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Corrine Brown trial coverage: $330K of One Door money on ‘Queen Corrine’ events

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown faces 22 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 fraudulent filing of federal tax returns.

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

The claim is that Brown and her associates solicited charitable donations for personal enrichment. Two of those associates, Carla Wiley and Ronnie Simmons, have cut plea deals and are functioning as state’s evidence.

There is no disagreement as to whether or not there was fraud. The real divergence is on the matter of whether Brown orchestrated the conspiracy, or whether Simmons took advantage of her age and lack of technological savvy.

FloridaPolitics.com is serving up deep dive coverage of the entire trial: jury selection; opening statements; the government’s case, including exhibits and witnesses; the defense arguments and defense witness list; the final verdict; and everything else that matters.

Newest material will be nearest the top, for easy access.

Ongoing: prosecution arguments. 

Further inquiry into bank records, followed by an inevitable cross-examination, will start off proceedings on Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m.

Among Thursday witnesses following the current one: Tandy Bondi (Pam Bondi‘s sister-in-law, who worked as a lobbyist for the same firm as Shantrel Brown), Jacksonville power broker and Florida chair of Donald Trump‘s campaign, Susie Wiles; former CSX executive Michael Ward;  Husein Cumber, the Executive Vice President for Corporate Development for Florida East Coast Industries, who also serves on the board of directors for JEA, Jacksonville’s utility service.

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$330K of One Door money on ‘Queen Corrine’ events [Thursday 11:00 a.m.] Thursday saw a continuation of the government’s case in the federal fraud trial of former U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown, who faces 22 counts related to a non-performing charity, “One Door for Education.”

A presentation that started Wednesday involved showing a pattern, demonstrating a pattern of Brown’s former chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, taking money from the One Door account and giving it to Brown.

Revealed Thursday morning: $330,000 flowed from the One Door account for nine events that were to the political benefit of then-Rep. Brown … with no benefit to the charity that funded them.

Those events included receptions, a Beyonce skybox, a skybox at a Redskins/Jaguars game, and the “Corrine Brown Invitational Golf Tournament.”

Meanwhile, liquor lovers who also loved Corrine Brown savored a signature drink at multiple events: the $10 “Queen Corrine,” a strawberry liquor drink with a sugared rim.

And those who love pastry got extended narrative on two $750 birthday cakes for Brown’s daughter Shantrel, paid for with One Door money.

One of those cakes was enjoyed by none other than South Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz, former Democratic National Committee Chair.

DWS would not be the only Congressperson discussed Thursday morning.

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FBI Special Agent Vanessa Stelly, who investigated Brown, went through invoices, solicitation letters, and bank account records on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.

Thursday began with more documentation of 82 ATM withdrawals from the One Door account that were not closely matched with deposits, totaling just over $60,000, with the majority in Laurel, MD – where Simmons lived.

The big reveal: documentation of $330,000 of expenditures from One Door for events connected with Corrine Brown from 2012-2015.

The breakdown: myriad receptions; a 2012 Democratic National Convention barbeque in Charlotte ($23,070) honoring the Congressional Black Caucus; a Beyonce skybox ($13,000) promoted by the Florida Delivers Leadership PAC; an Inauguration bus trip and dinner cruise for senior citizens from Florida ($89,852); the “Corrine Brown Invitational Golf Tournament” ($55,000); and a $15,000 spend on a skybox at a Washington Redskins/Jacksonville Jaguars game.

For at least one event, letters on “Friends of Corrine Brown” letterhead went out to invite potential donors – showing a conflation of the purported charity and the very real political operation.

“I view uplifting our youth as a calling,” Brown (or her proxy) wrote. “Your support of $5,000 for this event is greatly appreciated … checks should be made payable to the One Door for Education Scholarship Fund.”

The point of contact for “more information”: an employee in Brown’s Congressional office.

A flyer was also produced for a Corrine Brown “trailblazers in transportation” event in D.C., which included a legendary go-go band as entertainment.

The flyer had nothing indicating Brown’s commitment for children; however, $4,200 of One Door money (via MasterCard) went toward financing this 2012 event, with additional money coming from other sources – suggesting that One Door was used to fill a liquidity gap in that case.

Similar invoices were produced for other events, with “Ron Simmons” listed as the customer on at least one. Some receptions included intimate VIP receptions, with bigger room gatherings for the hoi polloi.

For the aforementioned trip for senior citizens, a letter on Brown letterhead – complete with a whimsical cartoon of a “Friends of Corrine Brown” bus – went to donors, under the aegis of “support for seniors and students.”

Donations of up to $20,000 were sought, with showcases promised for big-dollar donors. Checks were to be cut to One Door, with attention to Carla Wiley.

The “Corrine Brown Invitational” Golf Tournament was held at The PLAYERS stadium course in July 2013, one of the nicest courses in the country.

Perks included a Calvin Peete golf lesson, for the event sponsored by One Door; the event purportedly benefitted “COMTO,” an organization of minority transportation officials. But no money went to that or any other non-profits.

Point of contact: Von Alexander, a Brown operative who worked for the Congresswoman and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority simultaneously.

Sponsorships went up to $20,000 per donor. Congressmen Cedric Richmond and Ander Crenshaw attended.

$51,000 went to hotel stays at the Marriott at Sawgrass, on One Door’s dime. And a $1,745 spend, authorized by Carla Wiley, went on catering for a luncheon at the golf tourney.

The Beyonce event, meanwhile, had Ronnie Simmons as point of contact. One Door was not on the flyer, but its $15,000 went to defray skybox rental and catering expenses.

Shantrel Brown emailed Ronnie Simmons regarding the nearly $4,000 of skybox catering, saying “CB was OK with the draft [menu] I showed her this morning, however I added a few [items].”

This wasn’t the only Shantrel Brown email to her ex-boyfriend; for another event in 2015, Brown sent Simmons an email, stating that the Browns found a singer at a clothing store who sounds “just like Luther Vandross,” whom Corrine wanted to sing at the event.

The Jaguars/Redskins event was branded as “Jacksonville Goes to Washington,” and featured platinum parking and unlimited food and beverage. Simmons was point of contact. Brown’s signature was on the letter.

The box was leased from Carla Wiley’s consulting company. Ronnie Simmons, meanwhile, wrote Wiley’s company a $15,000 check, which was reimbursed from One Door.

Feds build case with bank records [Wednesday 5 p.m.] Wednesday afternoon began the government’s case in the federal fraud trial of former U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown, who faces 22 counts related to a non-performing charity, “One Door for Education.”

Throughout the latter part of the afternoon, as bank records were introduced, an overflow crowd of looky-loos dispersed, as the tedium of bank transactions wore them down.

However, the pattern and the number were significant: 31 transactions of withdrawal and deposit, totaling over $26,000 over three years.

The government spent much of the latter part of the afternoon interviewing FBI Special Agent Vanessa Stelly, who went through dozens of pieces of evidence that were intended to outline the conspiracy.

Among them: bank account records and incorporation papers for the One Door for Education foundation, which established Carla Wiley as the primary signatory.

Stelly confirmed that corporate status was terminated in Oct. 2012, as the registration fee was not paid by the end of September of that year.

However, reinstatement would happen in June 2014 – almost two years into the alleged conspiracy, as the charity continued to do business, despite not being a recognized non-profit, or 501(c)3.

“That status was never applied for,” Stelly asserted.

Stelly described the two accounts associated with One Door: one a Capital One account opened in May 2011, with Wiley as the primary contact and only signatory.

The original deposit: $100. Estimated value of transactions per month was likewise modest, up until the account closed in May 2012, with a $119.66 charge off after “minimal” activity.

The second One Door account opened in Aug. 2012 was more robust.

From there, a $25,000 check from the “Community Leadership PAC” of Alexandria, VA, was produced: seed money for One Door’s second account.

Brown and her daughter Shantrel, a lobbyist, maintain a condo in Alexandria. Simmons, meanwhile, lives in Laurel, Maryland, where “the vast majority” of cash withdrawals occurred, and deposits into Brown’s own BOA account – far from Laurel, in terms of DC area commutes.

Discussion of the foundation’s bank records, and those of Brown’s personal bank accounts, were intended to draw an evidentiary link between withdrawals and deposit, and establishing correlation (if not causation).

From there, the government documented cash withdrawals from the One Door account (capped, as per bank policy, at $800 per day), and deposits into Brown’s own account, ranging from $500 to $3,000, and at least one payment on her credit card of $160, and a payment of $2,057 to the IRS from her account in July 2013 (the same day of a $2,100 cash deposit into her account from Laurel, MD).

Overdraft charges occasioned deposits to bring the account back to a positive balance. Cash deposits to Brown’s Congressional Federal Credit Union account were verified via a photo ID, a statement revealed. And balance inquiries, asserted the prosecution, were also documented.

All of this was to establish a pattern of transactions, with Simmons putting money into Brown’s account, and Brown extracting it, often on the same day it was deposited.

Surveillance video, as it was obtainable, was also introduced into evidence. The FBI was limited by bank policies of data retention, and the occasional failure of the cameras themselves.

Stills were presented of Ronnie Simmons at various BOA ATMs and inside branches themselves, making deposits.

One particularly interesting transaction was on a Brown trip to Beverly Hills: check no. 193 dated 7/14/2013, drawn on the One Door for Education Capital One account ending in 0180, in the amount of $3,000 and reflecting “Children Summer Camps” in the memo line.

It was written out to Bank of America, and signed by “Carla Wiley, President.” And deposited at the Beverly Hills Wilshire, with Brown and daughter Shantrel in the city after a jaunt to the Bahamas.

“The check was deposited into Shantrel Brown’s bank account,” the Special Agent said, and $1,000 of that $3,000 was transferred to Corrine Brown’s account.

An attempt by the state to get the FBI agent to attest to the authenticity of the Wiley signature was challenged by the defense, and that challenge was upheld.

Shantrel Brown’s bank records were also produced from the California trip. Both mother and daughter spent on cosmetics, something at a “herb store,” and a trip to a Thai restaurant (as sometimes happens after trips to herb stores, apparently).

None of these charges had anything to do with children’s summer camps, the FBI agent asserted.

As the day’s session came to a close, the prosecution presented Corrine Brown’s travel records and deposit slips into her Congressional Credit Union account, ostensibly signed by her.

As well, a still image was provided of Brown depositing $700 in cash in her Bank of America account in Orlando, Florida; Ronnie Simmons was nowhere to be found.

And, perhaps tellingly, multiple statements were provided with multiple balance inquiries in a given day, from Jacksonville, where Brown was but Simmons was not.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

Smith does not intend to call an expert witness in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

“The plea changes nothing,” Duva said.

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

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

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

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

****

Smith rebutted Duva.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

Duva wasn’t finished.

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

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

****

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

How that relates to the charges was left unsaid.

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Corrine Brown will be in attendance.

****

After the hearing, Brown took questions from reporters.

The most notable quote?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will Wednesday’s hearing change the calculations for both?

****

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

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

Wiley ran the One Door for Education charity.

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

****

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

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

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

 

10 people to watch in 2017 in Jacksonville politics

Jacksonville politics is like a Southern family reunion: there are characters of all types.

The 2017 list points out ten of those members of the #Jaxpol family who are uniquely positioned to be in the headlines for one reason or another.

We are hoping that 2016 was an outlier year for scandals, and are not projecting scandal potential onto this list.

These names are in no particular order or ranking.

***

Lisa King: Does the Duval County committeewoman have what it takes to become chair of the Florida Dems?

King has run against the odds before, running a strong Democratic campaign for Jacksonville’s City Council in a deep red area in 2015.

King got Chamber Republican support, and though she lost the race, she outperformed Democrats elsewhere on the ticket.

Similarly, King was willing to battle Mayor Lenny Curry during what Democrats called a “purge” of city boards and commissions.

Worth watching: what commitments of support roll in for King? What kind of press coverage does she get throughout the state? And will the grassroots coalition she seeks to build coalesce around her as ABC: Anybody but Bittel or Clendenin.

***

Anna Brosche: January is almost upon us, and with that the thrill ride of Jacksonville City Council leadership elections will be set into motion.

Is this Anna Brosche’s year to run for VP?

Council President Lori Boyer has made no secret of wanting first-termers to get meaningful leadership experience. Boyer put Brosche atop the Finance Committee, the choicest committee assignment there is. And Brosche has flourished.

If there were a bookie taking bets on which member of the Class of 2015 would be first to make her way to council leadership, the smart money would be on Brosche.

Spoiler alert: she’s not averse to the idea.

“I’m definitely considering it,” Brosche said. “I’ve made my way into these spots.”

However, any bid for leadership will happen at a moment of her choosing: “the right time for me, the right time for the council as a whole.”

Is this the right time?

Boyer has been a stabilizing influence atop the council, a small-c conservative pragmatist in the Tillie Fowler mold. Brosche is also cut from that mold.

She doesn’t pontificate. She doesn’t speak to hear herself speak. She generally is more likely to get in the last word than the first.

Anna Brosche has grown in her time in the public eye, from seeming underdog candidate to MVP of the class of 2015.

Watch what she does early in 2017.

***

John Crescimbeni – the Council VP told us that he wasn’t sure if he’d get to be President. Nonetheless, in preparation for that possibility, the veteran legislator finally hired a council assistant.

He clearly wants to be president. And he clearly has the institutional knowledge to be effective.

So will this be his year to run for the top job?

His run for VP was rough. He beat Doyle Carter by one vote – that of Reggie Gaffney, who had actually pledged to go with Carter, but mysteriously swerved him during the vote itself.

Crescimbeni may face a challenge for the presidency if he runs. But his half year in the VP slot has shown that when in a leadership role, he is able to be a team player.

One would expect that he would be able to count on a solid bloc of Democratic support in a newly revitalized party. With those seven votes, he would only need three Republicans to push him toward the presidency.

Worth watching: if Crescimbeni and Brosche present themselves, however informally and within the guidelines of the Sunshine Law, as a ticket of sorts.

***

Audrey Gibson – The Senator is one of the best politicians in the area and takes over the chair of the Duval Democrats, at a time when the local GOP is experiencing a schism.

What will she and her party be able to do to exploit it?

The Duval Democrats, of course, have a history of schism themselves. And from what we understand, a meeting as soon as January may include a motion to cap at $1,000 the expenditures a chair can commit to without the approval of the Central Committee.

Donald Rumsfeld used to say “freedom is untidy.” But here’s the reality: if the Democrats want to position themselves well for 2018 and 2019, they need to let the chair do her thing.

She’s won elections. Her critics wouldn’t even know how to start.

***

Ronnie Simmons – When will Corrine Brown’s almost-former chief of staff turn on his mentor?

As the One Door for Education trial approaches later this year, the machinations that have already happened provide a window into the future.

Simmons’ lawyer filed, then rescinded, a motion for separate trials from the congresswoman.

Brown’s counsel, meanwhile, has strongly hinted that a key to the almost-former congresswoman’s defense is going to be contending that she wasn’t exactly aware of what was being done in her name, vis a vis the $800K of contributions for the One Door foundation.

“Congresswoman Brown and her chief of staff are alleged to have used the congresswoman’s official position to solicit over $800,000 in donations to a supposed charitable organization, only to use that organization as a personal slush fund,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Leslie Caldwell, chief of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said in a statement when the indictment was delivered.

Tens of thousands of dollars went into Brown’s personal account, with Simmons as the conduit, from One Door. Luxe hotel accommodations, skyboxes at Beyonce concerts and Redskins games, and other accoutrements of the high life were also funded, as part of over $200,000 allegedly diverted from the One Door account to the Congresswoman’s walking around fund.

Brown is in her golden years. Simmons, meanwhile, has decades to live if actuarial projections mean anything. Expect him to roll over on his former boss between now and the trial.

***

Mia Jones – Miss her yet? Jones was termed out in House District 14 this year, but it’s only a matter of time before she resurfaces.

Could she run for the city council in 2019? Or could she have something bigger – such as a run against Al Lawson in 2018 – in mind?

***

Alvin Brown – The former Jacksonville mayor’s meeting with Lenny Curry was one of those #jaxpol events that everyone said they knew was going to happen … after it happened.

Brown requested a meeting with Curry. As someone who was in the mayor’s office when that meeting was taking place, it was clear from Brown’s booming laugh and the bonhomie between Brown and his successor that the former Jacksonville mayor was angling for something.

That something, we hear from good sources, could be a run against Lawson in 2018.

Whether Brown takes on Tallahassee Al or not, the reality is that he’s got to find a way back into the public eye.

Brown’s painting – a tradition among former mayors – will be unveiled this spring in the mayor’s office, at long last.

An interesting sign of the times: Brown is scrambling to get the money needed to pay for it, and the Generous Donors that emerge will be of interest.

While it’s entirely possible that Brown could set his sights on a lesser office, such as an at-large bid for the city council, the reality is that Congress has been in his sights for a long time.

Brown’s first failed campaign: a run against Corrine Brown in the 1990s.

Worth watching: will Jacksonville candidates cannibalize each other if and when one or more runs against Lawson?

There can only be one, if a challenge is to have any chance of success.

***

Bill Bishop – In 2015, Bishop announced that he in fact would run for mayor in 2019.

However, 2016 changed the former two-term district councilman’s calculus. He has not-so-subtly been hinting at running for city council again – in an at-large seat currently held by John Crescimbeni.

Bishop would, we hear, face off against Republican Mike Anania, who lost a district council race in 2015 to Democrat Joyce Morgan.

Bishop has the name identification advantage over Anania, but the local GOP may want to exact payback for Bishop running against Curry in 2015, then endorsing Alvin Brown once he was eliminated from the race.

Speaking of Alvin Brown, if he were to run for council instead of the United States Congress, he would be in At-Large Group 2.

A Brown/Bishop race would almost certainly be the most interesting contest on the ballot.

***

Matt Carlucci – Carlucci, like Bishop, is another registered Republican that the hardcores say is a RINO.

And like Bishop, Carlucci is looking for one more run at council: to replace termed-out Greg Anderson in 2019.

Carlucci, like Bishop, has what it takes to run citywide; namely, friends on both sides of the aisle.

Carlucci, if he runs and wins, would offer institutional knowledge of the sort that veterans like Tommy Hazouri and John Crescimbeni bring to the chamber.

***

Fred Newbill – Newbill, one of the more politically connected pastors in Jacksonville, made an interesting play late in 2015 that seemed like it could affect his 2017.

In 2015, Newbill came out against expansion of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to the LGBT community.

In 2017, Newbill is up for a position on the JEA Board.

JEA offers employment and accommodations protection to LGBT people.

Newbill, we hear, has evolved on the HRO since his opposition to a council vote on the measure.

We hear that he’s not going to evolve toward supporting the measure.

However, he seems willing to relinquish his position as a pointman of opposition to the bill.

It will be interesting to see if the Rules Committee or the Jacksonville City Council cares all that much about where Newbill is on the HRO.

Pay close attention to his hearings in both committee and in front of the full council.

They will tell you where the body as a whole is on expanding LGBT rights to match up with most other major cities in the country.

Corrine Brown aide reverses motion for separate trial in One Door case

On Friday, Rep. Corrine Brown‘s chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, filed for a separate trial from Brown in the One Door for Education case.

On Monday, Simmons’ lawyer — Anthony Suarez — withdrew the motion.

As Lynnsey Gardner of WJXT reported Monday afternoon, Suarez filed a motion to withdraw the previous motion, offering no explanation why.

The motion filed Friday was flush with verbiage and precedent.

Simmons’ lawyer contended “the risk of prejudicial spillover is tremendous,” given Brown’s notoriety.

He contended that a “joint trial” would “compromise” his trial right, and potentially affect his verdict, especially given the potential of “markedly different degrees of culpability” between Brown and Simmons.

Brown draws media attention at her appearances; Simmons contends that he would not draw such attention by himself.

Simmons also contended that Brown’s tax fraud charges may prejudice a jury against him.

Ironically, it is Simmons who faces the greater maximum penalties in this case.

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

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

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

The trial is not until April. The next motion hearing is set for early January.

Ronnie Simmons files to sever from Corrine Brown in One Door trial

Rep. Corrine Brown and her chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, face 24 charges between them related to the One Door for Education trial.

Much speculation has been made as to when one would file for a separate trial. On Friday, Simmons filed for severance in a seven-page document.

Simmons’ lawyer contends “the risk of prejudicial spillover is tremendous,” given Brown’s notoriety.

He contends that a “joint trial” would “compromise” his trial right, and potentially affect his verdict, especially given the potential of “markedly different degrees of culpability.”

Brown draws media attention at her appearances; Simmons contends that he would not draw such attention by himself.

Simmons also contends that Brown’s tax fraud charges may prejudice a jury against him.

****

The congresswoman from Florida’s 5th Congressional District, along with Chief of Staff Elias Simmons, face a combined 24 charges, enumerated in a 46-page indictment.

They plead not guilty to all.

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

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

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

The trial is not until April. Simmons has a motion hearing set for January 9.

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