Ecologist, Save the Frogs! Ticket prices: Members, $30; Non-Members, $35; Children, $10. Ticket includes dinner, 1 drink, the presentation and a zoo experience with amphibians.

Jacksonville Zoo Garden and Art Festival

The Zoo’s Annual Garden and Art Festival will be April 22-23 from 10 a.m. — 4 p.m. The two-day event centers around the botanical gardens with a plant, tree, flower and art sale on the Great Lawn. The event is free with Zoo admission and features over 20 garden and art-themed vendors selling their products, plants and consultations. Enjoy live music, and sip on beer and sangria for sale while you shop. The First Coast Plain Art Society artists will also have booths spread out throughout the festival to enjoy. Garden Encounter workshops will occur throughout the day Saturday, and Garden tours will occur throughout the day Sunday.

On Saturday, April 22, Dr. Craig van der Heiden from the Institute for Regional Conservation will be speaking on the importance of native plants and the benefits of restoring gardens with exotics back to native fauna. The program is at 11 a.m. and free with Zoo admission.

Kartik Krishnaiyer’s Armada recap

Coming off a tumultuous offseason where founder Mark Frisch sold the club to the league with the intention of finding a new long-term owner, the Jacksonville Armada opened its 2017 campaign Sunday afternoon. UNF Hodges Stadium is the club’s new home, with a more soccer-friendly atmosphere, albeit one removed from the center of town, compared to the Armada’s former home of the Baseball Grounds.

A crowd of 3,472 fans saw the Armada won its season opener 1-0 against FC Edmonton. J.C. Banks scored the lone goal which gave the club who has finished near the bottom of the table in each of its first two NASL seasons an important victory to open the 2017 NASL campaign. Banks goal which came in the 78th minute was the perfect tonic for the home crowd that was seeing a squad largely made up of new players on a strict budget as the club is being managed by the league.

“I think everybody that got here is pretty hungry,” Banks said. “All the things in the offseason, we know you have to perform to stay in the business.” Neither side had recorded a shot on frame in the first 70 minutes but Banks says that inspired the team and coaching staff to push forward late on. ” Winning games and championships in this league is not always pretty,” Banks said. “With about 30 minutes to go, I turned to our staff and said, ‘There’s three points here. We can win this game.’”

Jacksonville is competing in a largely new-look NASL. Historic rivals Fort Lauderdale and Tampa Bay will not be competing in the league this season with the former taking a year off to reorganize its ownership and the later having shifted to the competing second division USL amid a push to join Orlando City SC in MLS. The Armada, led by Mark Lowery, who is entering his first full season as manager, has had to put together a playing squad in rapid fashion and in an economically efficient manner. The club’s future was uncertain until NASL stepped up and kept the club alive by buying the Armada in January. Lowery and his staff had to put together a squad in a short period — under two months, but the early returns are promising.

The team aspect that Lowery has emphasized was on display late on as repeated Edmonton attacks tested the defensive solidity of the Armada — but Jacksonville held and ran out worthy 1-0 winners.

The Armada play Edmonton again this weekend, in Alberta Saturday. Game time is 9 p.m. ET.

 

The unparalleled performance art of Corrine Brown

The next time I will see Corrine Brown — whom I still call “Congresswoman” — will either be inside a federal courtroom or walking to a federal courtroom.

I won’t speak to her. She won’t speak to me. For days, for weeks of trials.

That’s one of the rules of her trial regarding One Door for Education, her charity that prosecutors say was a slush fund.

I’ve had conversations with Corrine Brown that run the gamut.

____

In Baker County during her last campaign, a reflective conversation in which Brown painted a picture of herself as an advocate for her district (whatever the lines happened to be at the moment) against all odds.

She was in Grandma Corrine mode at that point, stumping for votes among a few dozen MacClennyites who seemed to regard her as more of a curiosity than a candidate.

After a debate in Jacksonville, one that she didn’t exactly win, Brown distinguished herself in a presser, posing a question: “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, recurred during a post debate presser.

“If I said ‘young man, you a pedophile’, that’s a charge; because somebody makes an accusation against you doesn’t make you guilty.”

But then I saw her in a courtroom. She turned around and apologized for berating me in the press conference. It was as if the spectacle had never happened.

Again, great theater. Every last bit of it.

_____

And it appears that Corrine Brown had to get one last show in before things get real.

On Wednesday in a scorching hot Hemming Park, Corrine Brown dispensed ice cream sandwiches from the mobile House of Honey Drippers.

Brown drew the media for the stunt (a “thank you,” as she told one television outlet).

The press saw her in a gregarious mood, and allowed her to present sympathetically for the television audience.

This was notable precisely because it was Brown’s last media hit — perhaps ever, but at least until her fate is decided by a jury of people who have no cultural knowledge of Jacksonville.

Corrine Brown is as Jacksonville as Maxwell House breezes: Jacksonville in all of its glorious contradictions — a woman who has been condemned by Democrats, and feted by pragmatic Republicans.

She did business — big league. She built a political machine so strong that it took Susie Wiles and a 24-count indictment to bring down. And as her trial will show, lots of people kissed the ring — and will have to admit it under subpoena.

___

With every passing news cycle, Brown becomes a more sympathetic figure. as time dampens the luridness of the original charges.

It doesn’t hurt her that Rep. Al Lawson, after seven months of knowing he was going to represent the district, and five months after a pro forma general election, still hasn’t figured out Jacksonville.

Politics is a business that doesn’t make sense to many on the outside: expect the witness list in the trial that begins later this month to reflect that, with loads of people from both parties almost guaranteed to testify.

Can Corrine Brown beat the rap?

It all comes down to reasonable doubt.

And the threshold for that appears to be growing wider — at least in the eyes of her lawyer — as the trial approaches.

If you ignore the sheer weight of the indictment, you almost might buy into that theory yourself.

No plea deal: Corrine Brown gears up for epic late-April fraud trial

Prologue: Nine months ago, a 24 count federal indictment dropped.

It changed Jacksonville politics — forever.

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.

As well, Simmons had his own issues: such as a rumored threatened indictment of his sister.

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.

Two members of Congress will testify on Brown’s behalf.

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.

From there, defense may require a week to make its own case

The court will hear corroboration of former co-defendants, and will dig deep into Brown’s income tax filings, with a forensic accountant in tow from the prosecution to go through those and the records of One Door for Education.

And Wednesday afternoon saw her final status conference ahead of that event.

And, as compared to the Reggie Fullwood trial earlier this year, which saw 14 counts reduced to two (with no prison time) in a plea deal, Brown will fight.

She has to maintain her innocence — and in doing so, she hopes to restore her reputation.

To that end, Brown will testify on her own behalf.

However, once the trial commences, she will not talk to the media — as per the judge’s direction.

“The one thing she respects is authority,” Smith told the press after the hearing.

____

No drama: The hearing in Jacksonville’s federal courthouse Wednesday afternoon, in the context of Brown telling reporters she was ready to go to trial, was necessarily anticlimactic.

Brown, wearing a suit that had letters on it that were oddly reminiscent of a word find puzzle, was resolute as she entered the courtroom after spending lunch hour in Hemming Park distributing free honey drippers on the unseasonably hot April day.

Presiding Judge Timothy Corrigan and Prosecutor A. Tysen Duva affirmed that there was nothing unusual to be discussed as the meeting began.

However, Brown’s lawyer requested a sidebar conversation — leading to the first (indeed only) bit of drama of the day.

After a five minute interval, proceedings resumed.

Whatever happened in the sidebar went unacknowledged.

And most of the hearing was quotidian housekeeping, a marked contrast to the pitched drama familiar to those following the case since last year, and to much of Rep. Brown’s career.

____

The Schedule: Jury selection begins Apr. 24 in Room 13-A, with two days expected to be the time frame.

Corrigan noted the “high-profile nature of the case will likely require individual questioning” of jurors. And jury selection could take longer.

The trial would kick off Apr. 26 at 9:30 a.m. in 10-D, stopping at 5:00 p.m. most days.

Apr. 14 would be the deadline for voir dire statements from the parties. Witness lists will be due on Apr. 14 also.

Subpoenas to elected officials, meanwhile, would require court orders, said Corrigan.

“I would urge you to get your subpoenas ready and get them served,” Corrigan declaimed.

Likewise, witnesses needing lawyers need to be brought to the court’s attention.

Corrigan noted that the case would be tried solely on “admissible evidence.”

“Whatever matters might be on people’s minds … they don’t play a role,” Corrigan said, including “opinions on the individuals.”

“I’m going to call on everybody to make sure we’re focused on the right things here,” Corrigan added.

The case, Corrigan emphasized, is to be tried in the courtroom — not the court of public opinion.

“Respect those boundaries,” Corrigan said, “and we will conduct a fair trial and one that’s worthy of respect.”

Media will be permitted electronic devices, in the spirit of an open and transparent process, Corrigan added.

___

Those in attendance can expect quirks.

A PowerPoint intro to the defense and redacted evidence from the prosecution among them.

As well, the idea of “interstate transfers,” so key to the Fullwood prosecution, will be brought up again — ironically, because of AOL servers, which are not in Florida.

As well, there will be a hard cap of 45 minutes on opening statements from both barristers.

Can a moderate ‘old white guy’ beat Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy?

We cannot even get to the halfway point in the Legislative Session without turning to future 2018 races — especially with one Orlando congressional seat poised to become one of the most hotly-contested in the country.

Why?

Orlando is emblematic of Democratic hopes for their party. For the better part of the last few decades, the area has been represented by typical conservative white guys — Bill McCollum, Tom Feeney, John Mica, Ric Keller — and a gerrymandered African-American from Jacksonville (Corrine Brown).

Now, Central Florida has three Democrats: an African-American woman, Val Demings, who was Orlando’s first female police chief, former state Senator Darren Soto, who while born in New Jersey his father is Puerto Rican, and the first Vietnamese-American woman elected to Congress, Stephanie Murphy. This is the Obama coalition, the so-called “coalition of the ascendant,” led by women, minorities, and young people (both Murphy and Soto are in their 30s).

So, what is the GOP answer?

Frank Torres at the Orlando Political Observer reports that David Simmons, the 64-year old Seminole County state Senator, is considering his first congressional run at an age when most Americans are considering retirement. The move would position Simmons to collect three government pensions: one from Social Security, one from the State of Florida and another from the federal government.

Small government is for suckers.

Simmons’ candidacy likely appeals to NRCC operatives who may be inclined to overlook his rather bland, dull, and prematurely aged look in light of his hefty bank account (Simmons is a multimillionaire, by the way).

As it happens, I like a good Republican, particularly of the Jeb Bush type. Every year, I support about as many Republicans as Democrats.

However, can Simmons’ compassionate voting record withstand a bruising primary campaign likely to favor conservatives?

In 2014, the Florida Legislature did something I thought impossible: It granted in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants. Simmons was an unapologetic “yes” vote. That will make it tougher for Murphy to attack Simmons as anti-immigrant, but harder for Simmons to survive his primary.

Similarly, Simmons backed Medicaid expansion in the Senate — effectively enlarging and entrenching Obamacare — a move that’s unlikely to endear him to conservatives but may insulate him from Murphy’s attacks.

While I think the personal contrast between the 30-something Murphy and the 60-something Simmons couldn’t be starker, policy similarities offer Simmons a fighting chance — if he can make it out of the GOP primary.

OK, enough politics, I’m back to an exciting committee meeting with your elected leaders debating whether the University of Moscow can have a vanity license plate.

Comeback kid? Corrine Brown begins defense in explosive TV interview

Former Rep. Corrine Brown has the best sense of theater of any politician in Northeast Florida. And she gave a Jacksonville TV station a one-woman show.

Brown, facing an April 5 status conference and an April trial for almost two dozen counts in federal court, stands alone now.

Her co-defendant and chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, pleaded out already.

However, Brown continues to maintain her innocence, telling WJXT‘s Lynnsey Gardner that she feels like she can beat the rap.

And that’s not just with one juror — Brown believes she can sway all of them.

In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with Gardner, Brown spills on subjects that have been points of speculation for months in some cases, longer in others.

Among them: Her defense strategy: the conspiracy, Carla Wiley and Ronnie Simmons; the golf tournament, Monica Isom, etc. What she knew about the financial transactions. What made her cry. Her message to the jury. Her message to lead federal prosecutor A. Tyson Duva and why she thinks he’s singled her out.

Brown disclaims responsibility: “I mean it was just like any charity I’m involved with. I’m not on their corporation papers, I’m not on their board, I’m not going to any meetings. How you going to charge ME? “

Brown discusses latter-day betrayals.

When Gardner mentions that some people see her as crooked, Brown says that “during time periods like this you find out who is on your side. You find out who your friends are.”

Brown also says that people ask her about her political comeback, should she beat the rap.

“Well, we will have to discuss that with my constituents,” Brown says. “I really don’t think the lord is through with me yet.”

Brown also solicits financial assistance from supporters!

“No amount is too small,” Brown — a defendant in a case about a fraudulent charity — said.

Expect this blockbuster interview on WJXT newscasts Monday evening beginning at 5:00.

Schedule confusion characterizes Al Lawson in Jacksonville

U.S. Representative Al Lawson may have had good intentions when choosing to spend the first part of an off week in Jacksonville.

But intentions are one thing. And delivery is another.

Lawson’s itinerary, arrived at last week, was pretty straightforward.

Among other things: the first-term Democrat from Tallahassee was to go to Eureka Garden on Tuesday afternoon, accompanied by Mayor Lenny Curry and Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis.

However, the plan did not come together.

For one thing, Lawson called an audible and made his Eureka Garden visit on Monday — Presidents’ Day.

Mayor Curry was camping with his family.

Councilman Dennis likewise was busy with personal business.

The end result?

With no local political backup, Lawson arrived with representatives of the management company and police officers inside and outside the community center at the Westside Jacksonville apartment complex.

He spoke in generalities about the improvements on the property, discussing potential collaboration with Sen. Marco Rubio on HUD reform.

Even so, there was a tone deaf quality to his remarks. From “Whenever I get my pay check, I think of you” to  his assertion that Eureka apartments — which made national news for months because of their issues — are “better than [his] apartment in D.C.,” Lawson’s presentation confused media on hand — especially those who have been immersed in the Eureka Garden story.

On Monday, Lawson announced his plans to accompany Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry on a neighborhood walk — something Curry does regularly in neighborhoods left behind by Jacksonville’s progress.

However, those plans were for naught.

Lawson decided to cancel his participation on the walk Tuesday, hours before it was to kick off.

This visit to Jacksonville was pivotal for Lawson, replacing Corrine Brown — who was an effective legislator in terms of constituent service.

Brown was a Jacksonville Congresswoman, no matter how far her district stretched.

Locals, before this week, saw Lawson as a Tallahassee guy.

How do they feel now?

Rep. Lawson had an opportunity to prove to locals that he was as committed to the needs of Jacksonville, the biggest city in the district, as to the farmland out west and the state capital.

He needed those photo ops with the mayor and Councilman Dennis.

More importantly, however, he needed those insights from politicians who understand, better than most, the challenges of the local community.

Corrine Brown won’t plead guilty, rebuffed in request for trial delay

It was never supposed to be like this for Corrine Brown.

The now-former twelve-term United States Congresswoman was one of the leading politicos in Jacksonville, upbraiding media that crossed her, and picking winners and losers in primary and general elections alike.

The slogan: Corrine Delivers.

The end of that era: July 6, 2016, when Brown and her chief of staff were presented with wire fraud, mail fraud, and other associated charges in a 24-count indictment that changed Jacksonville politics forever.

From that point on, delivery was refused.

Now, one by one, the acolytes have fallen off, like leaves from a windswept autumn tree.

The branches are barren now. The checks have stopped coming from Washington D.C. and from other sources, such as One Door for Education and her two federal PACs.

And the cronies have made their own arrangements, like members of a disbanded pop group.

****

Former aide de camp Von Alexander is no longer on the payroll, and can’t talk to Brown without counsel present.

Carla Wiley, who ran the non-performing One Door for Education charity which collected $800,000 over a few years, with all of that money going to Brown and her chief of staff rather than to helping poor kids with educational costs, awaits sentencing while cooperating with the Feds against Brown.

And that chief of staff?

He’s going to roll on Brown too.

Ronnie Simmons pleaded out on Wednesday, and — unless his cooperation is deemed valuable enough by prosecutors — is poised to spend 30 years in prison, and is on the hook for almost $1.8 million in restitution and fines. [Ronnie Simmons’ Plea Deal, in full.]

All of that prologue set the stage for a hearing in federal court Thursday, where Brown was slated to agree to the commencement of jury selection for her now-solo April trial.

Instead, she requested a continuance, with the rationale being that her defense was undermined by Simmons’ abrupt plea of guilty.

However, that request ultimately was denied, with the judge noting that, while Simmons’ plea may have surprised Brown, the plea came in five weeks before the Mar. 16 plea deadline.

That said, the defense has thirty days to formulate a “documented motion to continue,” including potential “impediments” to the April 28 start.

The motion must be filed by March 9.

****

The former congresswoman was not alone Thursday, despite betrayal by her inner circle

Brown was accompanied by a dozen supporters, most notably Martin Luther King III, as she entered the courtroom ten minutes before 2:00 p.m.

Wearing a purple dress, she was cordial as she faced her first hearing as the sole defendant in the One Door for Education case.

Though the Feds have reached out for a plea deal, Brown isn’t interested in that course of action at this point.

As her attorney, James Smith pointed out, Brown currently has a “firm intent” to go to trial.

****

U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan started proceedings by declaring previous motions in the case moot, with at least one related to Brown’s former co-defendant.

From there, the prosecution, via A. Tysen Duva, had its say.

Among the highlights of the government’s strategy: a forensic accountant will be called, and so will someone from the IRS, but neither as an expert witness.

Discovery, meanwhile, continues apace on Brown’s bank records, including the Friends of Corrine Brown bank account.

And the prosecution conducted a four hour interview with Simmons, which will lead to some discovery in itself.

And the government expects the trial to last nine days, approximately.

****

Then the defense spoke, addressing issues of reciprocal discovery and intentions going forward.

Smith does not intend to call an expert witness in.

He is happy with the pace of discovery, but is not ready to go to trial, given the government has access to information the defense does not.

Brown’s defense has been predicated on Simmons and she not being guilty, having been exploited by Wiley.

That ineluctably has changed, Smith said, and further investigation may be necessary.

Hence, a request for a continuance of at least 60 days, given that discovery is still coming in.

Simmons “said that he was guilty, but doing it all at the direction of my client,” Smith said.

Smith then said he wanted to “fully investigate Simmons’ background for other crimes he may have committed,” a remarkable position given Brown and Simmons have been close for “20 + years.”

“In many ways,” Smith said, “he was a son to her.”

The plea was a surprise to Smith and Brown both, the defense attorney said.

****

A. Tysen Duva rebutted Smith, saying that the previous status meeting precluded a continuance barring an unusual development.

A co-defendant copping a plea, Duva said, does not meet that threshold.

“The plea changes nothing,” Duva said.

The need to investigate Simmons’ background was characterized as a “red herring” by Duva.

And the defense strategy, said Duva, was “untenable.”

“The factual basis of the plea agreement was extensive,” Duva added.

Simmons told Duva that Brown knew what was going on related to One Door for Education and the schemes alleged in the indictment.

****

Smith rebutted Duva.

“From the beginning, Corrine Brown’s defense has been that Ms. Wiley was responsible for this,” Smith said, “taking advantage of Brown and Simmons.”

“Knowing that a co-defendant has just pleaded guilty … how can the government say this does not affect our defense?”

In a case that comes down to the credibility of the alleged co-conspirators, Smith asserted that his defense was undermined to such a degree that a continuance was necessary.

“This isn’t a very simple case at all,” Smith added. “Now the individual is saying … I’m guilty and I was ordered to do this.”

When pressed for why 60 days was needed, Smith said that there was an issue with “trying to find witnesses to impeach the credibility of Simmons,” given various issues leading to a reluctance to testify.

“This did come as a shock and surprise to us,” Smith said. “After receiving no notice of this short of an email notification … one of the things we intended to do this week was meet with Mr. Simmons … this fundamentally changes the direction this goes in.”

Judge Corrigan urged that he be told about those witnesses who might need counsel, so the trial is not “interrupted by those issues.”

****

Duva wasn’t finished.

If Brown can’t find witnesses in ten weeks, he said, another 60 days won’t help.

“Mr. Smith, there’s nothing to be gained in these additional 60 days,” Duva said.

****

Smith noted that he would have multiple members of Congress, and other high-profile figures, as character witnesses for Brown.

How that relates to the charges was left unsaid.

Corrigan noted that there may be “honest disagreement” between the two parties as to how many character witnesses are actually necessary.

“Whether you can call 15 members of Congress or only ten members … I’d rather have those discussions pre-trial,” the judge said.

Finally, Smith asserted that Brown does not intend to plead guilty, despite the government’s entreaties.

“The firm intent is to go to trial,” Smith said.

****

Judge Corrigan, after a recess, issued his ruling on the continuance request.

“I feel that would be kicking the can down the road,” Corrigan said. “Scheduling a three or four week trial is a difficult undertaking for everybody.”

“I’m not convinced an extra 60 days is going to benefit anybody,” Corrigan added.

As stated above, the defense has the option of filing a formal motion for continuance by Mar. 9.

“It’s going to take some persuading to convince me otherwise,” the judge said.

Barring any developments, the next status conference in this case will be Apr. 5 at 2:00 p.m.

And Corrine Brown will be in attendance.

****

After the hearing, Brown took questions from reporters.

The most notable quote?

When asked how she felt about Simmons’ betrayal, she asked plaintively how one does “sign language for a broken heart.”

Ronnie Simmons pleads guilty to two counts in One Door for Education case

On Wednesday, Ronnie Simmons, a co-defendant in the One Door for Education trial with Rep. Corrine Brown, pleaded guilty to two federal felony counts.

The timing was notable, as Brown and Simmons were slated to appear at a joint status conference on Thursday for jury selection for the April trial.

The symbiosis between Brown and Simmons, her chief of staff during her entire career in the U.S. Congress, is decades old.

Simmons pleaded guilty to Counts 1 and 18 of the indictment, withdrawing previous not guilty pleas. Meanwhile, other charges are to be dismissed if the plea deal is ultimately accepted.

Simmons will not be eligible for parole, and his sentence could be more severe than he expects, said Judge James Klindt.

As it stands, Simmons could face 30 years in prison, $500,000 in fines, and $1.287 million in restitution.

An appeal is precluded barring a sentence that is unusually harsh or against the 8th Amendment.

And he is expected to cooperate with prosecutors against his former boss.

Simmons is at liberty pending sentencing, which could be more than three months out.

****

The first count to which Simmons pleaded guilty: conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, with six different allegations rolled up into it.

The federal government alleges between late 2012 and early 2016, the defendants were involved in a “scheme and artifice to defraud,” a conspiracy driven by One Door head Carla Wiley who gave the checkbook and debit cards for One Door accounts to Simmons.

Simmons, Brown’s chief of staff, also controlled the finances for two Brown-associated PACs as part of this “unlawful plan.”

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

Brown, Simmons, and Wiley exploited Brown’s membership in Congress to fraudulently solicit and receive hundreds of thousands of dollars of payments toward One Door starting in 2011 on the pretense they would be used for charity.

Money flowed in and out of the One Door for Education account, despite the charity not actually distributing money for its intended purpose, with Simmons the regular conduit for outflows of cash from the account, filled with donations from leading Florida and Washington, D.C. political figures.

Funds were used for “luxury vacations” in Los Angeles, for skyboxes at Beyoncé concerts, and for walking around money.

The penalty for that count: 20 years, $200,000, or twice the gross gain of loss, plus three years of supervised release.

****

Theft of government funds constituted the second count to which Simmons pleaded guilty.

A “close family member” of Simmons, alleged the Feds, derived $735,000 of gross compensation from this scheme from 2001 to 2016, despite having done no real work for the money.

The “close family member” is a teacher in Jacksonville, a full-time role that presents schedule conflicts with political work such as “outreach specialist” and other fanciful titles.

Simmons himself was a co-signatory of the account, and used $80,000 of funds paid to his sister for personal use.

The penalty: 10 years, $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss, with up to three years of supervised release.

All told, Simmons could serve 30 years in prison, with $500,000 of fines.

Additionally, Simmons could be forced to pay $1.287 million in restitution to those defrauded.

Simmons was dispassionate when acknowledging the verdict and his understanding of the charges he pleaded guilty.

****

Brown and Simmons were indicted in 2016 on 24 charges combined, enumerated in a 46-page indictment related to the One Door for Education scheme.

The charity, which collected $800,000 from some of Jacksonville’s most prominent politicians and public figures, disbursed $1,200 of that sum.

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

If guilty of all counts, Simmons would have faced as many as 355 years and a $4.75 million judgment.

With Simmons reversing his original plea of innocence, the pressure is now on Brown to plead out or stand alone against the power of the federal government.

****

After the hearing wrapped, Simmons’ lawyer, Anthony Suarez, addressed the media, describing his client’s decision to “end his battle.”

Among the revelations: Simmons would “testify truthfully” if called to do so by the prosecution.

The decision to plead out, Suarez said, was made just two days ago, to offer him and his family “peace after a long year of struggle and anxiety.”

Simmons is now divested of his social circle, and will have to get “new friends, a new life,” Suarez said.

Corrine Brown co-defendant sets ‘change of plea’ hearing for Wednesday

The twists and turns of the trial of Corrine Brown and her former chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, continue even after she’s become a historical footnote in Washington, D.C.

The latest sudden development: a “change of plea” hearing that Simmons scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

Simmons had previously attempted to sever his case from that of his former boss, but within days of filing a motion to that effect in December, rescinded that motion.

Speculation has run rampant in the media as to when one of the co-defendants would finally separate from the other.

It appears that Wednesday’s hearing in Jacksonville will tell the tale.

****

The congresswoman from Florida’s 5th Congressional District, along with Chief of Staff Elias Simmons, face a combined 24 charges, enumerated in a 46-page indictment related to the One Door for Education scheme.

The charity, which collected $800,000 from some of Jacksonville’s most prominent politicians and public figures, disbursed less than $2,000 of that sum.

The balance of the money, prosecutors assert, was purloined for personal purposes, ranging from walking around money to skyboxes at Beyonce concerts.

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

For Simmons, it would be as many as 355 years and $4.75 million, if guilty of all counts.

The estimated restitution for Brown would be $833,000 — plus $63,000 in tax — roughly $897,000. For Simmons, the number would be over $1.2 million.

Will Wednesday’s hearing change the calculations for both?

****

Brown’s inner circle, predictably, has become increasingly separated from her.

At the indictment in 2016, the court pronounced that neither of the co-defendants could talk, outside of the presence of counsel, to Carla Wiley or Von Alexander.

Wiley ran the One Door for Education charity.

Alexander worked for Brown, while also working for the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, creating a conflict of interest.

****

Simmons’ plea could set into motion events that would lead to Brown’s plea.

Both co-defendants may be encouraged by the relatively light sentence rendered to Reggie Fullwood, a former state legislator who pleaded out last year on a count of wire fraud and a count of failure to file a federal tax return.

Fullwood’s sentence, rendered today: three years of house arrest, and just over $100,000 in restitution.

 

John Rutherford opposed controversial House ethics changes

For those watching to see how Rep. John Rutherford will function in Congress, the Jacksonville freshman congressman may have passed his first test.

Rutherford opposed Monday’s move by House Republicans to eviscerate the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.

That move has already been reversed, vindicating Rutherford’s position.

Rutherford committed to working across the aisle during a primary campaign full of pitched partisan rhetoric, and maintained that position through the November election.

And that commitment to bipartisan solutions animated his opposition to the offensive against OCE, as Rutherford believed that any reform should be a bipartisan effort of the House Ethics Committee.

Rutherford wasn’t the only Florida Republican opposed to the move; as Mitch Perry reported, Rep. Dennis Ross likewise opposed the move … one that was questioned by President-elect Donald Trump on Twitter Tuesday morning.

Florida Democrats urged Republicans to stand and be counted regarding their position on this matter.

“Floridians deserve to know which of their Republican members of Congress voted to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics last night,” said spokesman Max Steele. “If they would like to offer any justification whatsoever for why they feel there should be no ethics oversight for members of Congress, we’re all ears. After turning a blind eye to Trump’s historic corruption and conflicts of interest, it’s no wonder Republicans want a piece of the action.”

While some Florida Republicans did vote to “gut” the office, Rutherford was not one of them.

As Matt Dixon noted on Twitter, OCE oversight factored into Florida politics very recently, with high-profile inquiries from the office into the affairs of Democrats Alan Grayson and Corrine Brown.

For now, at least, the OCE appears safe from “reform.”

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