One Door for Education Archives - Florida Politics

Feds want Corrine Brown locked up during appeal process

Federal prosecutors filed a motion Sunday opposing Corrine Brown‘s plea to be released on bond, pending appeal.

Brown, sentenced to five years in prison, is expected to report to the Bureau of Prisons in January.

Brown’s motion, per the feds, is “without merit and should be denied.” And while an appeal is pending, the feds believe she should be locked up.

Brown’s appeal is predicated on the removal of a juror who believed that “higher beings” said Brown wasn’t guilty; the Feds dismiss that as an immaterial objection.

Brown was found guilty earlier this year, her protestations of innocence notwithstanding, of a laundry list of 18 charges: among them, conspiracy to defraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, tax fraud, and fraudulent financial disclosures.

All of this tied to a nonperforming educational charity — One Door for Education — that was used as a slush fund by Brown and her co-conspirators for a period of years, with over $800,000 being funneled through the charity by the end.

She has never admitted guilt, except for saying she trusted without “verifying,” in a November plea for “mercy and compassion.”

Corrine Brown lawyer: ‘This court does not have the last word’

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown was sentenced to five years in prison on Monday, along with three years of supervised release, $62,650 to the IRS, $452,000 of additional restitution and $664,000 of forfeiture.

But she shouldn’t be fitted for an orange jumpsuit just yet, according to Brown’s attorney, James Smith,.

“This court does not have the last word concerning the Congresswoman’s fate,” Smith told reporters in front of the federal courthouse in Jacksonville just minutes after the sentencing.

“I don’t think that a sentence of imprisonment was warranted under the circumstances,” Smith added, noting his disagreement with the “idea that a 71-year-old woman should have to go to prison for a non-violent economic offense.”

Smith said that while Brown “maintains her innocence … she expressed remorse for trusting the wrong people.”

An appeal is pending; however, whether Smith represents her has “yet to be decided.” Smith did address rumors that Brown has not been paying him by saying that he has, in fact, been paid through this process.

“If she says she wants me to represent her in appeal,” Smith added, “I’d be more than honored to.”

“The resources [for] an appeal,” Smith continued, “she’ll get them one way or another.”

Brown may be able to be out on bond pending appeal, Smith said, noting that there are “good grounds” on what he considers to be “appealable issues.”

Though Smith didn’t discuss such issues, one issue that factored into the actual trial phase was a removal of a juror who believed, against the consensus of the rest of those empaneled, that Brown was innocent. That belief was rooted in direct communication with God. Once that juror was removed, deliberations went quickly.

Smith said this sentence was on the “heavy side” of public corruption sentences, because of the dollar amount and the tax issues.

“The sentence of imprisonment was imposed to send a signal,” Smith said, not for specific deterrence regarding Brown.

Some counts, Smith added, could be thrown out on appeal — as happened in the case of William Jefferson, a former Louisiana Congressman convicted for soliciting payments to push African business interests in the U.S., as NOLA.com reported.

“One of the options on appeal is that this entire process could be thrown out on appeal — both the conviction and the sentencing,” Smith said.

Corrine Brown sentenced to 5 years in prison, will appeal sentence

The slogan of purported educational charity One Door for Education was “we make your educational dreams a reality.” On Monday, Corrine Brown and her co-conspirators in the years-long scheme got an education of her own about reality.

That reality: a future of incarceration and reimbursement of those defrauded over the course of years on their behalf.

After a legal ordeal lasting the better part of two years, Corrine Brown and her two co-conspirators in the One Door for Education case — former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons and the former CEO of the charity, Carla Wiley — faced sentencing Monday morning in a Jacksonville courthouse.

The sentencing essentially gave voice to the jury’s verdict, with Judge Timothy Corrigan noting that Brown’s comments were “reprehensible” at times, such as when she said the Pulse massacre happened because the FBI was too busy investigating her.

Brown got a sentence that reflected a spirit of “general deterrence,” a sentence “in the mainstream” of public corruption cases in recent years. In other words, the judge did not go easy on her.

“A sentence of probation for a member of Congress convicted of 18 counts would not be sufficient,” Corrigan said.

Brown got 60 months in prison, three years of supervised release, $62,650 to the IRS, and $452,000 of additional restitution, and $664,000 of forfeiture.

Brown will appeal, though attorney James Smith has yet to determine if he will see that appeal through.

Simmons and Wiley, meanwhile, got lesser sentences.

Wiley got 21 months in prison, three years of supervised release, $452,515 in restitution is owed also, along with a $654,000 forfeiture judgment.

Simmons, meanwhile, got 48 months in prison, three years of supervised release, $452,000 of restitution and an additional $91,000 to the House of Representatives for pay for a phony employee of Brown’s staff. An additional $721,000 of forfeiture is due.

Brown, Simmons and Wiley have 14 days to appeal, and will be allowed to voluntarily surrender to the Bureau of Prisons no earlier than Jan. 8 2018.

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Brown was found guilty earlier this year, her protestations of innocence notwithstanding, of a laundry list of 18 charges: among them, conspiracy to defraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, tax fraud, and fraudulent financial disclosures.

She has never admitted guilt, except for saying she trusted without “verifying,” in a November plea for “mercy and compassion.”

Judge Timothy Corrigan spent the better part of three weeks evaluating the proper sentence for Brown, Simmons, and Wiley; he noted that he received “hundreds of letters” on Brown’s behalf before and after the November sentencing hearing, and lauded Brown’s defense for making “good arguments on Brown’s behalf.”

That said, Corrigan did not downplay the nature of the “shameless fraud” committed by the One Door 3, nor the gravity of “lining the pockets” of the co-conspirators with over $833,000 in misbegotten funds between 2012 and 2015.

$330,000 went to events held in Brown’s honor, Corrigan said, events that had “nothing to do” with One Door or charity for children. $93,000+ went to ATM withdrawals, and other monies were dispersed to Brown and her co-conspirators, Corrigan noted, for pleasure trips and incidental expenses.

“The public had a right to expect,” Judge Corrigan said, that Brown and Simmons would not “abuse their positions of public trust and responsibility … this was a crime borne of entitlement and greed … bad business.”

Corrigan also noted that none of the donors — millionaires and billionaires — were “ruined” by their donations, adding that many of them were effectively transactional and driven by “mixed motives.”

Brown was dinged for “abuse of position of trust,” which facilitated victims placing a “special trust” in the defendant.

“Brown traded on her status as a member of Congress to facilitate donations to One Door,” Corrigan said.

As well, “obstruction of justice” did not apply to Brown, per Corrigan’s calculation. Despite there being “incredible … untruthful testimony” that was “hedging, non-committal, off-topic,” that didn’t amount to perjury.

That was the sole bit of good news, as Corrigan said that “brazen doesn’t begin to describe” the scheme.

Sentencing looms for Corrine Brown, but will justice be served?

Sentencing looms Monday morning for Corrine Brown and her two co-conspirators in the One Door for Education case.

Brown, her former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons and the former CEO of the charity, Carla Wiley, almost certainly face prison time and restitution.

Brown is looking at $1,179,459.25 in restitution and fines; she also could face up to nine years in prison, although prosecutors were willing to settle for five during her sentencing hearing last month.

The feds are willing to give Wiley as few as 21 months and $452,515.87 in restitution/fines, and Simmons as few as 33 months and $544,137.25 in restitution/fines; both sentences were granted a sentence reduction due to “substantial assistance” in the case against the former U.S. Representative.

Of course, prison time isn’t actually required in this case. Judge Timothy Corrigan will ultimately make the decision, having mulled it over since the mid-November sentencing hearings.

Assuming that Brown (and Simmons and Wiley) get prison time and get put on the hook for restitution, it’s pretty easy to anticipate what comes next.

Many of the same folks who have flooded comment threads with “lock her up” messages will flood the block again with memes, perhaps even with clever wordplay about “Chlorine Brown” or “Go Gata,” or maybe an iconic meme (Kermit the Frog sipping tea?).

And for what? The prospect of a 70+ year old woman, one who has trouble climbing stairs, one who clearly is of diminished mental and physical capacity, going to prison.

People yearn for the ritual destruction. There are those reading this who have imagined Brown in an orange jumpsuit so much that it qualifies as a fetish.

That says more about the critics than it does about Brown.

There has always been a certain air of corruption around the Brown operation.

Consider the Lexus that an “associate” of a West African millionaire bought her daughter in 1998, after Brown lobbied Attorney General Janet Reno to keep him out of prison. The House Ethics Committee found no evidence of explicit wrongdoing, yet contended that the gift “created substantial concerns regarding both the appearance of impropriety and the reputation of the House of Representatives.”

The car was sold once the media took interest in the matter.

Consider the case of her travel agency. In the early 1990s, Brown’s State House employees double dipped working at Brown’s travel agency. It may or may not have been on state time.

The Orlando Sentinel quoted the settlement: Brown ”recognizes that she should have been more diligent in the handling of the business affairs of her travel agency and regrets any inadvertent violation of the law that may have resulted.”

These matters skirted the boundary line between apparent impropriety and legal culpability.

The current case, according to a jury of Brown’s peers, crossed that line.

Brown, during her hearing last month, made the case for “mercy and compassion.” And — as was the case when she got dinged for travel agency issues — castigated herself for “trusting without verifying.”

“I have always strived to protect my name and my reputation … I never would have put anyone intentionally in this situation,” Brown added, saying that “these charges … run contrary to everything I am and everything I’ve done in my life.”

Is that for real? If it’s not for real, is it real to Brown?

While the supporters of Brown that assembled for TV cameras during the trial were a rather motley lot (including some paid supporters), the reality is that there are very important people in the Jacksonville political sphere who believe that Brown is not guilty.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, who will lead the Senate Democrats after the 2018 elections, said Brown “says she is innocent and that is that!”

Former Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney — who was a defense witness at the trial, and who has spoken positively of her throughout this process — observed last week that “The swift and complete condemnation came before the facts were even understood. And to be honest, to this minute I don’t think she was guilty—I really don’t think she knew.”

Delaney believes that, in terms of the charges, Brown is innocent.

Want to dismiss him? Good luck.

Delaney, currently the president of the University of North Florida, was once Jacksonville’s general counsel. Before that he was an assistant state attorney, where he handled plenty of prosecutions.

Did Brown know what she was doing? Or what was being done in her name?

During the one-woman show that was her defense during the trial, Brown asserted that prosecutors were “trying to destroy [her] life,” by continually contending that she knew that money was being taken from donors, that her tax returns had fraudulent omissions and additions, and that she was the mastermind of the scheme.

She couldn’t convince anyone in the courtroom otherwise. At least, anyone but those who came in convinced that she wasn’t guilty, and that the whole sorry affair was a frame job.

Monday brings a resolution of sorts. We will learn Brown’s final sentence.

But will that sentence be justice in the real sense?

Corrine Brown bids for ‘mercy & compassion’ in emotional sentencing hearing

Thursday saw Corrine Brown make her case for sentence leniency in Jacksonville’s federal courthouse, ahead of a Dec. 4 sentencing date.

Brown, convicted of 18 felony counts in the One Door for Education fraud case this year, saw her co-conspirators turn on her in the trial; their “substantial cooperation” may earn them shorter prison stretches.

Prosecutors insist on Brown getting prison time.

However, Brown was supported by emotional testimony, including Rep. Sheila Jackson-LeeMarissa Alexander and more, along with an emotional apology for letting the three-year One Door scam happen under her nose.

Brown’s own sentencing memo cited her lack of criminal history, her history of public service, and the unlikeliness of recidivism as mitigating factors, noting that there was no “statutory requirement” that she be sent to prison.

Beyond a cavalcade of character witnesses on hand, Brown also had epistolary support from those who have known her for decades: approximately 100 letters, “99 percent” of which were in support of Corrine Brown — and all of them were read, said Judge Timothy Corrigan.

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Objections: Brown’s attorney, James W. Smith III, kicked off the hearing with objections to the sentencing guidelines, given that Brown continues to maintain her innocence. Among his objections: the calculated loss amount, which Smith said was just an inflated estimate, with money spent on events ($330,000) erroneously added to push the level above $550,000.

“The money solicited for events was actually used for events,” Smith said, speaking of the golf tournament and other fundraising events under One Door auspices. “Brown told the donors that the money would be used for various events … every event did in fact take place.”

Smith also countered the government’s assertion that Brown lied on the stand, and had letters produced in support of phony charitable deductions.

The government, meanwhile, objected that the loss totals were too low, noting that a $10,000 check for a vanity magazine publication was left out of calculations, pushing the number to $644,000.

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The government’s case: U.S. Attorney A. Tysen Duva began his presentation, distilling the government’s case against Brown into roughly half an hour.

Duva argued that there was “absolutely no intention ever to raise money for scholarships” through the various events over the three years of her raising money for One Door, despite claiming such to donors — a “who’s who of the business community.”

Duva also said that Brown, Carla Wiley, and Ronnie Simmons taking money donated for events represented a concerted effort to expropriate donor cash for personal spending, passing the “reasonable foreseeability” threshold.

While there were things that each defendant did that the others didn’t know about, Duva contended that the preponderance of evidence supported the evidence of conspiracy.

Duva also argued that Brown’s “flat denial of criminal conduct” and “fabricated” attempts to pin the blame on Simmons “simply wasn’t credible and was a lie,” supporting the claim of perjury.

“The lies came both on direct and cross examination,” Duva asserted. “Corrine Brown committed crimes on that witness stand. She lied for hours on end.”

Duva outlined specific lies about checks and disbursements, the role of hired assistant Von Alexander and others in her employ, and the probity of the FBI and IRS — narrative tropes that are familiar to those who followed this case closely earlier this year.

Duva also contended that Brown exploited her position of “public trust,” scuttling relationships of long-standing to exploit donors’ “benevolent bent for education” — including donors who wouldn’t have otherwise cut checks.

“She knew where to hit ’em, how to hit ’em, and she did it time and time again,” Duva argued.

Finally, Duva raised objections to criticisms raised by Brown of the unfairness of the trial and the justice system as “totally ludicrous … nonsense.”

“She’ll probably go out today and say something. She can’t help herself. That’s who she is,” Duva said.

Duva went on to note that Brown cast aspersions on FBI investigators for spending time on her instead of stopping Omar Mateen, the man who committed the Orlando Pulse massacre, calling them ludicrous — and also linking them into a larger narrative designed to destroy the credibility of investigators.

Duva took exception to “inflammatory” comments, such as Brown saying that she’s “not the first black legislator to be targeted, and won’t be the last.”

“She got targeted because she committed fraud,” Duva said. “For no other reason.”

Brown’s misrepresentations, Duva contended, merited a harsher enhanced sentence — and definitely not probation.

“Imprisonment,” said Duva, “is undeniably necessary.”

And probation, Duva said, “is not an appropriate request. And not an appropriate result.”

Attempting to further thwart attempts at pathos, Duva said that Brown “is not too old for prison,” given that she’s “vibrant,” “looks relatively healthy,” and would have run for re-election in 2018.

The lowest possible sentence Duva finds acceptable: 60 months.

For Duva, One Door is part of a larger pattern of fraud, including eight years of false tax reporting and dummied up charitable contributions. However, Brown’s attorney, witnesses, and the Congresswoman herself were to contend differently.

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Sheila Jackson-Lee, Marissa Alexander lead witness parade: Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee was the first of the 15 character witnesses scheduled; she appeared by phone.

Jackson-Lee described it as a “privilege” to characterize Corrine Brown as the most “soft-hearted and loving person” to serve in Congress, one with a dedication to helping others.

Jackson-Lee lauded Brown’s work for rebuilding a New Orleans hospital for Veterans that was wrecked in Hurricane Katrina, showing “the character of giving to others unselfishly.”

“There was no more eloquent voice,” Jackson-Lee said, citing Brown’s “character of spirituality.”

“We miss her,” Jackson-Lee said of her former colleague.

Marissa Alexander, who Brown defended vigorously against an overcharge from former State Attorney Angela Corey in a “stand your ground” case in 2012, noted that “it’s ironic that I’m here today, doing for her what she did for me in court.”

“Because of that, I’m here for you today,” Alexander said to Brown, “instead of serving a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence.”

“There’s a difference between transactional leadership and transformative. 71 years old, and she continues to be transformative,” Alexander asserted.

Orlando Bishop Kelvin Cobaris also spoke to Brown’s character, describing her as “devoted, faithful, and committed” over the course of her 24-year career “to the needs of Veterans and others.”

Cobaris, president of the African-American Council of Christian Clergy. noted Brown’s organizing of job fairs, and lauded her for delivering on needs that “local officials couldn’t get done.”

Richard Danforth, President of the Jacksonville Urban League, spoke of a 50-year friendship with Brown, his children’s godmother.

Pastor Rudolph McKissick Sr. spoke of pastoring for “Sister Corrine” for 45 years, speaking of her as a “Christian woman,” and lauding her as “one of the great persons of our time.”

“She made sure that she worked for all people,” McKissick asserted. “I pray that mercy be given unto her.”

And a former Jacksonville city employee, Andre Martin, spoke of Brown bringing federal funds home for projects like the Automated Skyway Express; he estimated that she has brought “billions” of dollars of economic benefit to Jacksonville.

Others spoke to Brown’s charitable spirit, including a young woman who got a computer from Brown in 2006 — a device she retains to this day, a retired Colonel who spoke to Brown’s work corralling donors to stave off closure of the Five-Star Veterans Center, and another gentleman who spoke to Brown’s help in getting people home loan modifications that saved their homes.

“It wasn’t just saving people’s homes. It was saving people’s lives,” he said.

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Corrine Brown speaks: “I am sorry that you have to be here today to see me in this situation. I have always strived to protect my name and my reputation.”

Corrine Brown, in an emotional, but brief, speech, castigated herself for “trusting without verifying.”

“I never would have put anyone intentionally in this situation,” Brown added, saying that “these charges … run contrary to everything I am and everything I’ve done in my life.”

Brown asked for “consideration” and “mercy and compassion”, urging that “everything she has done in her life” be taken into consideration.

Brown’s attorney, James W. Smith III, then took over.

He reiterated his case that the amount of the financial loss to donors was overstated, asserting again that donors were not misled, and that “there’s been a twisting of the facts regarding what happened with these events.”

He also reiterated his contention that money taken by Wiley and Simmons should not factor into Brown’s calculation.

Judge Timothy Corrigan spoke up, finally, asking Smith about inconsistencies in Brown’s testimony adding up to obstruction of justice — a contention of the federal government.

Smith attempted to draw a distinction between perjury and “the facts as she saw them.”

“How do you sentence someone who is a legend,” Smith asked, as he began to break into tears.

Smith noted that Brown “sometimes says things that are rude and inappropriate” in no small part because she remembers a time when America didn’t recognize the humanity of African-Americans.

“It’s easy to dismiss those issues if you didn’t grow up poor or working-class or black or a woman in the 1950s and 1960s in Florida,” Smith said, noting that many people look at Brown and “see themselves, and what they can be and do, if the barriers of racism and sexism are removed.”

One African-American lawyer from Jacksonville told Smith that “to us, she was our Martin Luther King. We were raised to believe that there were certain places we couldn’t be. Jacksonville’s a very unique town, and there were some places we were told we couldn’t be.”

Such as Congress, where Brown “broke the glass ceiling” in 1992.

“If you recognize what she had to do to achieve that,” Smith said, “to become one of the most respected politicians in the United States … none of them had to push the boulder up the hill.”

Though “sometimes as a 71-year-old black woman she’s reminded of the scars,” Smith’s contention is clear.

That Brown’s life work should be dispositive, and that the One Door era is, by no means, the full measure of her legacy.

Will all of that add up to probation? An opportunity to live out her years serving the community, working with service organizations that would happily have her offering her unique talents to them?

That’s the question to be answered Dec. 4.

Corrine Brown to apologize during sentencing hearing

Thursday sees Corrine Brown making a case for sentence leniency in Jacksonville’s federal courthouse.

Brown was convicted of 18 felony counts in the One Door for Education fraud case this year.

Her two co-conspirators, charity CEO Carla Wiley and former Brown chief of staff Ronnie Simmons, came out of Wednesday’s hearing looking at shorter prison stretches than might have seemed possible when they pleaded out.

The feds are willing to give Wiley as few as 21 months, and Simmons as few as 33 months; both proposed sentences were reduced due to “substantial assistance” in the case against the former Congresswoman.

The feds insist on prison time for both of them — and for Corrine Brown as well, who they frame as the ringleader of what one prosecutor called “one of the top two or three public corruption cases in the history of this courthouse … a significant case” with “deplorable conduct” by a Congresswoman and her chief of staff.

Brown will apologize on the stand Thursday, said Brown’s attorney, James W. Smith III.

But make no mistake: the apology will not be for the crimes for which she was convicted.

“She will take accountability for not having better measures in her office to make sure these things didn’t take place,” Smith asserted Wednesday afternoon.

And that’s where the apologies likely will stop, as the feds will make the case that prison time is needed, and Brown and her attorney (and witnesses) will

But will prison do any good? That’s an open question for who noted after proceedings Wednesday that in cases like this — “non-violent economic offenses” — it’s useful to consider that “we’re dealing with human beings here.”

Human beings in what Smith sums up as a “tragic situation.”

Indeed, every story in this case is a sad one. Wiley, who saw a charity dedicated to her mother transformed into a vehicle for money laundering. Simmons, who rose from adversity to handle the mechanics of that scam.

And Brown — the Congresswoman, called “Queen Corrine” by her admirers, and called all kinds of other things by her detractors.

“She’s still revered here in Jacksonville,” Smith noted, describing a potential path to “restorative justice” for Brown that would include marshalling her noted fundraising skills for “a number of community service organizations that could benefit.”

This kind of “community service” work — ironically, the work that One Door was supposed to be doing — is a better way, Smith said, “to get people on the right path rather than punishing them excessively.”

Smith is realistic; he knows prison time is likely, despite his belief that restorative justice would be the appropriate way forward.

If that happens, “for a period of time she will be deprived of her liberty.”

We asked Smith how Brown was as she prepared for Thursday’s hearing.

“Nervous,” he said, “but also confident. She has a compelling story to tell, and she’s looking forward to witnesses speaking on her behalf.”

Indeed, 22 witnesses are slated: everyone from Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee and Marissa Alexander to former city of Jacksonville employees and people who have benefited from her charity.

These witnesses, Smith said, will “paint a picture” of a Corrine Brown that is more than the sum total of these convictions.

Smith urges sentence leniency also because this case isn’t like other public corruption cases, such as the recent convictions of former Reps. Chaka Fattah and William Jefferson.

“They allowed their offices to become corrupt,” Smith said, with favors available “to the highest bidder.”

Remarkably, Ronnie Simmons’ attorney said during Wednesday’s hearing that Brown’s operation was “pay to play.”

“The corporate culture of Corrine Brown’s office was to do business the way she told you to do business,” Anthony Suarez said. “Washington and politics is pay to play. That’s what she does. That’s what she taught him. And there was no way around it.”

Smith didn’t make much of that, describing Suarez as “someone trying to provide mitigation for his client,” adding that there was “no indication” that donors — including those companies that might benefit from Brown’s standing on the Transportation Committee — expected anything in return, despite the appearance of “strategic philanthropy.”

Expect updates during court recesses all day on our site.

Light prison stretches look likely for Corrine Brown cohorts

Wednesday saw Carla Wiley and Ronnie Simmons in Jacksonville’s federal courthouse for sentencing hearings in the One Door for Education case.

Wiley, the former CEO of the sham charity, and Simmons, Wiley’s former boyfriend who was also Corrine Brown‘s chief of staff, are to be sentenced Dec. 4 along with former Rep. Brown.

The only question left to answer: will they get prison or probation?

The feds are willing to give Wiley as few as 21 months, and Simmons as few as 33 months; both sentences were granted a sentence reduction due to “substantial assistance” in the case against the former Congresswoman.

Simmons pleaded guilty to two counts: a conspiracy charge, as well as theft of government funds — for congressional staff pay for a relative who didn’t actually do work.

Wiley pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud — a count that could have meant up to 20 years in prison, but mitigating circumstances will cut that sentence.

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Wiley, represented by Gray Thomas and Virginia Lt. Gov. Elect Justin Fairfax, contended that she had a “minor role” in the scheme, which would justify a role reduction beyond that recommended by the government.

Wiley had limited participation, “decision-making authority,” and benefit, Thomas continued.

“While she bought the car, she gave the keys to Mr. Simmons,” Thomas added.

The feds had their own take, via US Attorney Eric Olsham.

“Ms. Wiley was not substantially less culpable,” Olsham said, noting that she “knew” as early as 2013 that “One Door was not doing what they were telling people” as she continued to take money out of the account.

“It doesn’t really absolve her of culpability,” Olsham said. “She continued to benefit substantially … to the tune of $182,000 and change.”

Judge Timothy Corrigan sided with the prosecution, and promised a written order giving more detail to that effect.

“I don’t think it’s particularly a close call,” Corrigan said.

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US prosecutor A. Tysen Duva discussed the suggested reductions of sentences based on the aforementioned substantial assistance — so-called “5K” motions filed by the government to factor in assistance from the defendants against Brown.

Duva noted Wiley making the “very difficult decision to cooperate” immediately, “taking a substantial leap of faith as she didn’t know what was coming next,” offering “important cooperation” regarding the case against Simmons.

“Her cooperation strengthened a good case against Simmons … her attitude was stellar,” Duva added, citing her “authentic” remorse and “deliberate” veracity — all of which justifies a six-level sentence reduction.

“She had to withstand lots of media scrutiny,” Duva noted, and also had to withstand Brown attempting to pin the blame on Wiley.

Her testimony, meanwhile, “gave the jury a feel of who Carla Wiley is,” allowing them to understand how the charity metastasized into conspiracy.

Justin Fairfax, on behalf of Wiley, said that “six levels is the minimum” acceptable sentence mitigation.

“Wiley cooperated virtually immediately,” Fairfax said, reaching out to the FBI just hours after the initial interrogation.

Two weeks after the initial approach, Fairfax said, Wiley was actively cooperating with the government.

“She did this far before there was any certainty that anyone else would be held accountable in this case,” Fairfax said.

Fairfax mentioned Simmons’ recommended five-level reduction, saying his client was much more readily cooperative than Simmons, who pleaded out “much later” after his own indictment.

“A one-point difference in the recommendation doesn’t accurately reflect the cooperation of the defendants,” Fairfax said.

Prosceutor Duva allowed that “maybe we didn’t” get the levels right.

“It was a difficult decision,” Duva said, noting that “the relationship Simmons severed was almost a parent-child situation.”

“She was his mentor … that decision had to be heartbreaking,” Duva added. “I think five is appropriate.”

“To have Ronnie Simmons on the witness stand allowed things to come out that wouldn’t have come out,” Duva said, citing the mechanics of the transactions, which often included Simmons taking the money out of the One Door account and distributing it.

“We had a very long meeting with Mr. Simmons,” Duva said, who noted that he struggled at first but cooperated in the end.

Anthony Suarez, on behalf of Simmons, noted that his client’s help was “critical,” and that even the recommended sentence doesn’t account for the “crisis” he was going through.

Suarez noted that Brown actually interviewed him to be her own lawyer, finding out at the last minute he was going to represent Simmons — a measure of the trust between Simmons and Brown.

Suarez spoke at considerable length about Simmons’ awe of Brown, and deep respect for her.

“The quality of the testimony was so much more critical,” Suarez said, noting that “he had to turn his back on Brown [and friends] after 24 years.”

“Currently with the five level reduction, we’d be at 33 to 41 months. I think we need to get to something less than 20 months,” Suarez said. “He had to change his life, his friends — he had to change everything.”

“He’s taking his medicine, but he crossed a long way to get here,” Suarez added.

Judge Timothy Corrigan ruled on the “5K” motions, citing principles of substantial assistance.

The assistance was “significant” from both parties, Corrigan said, and “early” in Wiley’s case.

Corrigan accepted the six-level reduction in the case of Wiley, but wouldn’t go beyond that, leading to a 21-27 month “guideline exposure.” Before the 5K motion, she would have had 41-51 months in prison.

Additionally, Wiley is potentially on the hook for restitution, 1-3 years of supervised probation, and $50,000 to $100,000 of fines.

Regarding Simmons, who was facing 57-71 months before the 5K motion factored in, there was also some good news relative to the 5K motion. (In addition to 1-3 years of supervised release, significant restitution, $20,000 – $200,000 in fines.)

The government’s motion was granted for a five-level reduction, which cuts potential prison time for Simmons to 33-41 months.

“This is just the beginning of the process,” Corrigan noted, adding that sentences could vary from the guidelines.

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Of course, neither Simmons nor Wiley will avoid prison altogether, if the feds have anything to say about it.

“Without Wiley, this doesn’t happen,” noted federal prosecutor Eric Olsham. “She had the opportunity at any point from 2013 on to put a stop to it. She didn’t.”

Olsham allowed that mitigating factors could put Wiley’s prison stretch below the advisory level of 21-33 months.

Gray Thomas, on behalf of Wiley, described a “little charity that didn’t do anything” until she had a relationship with Simmons.

“She has not from day one tried to run from what she did,” Thomas said, describing Wiley as devoted to her mother and a pillar of her community, via recommending a “non-incarcerative sentence” with probation and home confinement as appropriate sanctions.

Judge Corrigan objected, noting that Wiley had control of the charity and materially benefited from the fraud.

“What accountability does the law require for this,” Corrigan asked. “This was not an isolated event, nor was it minor fraud. A lot of money was coming in, a lot of money was going out — and $182,000 of that was going to your client.”

“Wiley didn’t have to turn this over to Simmons and say ‘here, go for it’.” Corrigan noted.

Wiley’s co-counsel, Justin Fairfax, noted that she came forward despite pressure from Ronnie Simmons to stay mum, and that she has “been through so much in the last 22 months,” including losing her mother, “for whom the scholarship was intended to honor.”

Sending her to a federal prison, Fairfax said, “would break this woman.”

Wiley had her say also, starting off with an apology to everyone who has been affected by her actions.

“Since the beginning, I have taken responsibility for my actions,” Wiley said, citing a desire to “help” seniors and kids.

“This ordeal has been more than an awakening,” Wiley added.

“One Door for Education was not set up to do any harm for anyone. It was set up to honor my mother,” Wiley said, vowing to continue to honor her mother, who died two months ago.

“I am not self-serving. I am someone who made a mistake,” Wiley added.

“It got out of control very quickly, and sometimes when they get out of control, you don’t know how to bring them back,” Wiley said. “I don’t have any one answer how that happened.”

“The worst part,” Wiley said, was leaving her mother — who was in a lot of pain.

When Brown was found guilty, Wiley found out her mother had just four months to live.

____

Ronnie Simmons closed the afternoon’s proceedings.

U.S. Attorney A. Tysen Duva described the case as “one of the top two or three public corruption cases in the history of this courthouse … a significant case” with “deplorable conduct” by a Congresswoman and her chief of staff.

Duva noted that this case came down to something very basic, however; trying to get money to throw a party during Congressional Black Caucus events.

From there, the serial expropriation of funds — “wrong and criminal” — didn’t stop.

“I know Simmons severely regrets that,” Duva said, but “there was absolutely no intent by Ronnie Simmons to benefit anybody through One Door for Education.”

The “clear association” with Brown brought money into the One Door account, and Simmons was the conduit to take it out.

“She became accustomed to getting that money, and Simmons did not tell her no,” Duva said, with the fraud spanning the 2012 and 2014 election cycles. “They were stealing together. To not divulge that during an election cycle is extremely poor conduct.”

“But once he severed himself from her, he did right,” Duva said, citing his decision to roll on Brown as a “very wise choice.”

That said, prison is necessary: for deterrence and to show respect for the law, Duva said.

“This sentence needs to send a message to the public that there is zero room for fraudulent conduct by a member of the House of Representatives or her staff. For years and years, Ronnie Simmons and Corrine Brown did not do that,” Duva added, eventually saying that donations to One Door may have been “pay to play” in some cases.

Anthony Suarez, on behalf of Simmons, painted a colorful narrative of how Simmons “went from where he came from to the hallowed halls of Washington … an incredible story” that would not have happened without Corrine Brown.

Brown, his sponsor, was uniquely able to manipulate him, Suarez said.

But Simmons, in coming forward, showed his character — as opposed to Brown, “who went her own way.”

“The corporate culture of Corrine Brown’s office was to do business the way she told you to do business,” Suarez said. “Washington and politics is pay to play. That’s what she does. That’s what she taught him. And there was no way around it.”

Many of the donations came from companies with interests with the Transportation Committee in the House, Suarez said, augmenting the “pay to play” motif.

“These people would not have given a check to Ronnie Simmons … just a worker, pushing paper around,” Suarez said, contending “he has a lesser role” than Brown.

Simmons’ mother, Frances Simmons, described her son as the man of the house; his dad died when he was young.

“Please make our burden light,” Simmons said, noting that her son would be better served “mentoring young professionals” than serving a prison stretch.

Suarez suggested that Simmons “go out on a tour,” to become a voice “in the community” saying that the system works, becoming an “aide to the perception of justice.”

Simmons then spoke on his own behalf, kicking off with an apology to the court and the people of Congressional District 5.

“I am truly remorseful for the actions I took and should have paid better attention,” Simmons said, adding that a “period of incarceration would be harmful to me and my family.”

Expect uneventful One Door sentencing hearing Wednesday

Wednesday sees Carla Wiley and Ronnie Simmons in Jacksonville’s federal courthouse for sentencing hearings in the One Door for Education case.

Wiley, the former CEO of the sham charity, and Simmons, Wiley’s former boyfriend who was also Corrine Brown‘s chief of staff, will not be sentenced Wednesday.

Rather, the sentence will be rendered Dec. 4.

Both Wiley and Simmons pleaded out and cooperated in the case against Brown, and prosecutors have factored that in to sentencing recommendations. The feds are willing to give Wiley as few as 21 months, and Simmons as few as 33 months.

Simmons pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge, as well as theft of government funds — for congressional staff pay for a relative who didn’t actually do work.

Wiley, meanwhile, provided the shell of a sleepy charity, one that became a money machine for the One Door 3.

Wiley, in her testimony during Brown’s trial, 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.

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.

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.

Cooperation in Brown’s trial and the plea deal obscures the actual offenses committed by Simmons and Wiley, and should result in light sentences next month.

Since both have rolled on Brown, it’s tough to imagine what else there is to say Wednesday, especially given the prosecution is not insisting on long prison stretches for the erstwhile co-conspirators.

‘Restorative justice’, probation: Corrine Brown’s sentencing goal

When it comes to proper sentencing for 18 felony counts related to wire and mail fraud, tax evasion, and fallacious financial disclosures, the feds may want prison, but Corrine Brown wants “restorative justice.”

A 19-page sentencing memorandum, one which may have benefited from a robust round of copy editing, contends that Brown’s good works should exonerate her — and that any rhetorical excesses that Brown may have made were the fault of a racist criminal justice system and media.

“Corrine Brown respectfully requests that this Court show mercy and compassion and impose a term or probation [SIC]. Brown’s over forty years of dedicated public service, her age, her health, and a comparison of other public integrity cases with her case justify a sentence of probation. The interests of justice would not be served by imposing a sentence of imprisonment,” the memo asserts.

The feds want prison for at least seven years, but Brown’s attorney says that would be “warehousing” Brown, stopping her from doing “what she does best” — “helping people.”

Cynics may scoff at that given that Brown was convicted of benefiting over the course of four calendar years from collecting donations for a charity to help poor children but traveling and shopping off the money.

“Restorative justice,” writes Brown’s attorney, would allow the city to make use of Brown’s “talents.”

The memo justifies Brown’s attacks on the FBI for investigating her instead of stopping the PULSE killings against the backdrop of “smear campaigns” against Martin Luther King and Malcolm X “and every other leader of the civil rights movement,”

“This reflexive fear of the FBI is like muscle memory,” Brown’s attorney asserts.

As well, “racism” has imposed its own sentence on Brown via media coverage and comment threads.

“Coverage of Corrine Brown in the local news has been particularly harsh, with many news outlets reverting to racially charged headlines and reporting,” the memo asserts. “Just a cursory look at the public comments sections on news websites reveals just how many racists still take every opportunity to insult her and other prominent African American politicians.”

Note to Corrine Brown: NEVER read the comments.

Strong family ties and a lack of ability to hold public office again are also cited as deterrents.

Sentencing is set for Thursday.

Corrine Brown prosecutors recommend prison time, decry ‘culture of fraud’

Corrine Brown and her co-conspirators, Ronnie Simmons and Carla Wiley, may want to avoid prison time for their One Door for Education hustle.

But federal prosecutors don’t appear to be moved, per a 50 page sentencing memorandum dropped on Thursday.

The feds contend that in the history of “public corruption” cases involving former Reps. Richard JeffersonChaka FattahJesse Jackson Jr., and Rick Renzi, that “no court sentenced any of these defendants to a probationary sentence.”

The government also has tabulated the cost of restitution, offering a “conservative estimate” of $452,515.87, itemized per donor.

The stentorian 50-page memo is blunt from the outset: “Society expects courts to punish convicted and corrupt politicians. If the legal system does not do so, our system of justice loses credibility, and the public is left with the impression that there are some citizens who are truly above the law. This cannot be the case.”

Central to the government’s case for an actual sentence here: the fraud was ongoing.

“The tax fraud scheme spanned three election cycles. Brown’s fraud, scheme to make false statements, and tax
fraud convictions illustrate that her entitlement disposition transitioned into criminal conduct that persisted for years. Brown’s culture of fraud became more brazen over time and culminated in the One Door For Education fraud, which was the primary focus of the government’s prosecution,” the sentencing memo asserts.

Prosecutors lambaste Brown for her rhetorical rodomontade, singling out a statement made in which she “ridiculed the American system of justice and rule of law” by conflating her investigation with the feds’ failure to stop Omar Matteen from the Pulse massacre.

“I represent Orlando. These are the same agents that was not able to do a thorough investigation of [Omar Mateen] and we ended up with fifty dead people, and over forty-eight people injured. Same Justice Department. Same
agents. And with that, I will see you in court,” Brown told media last July.

“Brown stooped so low as to state that if the Jacksonville FBI had not spent resources investigating her fraudulent conduct, then the Pulse nightclub tragedy in Orlando on June 12, 2016 would not have occurred,” prosecutors assert.

The memo also charges Brown with fraudulent charges of racism, saying they were “a complete fabrication meant to distract the public – and no doubt potential jurors – from the very serious allegations against her.”

Key to the hardline position: lost opportunities.

“The real travesty of this case is what One Door could have been. Corrine Brown had the power, willing donation base, and clear opportunity to transform One Door into a life changing charity,” the Feds assert. “Brown, Simmons, and Wiley not only squandered this opportunity, they abused it for their own benefit. The victims in this case are the students who received nothing.”

The feds also note Brown’s flippancy on the stand, including when she was asked about money transfers.

“I had birthdays. I had Christmas. You know, and sometimes I had boyfriends. So I mean, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Brown quipped about money received one January.

“None of this money could be attributable to her birthday (which is in November) or Christmas, and it is highly unlikely that this money entirely consists of annual exclusion gifts or cash gifts from boyfriends,” the Feds remark.

Deceit is a leit motif in the memo, with the feds coming back over and over again to brazen fabrications from Brown: “Corrine Brown’s trial testimony was replete with material falsehoods. After taking an oath to tell the truth, Brown treated the witness stand in this Courthouse as a kind of political pulpit to say anything – no matter the degree of falsity.”

Brown’s attempts to pin the blame on Simmons, her former chief of staff, are described as one manifestation of a “common defense strategy to discredit a testifying co-defendant.”

The memo’s descriptions of serial perjury, coupled with the defense’s inability to score a single win in this case, suggest that sentencing for Brown next week will be brutal.

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