One Door for Education Archives - Florida Politics

Corrine Brown’s lawyer: Former congresswoman’s guilt is a ‘myth’

On Monday afternoon, in Jacksonville’s federal courthouse, Corrine Brown came one step closer to learning whether or not she can avoid time in prison.

But she did not get a definitive answer in court.

Convicted of 18 counts in a federal fraud trial regarding “One Door for Education,” a sham educational charity Brown and her cohorts raised money for and extracted money from between 2012 and 2015, Brown has continued to maintain her innocence despite the guilty verdicts and the preponderance of facts supporting them.

Monday saw Brown’s lawyer, James Smith, present motions for a new trial and for acquittal. Judge Timothy Corrigan noted he was not inclined to rule from the bench Monday on those motions, which were presented at great length anyway.

The motion for a new trial was predicated on an interesting concept: Is the Holy Spirit an external force?

Brown posits that the jury was corrupted because a juror was removed for deeply held religious convictions that told him Brown was innocent, and that the Holy Spirit guiding someone does not disqualify that person from jury service.

The acquittal motion was much more quotidian, contending that the government did not prove its case, as some One Door money went toward charity, and there was no hard evidence that Brown conspired to defraud donors.

Ahead of the hearing, we caught up with Rev. Jesse Jackson, who told us why he stands with Brown.

“Corrine delivers,” Jackson said.

We asked Jackson to weigh in on the charges, and he was more circumspect.

“I came as a friend,” Jackson said, “not as a lawyer.”

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Judge Timothy Corrigan noted that typically there is not oral argument on these motions; however, by special request from Brown’s attorney, he granted it.

“My purpose today is to listen to counsel’s arguments,” Corrigan said, noting he was “unlikely to rule from the bench” on these matters.

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Acquittal was the first motion to be considered.

Brown’s attorney contended that there was not “one fundamental piece of evidence” presented in the trial that established Brown’s guilt conclusively, despite the length of the trial.

The conspiracy charge — unproven, beyond the testimony of former chief-of-staff and co-conspirator Ronnie Simmons, Brown’s defense said.

“There may have been an occasional use of the shorthand, ‘One Door Is my charity,'” Brown’s lawyer said. But that didn’t add up to conspiracy.

Brown’s lawyer also contended that there were no claims that the money would “solely be used for scholarships” in pitches to donors.

Regarding the lack of scholarships given out by One Door, Brown’s attorney said “that’s not a crime.” Nor was there a contention that she would give out the scholarships, he said.

Evidence presented, meanwhile, was “circumstantial,” because the government lacked direct evidence of conspiracy.  And as a result, the government’s case rested in “myth”, such as portraying One Door as “Brown’s charity.”

Circumstantial evidence, Brown’s attorney said, led to Brown being convicted via “guilt by association.”

While Brown was associated with One Door and did solicit money and did derive benefit, the defense contends that doesn’t prove criminal intent.

Similar defenestrations of the government’s case on financial disclosures and fictional tax returns followed, with the case boiling down to Brown not being aware of the forms that were submitted over the course of years, as her crowded schedule precluded attention to those matters.

While these forms were “not done in a way befitting a person of her position,” and her financial affairs were a “mess,” that is not evidence of guilt.

The prosecution, via U.S. Attorney Michael Coolican, noted that “we had the facts on our side, and now we have the law on our side as well.”

“The defense is not saying anything different today than it did [during] the proceedings,” Coolican continued, hammering in on repeated instances of “fraudulent omissions” regarding pitches to donors, statements on tax returns, and so on — with Brown’s word being the only evidence to the contrary.

Evidentiary points, such as Brown holding blank checks from One Door, loomed large as evidence of Brown’s involvement.

“She had hijacked the charity, had her chief of staff take control of the finances, and was bleeding it dry,” Coolican said.

Brown’s attorney countered that the elderly Brown was taken advantage of by “thieves in her office,” and the fundraising events promoted by One Door in fact took place — even though the money did not make it to student scholarships.

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The motion for a new trial proceeded much along the same lines, with Brown’s attorney contending that the claim of the booted juror that he was getting insight on Brown’s innocence from “higher beings” did not disrupt the “deliberative process.”

“There was not sufficient evidence in the record to support the court’s conclusion,” the defense attorney said, given that the discharged juror never said he would ignore tangible evidence in favor of guidance from “the Holy Spirit.”

“Simply seeking guidance from a higher power is not a sufficient basis for a juror to be dismissed,” the defense attorney continued.

While Brown’s attorney believes his client got a “fair trial,” on this matter an error was made.

“Ultimately, we believe the court made a mistake here,” he said, because the conclusion was “not supported by facts.”

“Is it proper for a person of faith to be dismissed from a jury … we’re dealing with someone who said that faith motivated and provided guidance on the issues,” the barrister continued.

The upshot of the argument: sending the juror home deprived Brown of her right to a fair trial.

The prosecution, via U.S. Attorney Eric Olsham, countered that the juror said he “was told by his Father in Heaven that the defendant was not guilty on all counts.”

He claimed to have had “received … this mandate from a Higher Power,” and such reception rendered the juror unfit for deliberation.

A “more searching inquiry” was not required in that context, the state contended.

On the matter of the discharged juror, Corrigan noted that the matter today boiled down to “did I do the right thing” or not.

The government noted a preponderance of evidence that he did, based on repeated claims of having “received information” from said Higher Power.

Brown’s attorney was more bearish, saying that no evidence was provided that the juror couldn’t evaluate the case independently of his input from the Christian conception of the supreme deity.

“He was kicked off, and that violated Congresswoman’s right to a fair trial.”

This “mistake,” however, could be “corrected,” the defense attorney said.

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After the hearing, we attempted to get answers as to the status of Brown’s “legal defense trust fund,” which suffered a setback this week when a concert by gospel act Shirley Caesar was cancelled due to “inclement weather.”

We asked about the state of the fund, and about Brown’s ability to pay her attorney; for his part, he didn’t seem concerned about how much of the money owed to him will ever be paid.

As Brown’s supporters yelled messages of acclamation and affirmation behind her, and as Rev. Jesse Jackson stood nearby, Brown was silent.

 

God and the grift: Corrine Brown’s last hustle

Corrine Brown is promoting a series of fundraisers to defray legal expenses, including a concert at Bethel Baptist Church billed as “Praise with a Purpose.”

The Aug. 6 event: less than 24 hours before a hearing on motions to acquit and for a new trial on her 18 felony convictions related to assorted types of fraud involving a non-performing educational charity for which she fundraised and from which she got paid over the course of three years.

In what was a sycophantic interview with the host referring to Brown as the “people’s champ,” the former congresswoman managed to promote a concert and paint herself as a martyr of sorts, one whose legal travails are just happenstance, rather than the result of being the center of a sustained and prolonged conspiracy to defraud.

“Everywhere I go, people come up and tell me they are praying for me,” Brown said. “God wanted me to go through this to have us be more prayerful.”

“This white gentleman came up to me and told me ‘Corrine, we’re praying for you in Georgia.”

Prayers help, but they likely won’t solve Brown’s problems.

“This is a tough time for me because of the lawyers and bringing on another lawyer — maybe one or two — so I really need the community to financially support me,” Brown pleaded.

The host chimed in at that point: “That’s right.”

“There are 4,200 seats — I want every seat taken. We have $25 tickets, $50 tickets, $100 tickets,” Brown added.

The host went on to say that “the judge messed up” the trial, to which Brown exclaimed “that’s right!”

“The judge is hearing two motions — a motion for a new trial and a motion for acquittal,” Brown replied.

She clapped her hands together.

“That’s what I’m praying for.”

As the half hour wrapped, Brown talked about young people seeing her on the street and wanting to take a picture with her, saying they’d seen her on TV.

“You want to be on TV for the right thing,” Brown said.

Brown added that at least one busload of supporters is coming to Jacksonville’s federal courthouse for her doubleheader hearing on Aug. 7, urging those interested in supporting her to show up before the 3:00 p.m state.

Celebrities, such as Rev. Jesse Jackson, may also be in attendance — schedules permitting, of course.

In other happy news, Brown added that the Corrine Brown Regional Transportation Center in Gainesville will not be renamed, despite the best efforts of the pernicious “media,” as the public clamored to keep the public building named after someone convicted on 18 felony fraud counts.

Corrine Brown’s motions will fail, says Ronnie Simmons’ lawyer

Less than a year ago, Corrine Brown and Ronnie Simmons were yoked at the hip, as Congresswoman and Chief of Staff.

Less than six months ago, both were off the federal payroll — yet yoked as co-defendants in the One Door for Education fraud case.

Much has changed since then.

Simmons struck a plea deal with the feds in February, pleading guilty on two counts, with his sentencing contingent on substantial cooperation with the feds.

As part of that cooperation, Simmons had to testify against his old boss — whose attorney, in an otherwise torpid defense, actually brought the fire in the cross-examination.

Now, as Simmons waits to find out his fate, Corrine Brown seeks to alter hers, with motions last week for a new trial and an acquittal.

The motion for a new trial was predicated on a claim that the juror who got bounced because he was compelled in decision-making by the Holy Spirit was removed erroneously. And the motion for acquittal was predicated on essentially re-litigating the trial, to again make the case that Brown was a dupe of her staffer and his girlfriend, and she was too old and enfeebled to do anything about it.

Simmons’ lawyer, Anthony Suarez, spoke with FloridaPolitics.com’s Terry Roen in Orlando Wednesday. He is skeptical of these motions.

“I’ve examined the motions and believe they’re not strong enough because they don’t cite a lot of case law,” said Suarez. “They’re not going to be successful.”

He also said he anticipated the defense attacking his client.

“I compare it to the Whac-A-Mole game,” said Suarez. “The prosecutor and Brown took turns whacking my client.”

Suarez, from the beginning of pre-trial proceedings, was frank in saying that he expected a plea deal for his client — a marked departure from Corrine Brown, who was adamant in taking the case to trial.

In the post-trial strategy discussions, there still seems to be a wide divergence between the pragmatic Suarez and Brown, whose defense seems predicated on a cult of personality that effectively expired when Brown lost her primary to Al Lawson in August 2016.

Corrine Brown motions seek new trial, acquittal after fraud conviction

Is the Holy Spirit an external force? That concept is, improbably, what the appeal for a new trial of convicted former U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown is predicated upon.

Meanwhile, Brown’s lawyers also filed an acquittal motion late Thursday, contending that the government did not prove its case, as some One Door money went toward charity, and there was no hard evidence that Brown conspired to defraud donors.

New trial motion: Brown was convicted of 18 fraud and tax counts in May, and her lawyer made no secret of his intent to file for a new trial.

This motion is filed on unique grounds: the jury was corrupted because a juror was removed for deeply held religious convictions, and the Holy Spirit guiding someone does not disqualify that person from jury service.

On Thursday,  Brown filed her motion – and the Holy Spirit took a prominent role in the narrative, via the dismissed juror who some say was railroaded off the trial. And others maintain was just less than stable

“During deliberations, Juror 13 said the holy spirit had told him that Ms. Brown was not guilty. The Court found that the holy spirit was an external force, and dismissed the juror. After Juror 13 was dismissed, Ms. Brown was found guilty. The Court’s finding that the holy spirit is an external force is not supported by the record. There is a substantial possibility the holy spirit was actually the juror’s own mind or spirit1 telling him that one or more witnesses had not testified truthfully. Therefore, justice requires that Ms. Brown be granted a new trial,” the motion reads.

More on the juror: “Juror 13 told the Court that his religious beliefs were not interfering with his ability to decide the case based on the Court’s instructions and the evidence. A 37. He said he had followed the evidence, and that he was going to make a decision based on “what I think and believe.”

That included such as “guidance from Heaven.”

The motion takes Judge Timothy Corrigan to task also, for saying that religious mania/revelation is “disqualifying.”

“It’s not that the person is praying for guidance so that the person can be enlightened, it’s that the higher being — or the Holy Spirit is directing or telling the person what disposition of the charges should be made,” was how Corrigan summed up the construct.

The motion seems predicated on the assumption that this is a valid revelation, as if – somehow – this is to be taken at face value and not as evidence of mania.

“A juror’s reliance on a holy spirit bespeaks devotion to duty; not external influence,” the motion continues.

Brown’s defense asserts “that the Court’s determination that the holy spirit is an external force is not a credibility determination. The Court’s determination that the holy spirit is an external force is philosophical determination.”

In a career full of remarkable chutzpah, Brown’s latest gambit — invoking divine ordinance as a retroactive defense in a fraud trial where the government laid waste to her defense strategy — may not be great legal strategy.

But it is, as ever, incredible theater.

Acquittal motion: The defense contends that Brown was not found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

“The government asserted that the defendant and her coconspirators knew that at the time of the solicitations they intended to use some of the funds for their personal use and expenses. The failure to disclose this fact to the donors, according to the government’s theory, amounted to wire fraud and mail fraud,” the acquittal motion asserts.

However, scholarship funds were, the defense contends, actually derived from these events.

Regarding the fraud of which Brown was convicted, the defense contends that no evidence was provided of conspiracy to defraud between Brown and One Door CEO Carla Wiley. Meanwhile, in the case of Brown and former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons, the defense makes an interesting claim.

“Simmons testified that his theft of One Door for Education funds was often done at the direction of the defendant but he was not able to provide any corroboration for this claim. What stands out the most about Mr. Simmons’ testimony are the statements he made that eviscerated the government’s theory concerning the defendant’s guilt,” the motion reads.

Those in the courtroom may have missed that evisceration.

“Simmons provided exculpatory evidence on behalf of the defendant,” the defense said, as he contended that at least some of the funds went for charitable purposes.

Meanwhile, the government only provided “circumstantial evidence” that money collected from One Door donors made its way to Corrine Brown.

That circumstantial evidence included bank statements and video evidence of people taking money from the One Door account and cashing it out or putting it into Brown’s account.

The defense contends “the government asked the jury to speculate about the defendant’s state of mind, and to make a number of inferential leaps that were not supported by logic or the law. The government presented a purely circumstantial evidence case.”

“While the defendant did have a professional and personal relationship with Mr. Simmons, and a very limited number of interactions with Ms. Wiley, merely associating with certain people and discussing common goals and interests does not establish proof of a conspiracy,” the motion says, undercutting the existence of a conspiracy to defraud.

Wiley and Simmons, the motion reads, conspired — with Brown the unwitting, aged dupe: “a person who doesn’t know about a conspiracy but happens to act in a way that advances some purpose of one doesn’t automatically become a conspirator.”

Brown’s acquittal on certain counts of mail fraud and wire fraud, the defense says, only further undercuts the case: “At worst the defendant was extremely careless and reckless with the handling of her personal finances and her obligations to ensure that her financial disclosure forms were accurately completed.”

“In conclusion, despite the number of witnesses called, and the number of exhibits introduced, there is no doubt about the fact that there was no direct evidence of criminal intent. The government’s case failed to deliver because it did not provide sufficient the proof of criminal intent.”

Carla Wiley ‘One Door’ sentencing moved to Judge Timothy Corrigan

Federal Judge Timothy Corrigan is expected to sentence Corrine Brown later this summer on 18 counts related to a fraudulent educational charity, “One Door for Education.”

Brown is not the only One Door participant that will be sentenced by Corrigan, as Carla Wiley — the CEO of the charity — will also be sentenced by Corrigan,

Wiley’s sentence is contingent on cooperation with the federal prosecutors, and she provided it in her testimony in the Corrine Brown trial.

Judge Marcia Morales Howard noted in her order that since Corrigan tried the Brown case, it “appears these cases should be in front of the same judge.”

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Carla Wiley, the head of the One Door for Education charity, took the stand in one of the most anticipated testimonies of the trial.

Wiley had pleaded out already.

What was a mystery – how Brown’s machine took over a previously below-the-radar charity.

Part of it came down to love. Part of it came down to circumstance.

And all of it, said Wiley, amounted to fraud.

Wiley, who dated Brown’s chief-of-staff and former co-defendant, Ronnie Simmons, outlined something key to the prosecution case: a narrative that Brown had a key role in orchestrating the scheme, even though emails and surveillance video show that Simmons did most of the withdrawals from One Door and transfers to Brown’s accounts, along with cash withdrawals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wiley offered the charity for that use. And she gave Simmons the debit cards and checks, trusting him to “manage it correctly.”

“I thought it would be a good way to help, get a lot of exposure,” Wiley said, with her access to her mother’s scholarship fund restricted to online only.

“As he would write checks, he would sign my name,” Wiley said regarding Simmons.

Wiley and Simmons would discuss the account balance, via email and text. Brown was out of the loop on these discussions, Wiley said.

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

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

Wiley was schmoozing donors at certain events … and deciding to spend money raised: $140,000 total, she claimed on the stand. The money, extracted over three years, “came out pretty frequent,” Wiley said.

When asked about her biggest withdrawal, Wiley couldn’t recall.

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

By May 2015, tension had become notable, with Wiley bringing up the “trouble” in an email to Simmons, noting the money came in but wasn’t going out for charitable purposes. In that email, Wiley asserted that the treasurer had expressed concerns; that was a lie, but the real story was Wiley’s own concerns about the charity having become a scam.

Details – such as the lapsed 501(3)c status of One Door – went undisclosed to Brown, Wiley said.

Meanwhile, lavish romantic trips with Simmons and Wiley, by and large, were also outside the purview of Brown – though Wiley didn’t know One Door was funding the trips, she said.

Wiley said nothing to Brown or Simmons, and didn’t know they were working the same scam.

Corrine Brown trial coverage: GUILTY on 18 counts; motion for new trial pending

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown faced myriad federal counts related to conspiracy to defraud via what prosecutors call a fake charity: “One Door for Education.” Those charges include conspiracy to commit and aiding and abetting wire and mail fraud, and multiple counts of fraudulent filing of federal tax returns.

FloridaPolitics.com delivered deep-dive coverage of the entire trial: jury selectionopening statements; the government’s case, including exhibits and witnesses; the defense testimony, which mostly comprised of Corrine Brown on the stand; closing arguments; jury deliberation; the final verdict; and everything else that matters.

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After deliberation started Monday and spilled over into Thursday afternoon, a jury returned a unanimous verdict in the case of former United States Congresswoman Corrine Brown.

With 22 complex counts, it was inevitable that deliberation would take hours, if not days. It took three full days for the jury to resolve the multiple issues related to tax fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, and conspiracy in what was the political trial of the century in Northeast Florida.

Brown was found guilty on 18 total counts, which sets her up potentially for a prison sentence of over 300 years, and fines and restitution in the millions of dollars.

On Count 1 — conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud — the jury ruled that Brown was found guilty of mail and wire fraud both.

Counts 2 through 17 involved mail fraud and wire fraud. Counts 2 through 8 — mail fraud — come down to shipments of checks via FedEx; counts 9 through 17 — wire fraud — involve interstate wire transfers, emails, et al.

Graphics detailing these counts can be found below.

Counts 2 through 8 saw Ronnie Simmons and Carla Wiley at the other end of the mail solicited from donors, with the biggest pitch being for a check upward of $28,000 from a single donor.

The jury ruled that Brown was guilty on five of the seven counts: 2, 4, 6, 7, 8.

On Counts 3 and 5, Brown was not found guilty.

Counts 9 through 17 saw Simmons soliciting checks from donors on some, with some “pass-through” transactions reflected in some counts, through the Alexander Agency — the agency of former Brown part-time employee Von Alexander.

The jury ruled that Brown was guilty on seven of the nine counts: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 17.

She escaped a guilty verdict on Counts 14 and 16.

On Count 19 — scheme to conceal material facts on Congressional financial disclosure forms — the jury ruled that Brown was guilty.

Count 20 — scheme to conceal material facts — was predicated on “underreporting income” and “bogus” charitable deductions. The jury ruled that Brown was guilty.

Counts 21 to 24: four tax counts. 21 is to “obstruct and impede the due administration of Internal Revenue laws”, with false tax returns from 2012 to 2014 constituting the final three tax counts. Brown was found guilty on all.

Brown will not be imprisoned immediately, Judge Timothy Corrigan said. A sentencing hearing will be months down the road.

Brown exited the courthouse before 3 p.m., looking shaken as she was walked to a black Mercedes, pushing through a phalanx of cameras and mikes like Moses parting the Red Sea.

But there were no miracles for Brown. Only a helicopter overhead and a half-dozen supporters yelling “We love you, Corrine, no matter what!”

Brown’s lawyer, James Smith, said this is just part 1 of the process. While Brown “respects the verdict,” he will file a motion for a new trial.

Smith wouldn’t comment on the jury or the venue — two potentially dispositive factors in this case.

And, with no light in his eyes whatsoever, the Orlando lawyer said that “it may seem like the end of the game, but it’s really the first quarter.”

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Here’s what jurors considered:

By the numbers: The government claims that over $800,000 was raised from defrauded, duped donors. Of that, $330,000 of One Door money went to Corrine Brown events. And $141,000 of shady cash deposits coursed into her checking account from pass-through sources from 2009 to 2015.

Cash me outside: The government’s case is predicated on donor testimony, which boils down to Brown obliquely pitching the charity as a way to give to her, for reluctant Republican donors who wanted to give outside of normal campaign finance. They sought access; they got it.

But were donors actually defrauded? The defense has asserted that no promises were made saying that all donor money would go to scholarships for underprivileged children. And that Brown delivered on some charity — both directly and indirectly (via rainmaking) at these events.

Born to roll: With friends like Corrine Brown had, who needed enemies? Old staffers, ranging from former co-defendant and chief of staff Ronnie Simmons to former Jacksonville staffer Von Alexander, contend that Brown orchestrated cash deposits from One Door into her own account. Brown denies this.

Conspiracy theory: Brown’s take? They’re trying to destroy my life!” Brown contends that staffers handled her finances, and handled her taxes and the Congressional financial disclosure forms — thus giving her plausible deniability when it comes to not knowing why hundreds of thousands of dollars of shady pass-through money funded a lifestyle that often cost $10,000 more in a given month than Brown made.

Reasonable doubt: Can Brown convince one juror that she is not provably guilty? Can she do that on all 22 counts she faces? Brown’s defense has been predicated on the emotional appeal, with her saying, over and over again, that she would never have taken money from the scholarship fund for her own expenses. She’s pinned the blame on Ronnie Simmons. Will jurors buy it?

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The counts:

Count 1: conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.

Counts 2 through 17: mail fraud and wire fraud. Counts 2 through 8 — mail fraud — come down to shipments of checks via FedEx; counts 9 through 17 — wire fraud — involve interstate wire transfers, emails, et al. Graphics detailing these counts can be found at the bottom of this piece.

Counts 2 through 8 saw Ronnie Simmons and Carla Wiley at the other end of the mail solicited from donors, with the biggest pitch being for a check upward of $28,000 from a single donor; Counts 9 through 17 saw Simmons soliciting checks from donors on some, with a number of “pass-through” transactions reflected in some counts, through the Alexander Agency — the agency of former Brown part-time employee Von Alexander.

In the cases of Alexander and Simmons, the alleged co-conspirators have asserted they did their deeds at Brown’s behest, and they felt they “couldn’t say no” — thus constituting a conspiracy, in the government’s argument, with Brown atop.

Count 19: scheme to conceal material facts on Congressional financial disclosure forms — which failed to reflect Brown’s “extra income” from One Door and other pass-through sources.

Count 20: scheme to conceal material facts on tax forms — predicated on “underreporting income” and “bogus” charitable deductions to various Jacksonville nonprofits. The donation inflation was big: over $27,000 a year between 2009 and 2015 (off $6,600 a year of actual, provable charity).

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

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What’s next: Jury deliberation continues. 

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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