One Door for Education Archives - Florida Politics

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Shaky transactions abound in latest Corrine Brown finance report

Rep. Corrine Brown and her chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, face 24 counts between them in a federal court trial next April.

The criminal counts related to an allegedly fraudulent charity, which solicited and collected $800,000 over a period of years, but distributed less than $2,000 under its charitable auspices.

One might think she would keep a low profile politically.

One would be wrong, as Brown continues to endorse candidates and, weeks after her loss, spent over $10,000 on lodging.

Despite her federal charges and despite the fact that she is not running for office at this point, having lost to Al Lawson in the primary, Brown opted to issue one final iteration of her Quick Picks, which was distributed at a candidate forum Thursday night to the chagrin of the hosts.

There were a few surprises.

Brown opted not to endorse in the race between Lawson and Republican Glo Smith for her seat in Florida’s 5th Congressional District. And, rather than endorse a Democrat in the clerk of courts race, Brown endorsed incumbent Republican Ronnie Fussell.

Meanwhile, Brown’s political committee — “Friends of Corrine Brown” —issued its October quarterly finance report, and there were some surprises there also.

Brown put in $50,000 of her own money after Aug. 19, including $15,000 after the Aug. 30 primary was over.

The last money transfer, of $10,000, was made Sept. 13.

From Aug. 11 onward, Brown spent $92,761. Much of that money went to old allies in familiar ways, such as thousands of dollars in catering from Jerome Brown Barbeque and the Honey Dripper House.

And, interestingly enough, there was some spending after the primary itself, including gasoline purchases in the days after the primary and $11,278 for lodging at Marriott invoiced on Sept. 25 and 26.

Brown, facing corruption charges, likely will face fresh scrutiny over her latest campaign finance report, which shows spending long after the race was run.

Will Brown’s decision to dump $50,000 of unaccountable money into her campaign factor into the upcoming trial? Will the $11,278 spent with Marriott in late September raise questions for federal prosecutors?

Corrine Brown/Ronnie Simmons fraud trial pushed back to April 2017

Tuesday’s status conference for Rep. Corrine Brown and her chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, in a Jacksonville federal court laid out the basic framework for a multi-week trial beginning in April, involving dozens of witnesses, including members of Jacksonville’s donor class.

Meanwhile, there seemed to be daylight between strategy and preparation between the lawyers for Brown and Simmons, suggesting a practical reason for trying the defendants separately.

They agreed on one thing: citing voluminous discovery, both wanted a trial in June 2017.

The prosecution objected, however, saying February gave them enough time to review discovery.

Despite the compelling interest in a “speedy trial,” Judge Timothy Corrigan noted these defense lawyers came in in the middle of the case.

“This is a case that does require voluminous discovery,” Corrigan said, requiring review and contextualization of the material.

Corrigan offered a Solomonic compromise: a continuance to April 24, when jury selection begins, and the trial would be tried to conclusion beginning April 26.

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The two co-defendants face 24 counts related to the One Door for Education charity, which Brown fundraised for over a period of years, yet which saw proceeds routed toward personal expenses for Brown and her inner circle.

Neither Brown nor Simmons attended the hearing, where the major intrigue was expected to be related to motions possibly filed by Brown’s team, including moving for separate trials of Brown and Simmons, attempting to introduce character witnesses, and a possible move toward dismissal of the case outright.

The prosecution, represented by A. Tysen Duva, noted “significant discovery” had been produced, and the defendants have those materials in hand.

James Smith, on behalf of Brown, noted in response there was a “significant matter” he had to discuss with the judge and counsel, related to his client.

As the sound of static filled the courtroom, the parties convened at the judge’s bench for several minutes.

Smith then pushed for a June trial, given the most recent disclosure from prosecutors was on Friday, and had hundreds of pages of documents spanning events that took place in Florida and the D.C. area, and that dozens of witnesses would be required.

Smith also believes some of the motions that will come up, such as a prosecution precluding character evidence, is objectionable.

He also asserted that Simmons’ attorney might want to sever defendants, which accords with Smith’s own anticipated motion.

Judge Corrigan wanted clarity on Smith’s desire to sever defendants; Smith asserted that motion likely is pending.

The motion to dismiss that Smith hinted at in his list of anticipated motions was, he said, filed in an “abundance of caution.”

Smith also expressed concern over evidence brought regarding things not charged in the 47-page indictment.

Regarding his review of discovery, Smith noted there is testimony from a few dozen grand jury witnesses and lots of paper.

Smith noted that, with allegations of a shopping trip in Los Angeles and trips to Jersey, it is incumbent on his side to establish “charitable purposes.”

“This is a case that is national in scope,” Smith said, and the discovery is “voluminous” and requires considerable time to process.

Simmons’ lawyer, Anthony Suarez, noted he has yet to get through all the discovery. Corrigan was irked, as Suarez decided to “blow through deadlines” related to the hard deadline to file anticipated motions on Oct. 18.

Corrigan was sharp.

“If I direct you to do something, you’ve got to do it. I’m not going to have you just ignore it,” the judge said.

Suarez expressed worry about the grand jury selection process, and said he’s “still in the process” of evaluating the motion to sever defendants.

Suarez also expressed concern about the voluminous discovery, which he described as a “daunting task.”

Also daunting: Simmons lives in Maryland, which impacts “the length of time before I get an answer to some questions that pop up in the discovery material.”

Long story short, Suarez joined Smith in seeking a June trial commencement.

Duva said a February start was “realistic,” given his side’s consistent production of discovery documents.

The “voluminous” discovery burden is mooted, to some degree, by the limited amount of the evidence that will be presented at trial, plus the fairly simple outlining of the scheme to defraud.

Duva said it was “misleading” to say the discovery consisted of more than “manageable information.”

“This is a very clear presentation of the theory of the case,” Duva said, and “a February trial provides defense counsel with a five-month opportunity” to review the case.

Expected in the multi-week trial: 40 to 50 government witnesses, including One Door for Education’s head Carla Wiley (now cooperating with the prosecution) and members of the political donor class, including one-time and repeat donors, said prosecutor Duva, who estimated he may need 10 to 12 trial days to make the government’s case.

Duva floated the possibility of a “plea from one defendant” that could change the trial parameters, even while both defendants claim to want to go to trial.

“We have made every effort,” Duva said, “to guide the defense in the discovery.”

****

After a recess, Judge Corrigan emerged with questions.

Corrigan wanted to know if there would be an expert witness.

Brown’s lawyer said there may be a forensic accountant on his side.

Corrigan also wanted an idea of how long the defense would take. Smith expects to need at least five days for Brown’s defense; Suarez predicted needing a day or two more for his defense of Simmons.

All told, the case may take three to four weeks to try, including jury selection, which Corrigan said “might take longer than average” given the high profile of the defendants.

Motions will be filed in December. Another status conference will be set for Jan. 9 at 1:30, when rulings will be made on motions.

The most interesting motion: whether or not the co-defendants will be severed, as both defense teams seem to want.

****

Another status conference is set for March 23 ahead of the April 26 trial, with jury selection beginning April 24.

Defendants will have to be there for both status conferences.

“That setting gives the defendants an appropriate amount of time to do the things they need to do,” Corrigan said.

Status conference in Corrine Brown trial slated for Tuesday

Neither U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown nor her chief of staff Ronnie Simmons are required to be at Tuesday’s status conference in their federal trial.

However, in the light of potential motions filed last week, Tuesday’s status conference nonetheless may offer a preview of what will happen for the next few months leading up to the trial.

The defense listed a motion to admit admissible character evidence, a motion to sever defendants, and a motion to dismiss.

Brown has hinted at character evidence throughout the period this trial has been an active concern, telling reporters on more than one occasion she personally had committed charitable acts, such as sending students to China and buying computers for schoolrooms in her district to help them conquer the “digital divide.”

Of course, the claim made by prosecutors is that the One Door for Education charity marketed using Rep. Brown’s name and likeness. And despite the roughly $800,000 the charity took in over years, much of it personally benefited Brown and Simmons, with under $2,000 going to charitable purposes.

Prosecutors likely will seek to cleave Brown’s personal charity from the actions of this foundation.

The motion to sever defendants is of interest also. As Lynnsey Gardner of News 4 Jax reported after an interview with Brown’s lawyer, the defense will contend Brown was too busy for such a conspiracy and was exploited by her inner circle.

“The idea that Congresswoman Corrine Brown had any time to engage in a conspiracy or a fraud just doesn’t match with everything I know about her,” said Smith.

“Unfortunately, when you are in office, and the perks of that office. Unfortunately people want to take advantage of you. One thing people need to remember is Carla Wiley has entered a plea of guilty. She admits she set up the charity and used the initial proceeds for herself,” Smith added.

Wiley ran the One Door for Education charity and has pleaded guilty, but is “cooperating” with prosecutors ahead of her sentencing, slated for December.

The motion to sever defendants is notable as well.

If Brown is to contend she was exploited, she will need to roll over on Simmons. And in turn, he would feel compelled to do likewise.

The prosecution, meanwhile, has its own potential motions, including a motion to preclude inadmissible character evidence, a motion to preclude pleas for mercy to the jury and/or counsel arguing for jury nullification, and a motion to “preclude arguments that the government sought indictment due to improper motivation.”

In other words, the prosecution — which is very confident in the facts laid out in its 46-page indictment, which details repeated solicitations under Brown’s name for the charity, and numerous transactions ranging from securing box seats for Redskins games and Beyonce concerts to just withdrawing a few hundred dollars at a time for walking around money — has no intention of being subverted by the emotional appeal.

Potential motions reveal strategy in Corrine Brown case may be to ‘sever defendants’

On Tuesday, both the prosecution and the defense filed a list of potential pre-trial motions in Rep. Corrine Brown‘s trial in 2017.

In doing so, both sides have illustrated their strategies.

The defense listed a motion to admit admissible character evidence; a motion to sever defendants; and a motion to dismiss.

These illustrate that Brown may contend she was used by Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons or by Carla Wiley, who ran the One Door For Education charity. It was notable because of its lack of charitable contributions over the course of years, after $800,000 of contributions were raised using the congresswoman’s imprimatur.

Wiley, to be sentenced in December, is cooperating with prosecutors.

Brown and Simmons have functioned as co-defendants; however, there has been speculation that at some point one will turn on the other.

The prosecution, meanwhile, has its own potential motions, including a motion to preclude inadmissible character evidence; a motion to preclude pleas for mercy to the jury and/or counsel arguing for jury nullification; and a motion to “preclude arguments that the government sought indictment due to improper motivation.”

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