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Expect uneventful One Door sentencing hearing Wednesday

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

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

Rather, the sentence will be rendered Dec. 4.

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

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

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

Wiley, in her testimony during Brown’s trial, outlined something key to the prosecution case: a narrative that Brown had a key role in orchestrating the scheme, even though emails and surveillance video show that Simmons did most of the withdrawals from One Door and transfers to Brown’s accounts, along with cash withdrawals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wiley offered the charity for that use.

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

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

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

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

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

Jax moves closer to opioid lawsuit; lawyers to be chosen in December

The opioid overdose epidemic continues in Jacksonville, and a Jacksonville City Council Special Committee is still addressing the matter.

Even as legislators mull a path forward on treatment, the city is also considering legal action against pharmaceutical companies — continuing a trend we are seeing nationwide.

Committee Chairman Bill Gulliford told a story of a 29 year old who overdosed — the son of a friend.

“It encouraged me even more to do everything we can to address this scourge,” Gulliford said, noting that the overdose victim first took opioids after a motorcycle accident.

One means of addressing the scourge: legal action against the pharmaceutical companies.

The Office of General Counsel is vetting what are called “prestigious” law firms, with a decision expected early in December.

Earlier this year, the Jacksonville City Council approved a resolution OKing legal action.

“The general counsel’s approved it, and I don’t feel like there’s any impediment,” Gulliford said.

The city has absorbed real costs from the opioid epidemic.

Overdoses, at last count, end four times as many lives as homicides in Duval County, with 2016’s count of 464 casualties more than doubling 2015’s count of 201.

Caucasians represent 86 percent of the deaths, and over half of those passing away are in their 30s and 40s.

And things could get worse: a fentanyl derivative being used to cut heroin in the Ohio Valley doesn’t respond to Narcan.

911 calls for ODs to the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department have tripled. Narcan administrations: up 500 percent. JFRD responded to over 3,411 calls in 2016, and the cost of transporting OD victims could near $4.5M this year.

JFRD is dealing with, on average, 321 calls a month related to overdoses alone, a representative said in the meeting.

Audrey Gibson resigns as chair of Duval Democrats

On Monday evening, State Sen. Audrey Gibson — the next Caucus leader for Senate Democrats — resigned as chair of the Duval County Democratic Party.

“As you may know,” Gibson wrote in an email to local Democrats, “last week I was elected Leader Designate of the Senate Democrat Caucus. I am deeply honored and realize the efforts I must give to winning more Dem seats will require 100% plus of my focus.”

Gibson thought the year she was chair was successful, noting that having “candidates ready to run” was among the party’s successes.

A new chair will be chosen Dec. 4. Until then, Darren Mason is in the interim role.

“I plan to continue to recruit and mobilize our party as we prepare for the important local and state races in 2018 and 2019,” Mason asserted Tuesday, adding that Duval Dems “will finish this year strong.”

Jax Council President quashes in-meeting texts between lawmakers, Mayor’s Office

In early 2016, the Jacksonville City Council adopted a policy of official “discouragement” of in-meeting texts between Council members and lobbyists and union representatives.

Councilors were discouraged from sending or receiving text messages with lobbyists or union reps during committee and council meetings when it’s related to public business on the agenda.

That change happened after an unexpected change on budget night 2015, when money was moved from public works to public safety, to pay for promotions that had already been given to safety officers.

After a second vote, the money went the unions’ way — and the texting imbroglio, which some wags called “Textghazi” — had just begun.

Legal action was launched against some Councilors, though settlements were reached in the cases. And — after a period in which cellphones were outright banned among Councilors on the dais — a more understanding policy was reached, in which “discouragement”, rather than a ban, became the watchword.

Through it all, no such discouragement of texts between Councilors and representatives of the Mayor’s Office was discussed.

On Monday, the policy was revised by Council President Anna Brosche — and representatives of the executive branch are now lumped in with special interest lobbyists and union bosses as “discouraged” communication.

“Guided by the principles of equal access and transparency, I have revised the policy originally issued on March 1, 2016 to be as follows,” Brosche wrote.

“Sending or receiving text messages with a registered lobbyist, union member or union representative, or a member of the administration of the City of Jacksonville during any Committee or any City Council meeting related to official public business on the agenda is discouraged,” the memo starts.

“During a Committee or City Council meeting, Council Members shall not reply to any text message from a registered lobbyist, union member or union representative, or a member of the administration of the City of Jacksonville related to official public business on the agenda,” the memo continues.

“In the event a Council Member receives a text message during any Committee or any City Council meeting from a registered lobbyist, union member or union representative, or a member of the administration of the City of Jacksonville related to official public business on the agenda, the Council Member must disclose the receipt of such communication by filing it with the Legislative Services Division within 48 hours of receipt.  The communications will be placed in the permanent bill file,” the memo concludes.

On a number of issues, the Council President has been out of step with some of the rest of the Council, especially when the rest of the Council takes the Lenny Curry Administration’s position. This was notable especially during the 18-1 vote to move Kids Hope Alliance legislation to the floor for a vote one Council night; Brosche was the solitary no.

In that context, it will be interesting to see if this “discouragement” results in material changes to how business is done on the Council floor.

We asked Brosche the impetus for the change.

“The impetus for change is transparency, open government, and equal access. During our meetings, all Council members and, more importantly, the public should be part of the conversations taking place regarding legislation actively being debated,” Brosche said.

Brosche also noted that administration members have been texting Council members during meetings.

“While I have observed colleagues receiving texts from the administration during meetings, I am going to give everyone the benefit of the doubt that such communications were not about active legislation. My revision of the policy is a proactive measure to uphold the principles of transparency and open government and allow all Council Members and the public to know they are participating in all communications happening during Council meetings.”

The Mayor’s Office is fine with this, meanwhile.

“The mayor has always said he respects the Council and Council President’s roles in conducting themselves and setting policies as they see fit. The mayor has also been a proponent for transparency and accountability, and is always encouraged to see practices that support that,” asserted a statement from Marsha Oliver, Director of Public Affairs.

Clay Yarborough wants $12M for FSCJ STEM building

Florida State College Jacksonville made an ambitious ask to the Duval County Legislative Delegation: $12 million PECO money for a downtown STEM building.

Jacksonville Republican State Rep. Clay Yarborough will carry that one to Tallahassee, via a bill filed Monday.

Per the appropriations request, the project will “accommodate the space and growth needs for the College’s STEM programs that focus on public and private sector-identified regional workforce needs.”

“The facility will help the region meet its workforce targets and will help citizens in the community get connected with affordable degree and certificate programs that will lead to employment opportunities,” the request continues.

The $12 million would allow for demolition and replacement of facilities on the college’s downtown campus, the request continues, and unspecified “major employers” in the Jacksonville region would attest to the utility of the project.

The lobbyist working this one: Matt Brockelman of Southern Strategy Group.

Lenny Curry D.C. trip about Hart Bridge project, ‘relationship building’

Florida Politics caught up with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry on Monday, and the main topic of conversation was his trip last week to Washington, D.C.

Curry met with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, as well as Billy Kirkland and Justin Clark, who handle intergovernmental affairs for the White House, U.S. Reps. John Rutherford and Mario Diaz-Balart, and Sen. Marco Rubio.

The main goal of that trip: discussing the $25 million grant from the Department of Transportation that would allow the city to reconfigure off ramps from the Hart Bridge onto surface streets, allowing for more efficient movement of goods to and from the port.

And Curry, along with his team, made the pitch.

The in-person meeting, Curry said, had invaluable advantages, as a “face to face meeting” with the right people is inherently more meaningful than just presenting paper with project specs and scope.

Curry recounted the case he made against the current configuration.

Its age makes it a “dinosaur” in terms of design, one with safety issues that mandate changes.

The FDOT Study of the bridge conducted this year revealed the benefit to the port, another key benefit to the project.

The economic development for Bay Street the new traffic pattern would spawn, Curry said, was “gravy” — not the primary purpose for the project that some have suggested.

But the trip was about more than selling the project, Curry said. It’s about “long-term relationship building” as well, on this issue but others.

Curry often uses the phrase “relationship building” to describe meetings like this; in fact, he used the same phrase to describe his last trip to the White House, in June for a infrastructure summit with President Donald Trump.

As his administration moves through its third year, one can see the benefits of putting the work into relationships, with Curry being able to tout successful pension reform, including a tough collective bargaining process after a tough sale to state lawmakers.

Relationships were indispensable there, as well as to Curry’s recent re-org of children’s programs, the Kids Hope Alliance, which the mayor and his team sold to — and negotiated revisions with — the Jacksonville City Council.

Will relationships secure this much-needed infrastructure grant? Time will tell.

NE Florida fundraising round-up: Paul Renner shines; HD 15 is competitive

October brought big scores to some Northeast Florida campaigns and committees. Here’s the seat-by-seat rundown.

State Senate

Senate District 4’s Republican incumbent Aaron Bean brought home the bucks.

October saw $36,000 come into Bean’s coffers: $24,000 to his campaign account, and another $12,000 to his committee, “Florida Conservative Alliance.”

All told, Bean has roughly $78,000 of hard money, and $102,000 in committee coffers: a total of $180,000 in deployable resources.

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SD 5 incumbent Audrey Gibson — the next leader of the Senate Democrats — brought in $10,000 in October, which was her third straight month in five figures. More than half of that money came in from Big Pharma.

Gibson has roughly $88,000 cash on hand

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Fleming Island Sen. Rob Bradley is not up for re-election, but his fundraising was notable also.

“Working for Florida’s Families,” Bradley’s political committee, reached a milestone with a $40,000 October, clearing $500,000 cash on hand.

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House candidates and committees

HD 11 Republican incumbent Rep. Cord Byrd raised $2,000 in October, spent $2,500, and has $15,392 on hand.

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Southside Jacksonville’s HD 12 is seeing a competitive race, with Republican incumbent Clay Yarborough winning the money race handily against Democrat Tim Yost.

Yarborough brought in $21,750 in October, giving him roughly $73,000 on hand. Yost finished October with roughly $2,300 on hand, with $1,208 brought in from individual contributors.

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HD 13 incumbent Democrat Tracie Davis brought in $7,500 of new money in October, giving her $28,190 raised and on hand. Davis thus far faces no opposition in her safe Democratic seat.

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Incumbent HD 14 Democrat Kim Daniels raised nothing and spent $1,500 on a “media consultant” based in South Florida. She has almost $600 cash on hand, but faces no ballot opposition.

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HD 15 Republican Wyman Duggan had a strong month:  $20,500 in October, bringing him to $84,600 raised, with nearly $77,000 on hand. Democrat Tracye Polson kept pace. 

She brought in $14,090 off of 64 contributions in October, bringing her total raised to $65,189, with over $64,000 of that on hand. Her committee has another $12,000 banked, giving her $76,000 raised.

Notable: the majority of Polson’s contributions are from outside HD 15, with many of them in the Washington D.C. area. And much of what she has amassed is self-financed.

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In HD 16, incumbent Republican Jason Fischer continues to rake in the bucks.

Fischer cleared over $17,000 in October, between his campaign account and that of his political committee, “Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville.”

Fischer has almost $62,000 cash on hand, with over $28,000 in the committee coffers, giving him roughly $90,000 to deploy.

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Down in St. Johns County’s HD 17, Cyndi Stevenson added just over $9,000 to her coffers, giving her $51,000 on hand, for a campaign in which she will run unopposed.

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HD 18’s incumbent Republican, Travis Cummings, had another strong month. Cummings brought in $10,000, and ended October with over $58,000 on hand; he has no ballot competition yet.

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October was a good month also for incumbent House District 19 Rep. Bobby Payne.

His primary opponent withdrew, a Libertarian opponent’s questionable past surfaced, and he almost doubled his cash on hand.

Payne raised $25,300 total; all told, he has raised $55,346 this cycle, and has almost $52,000 cash on hand.

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But we saved the best — in terms of monthly haul — for last.

Palm Coast Rep. Paul Renner in HD 24 is on the track to the House Speaker post. And Northeast Florida’s brightest hope in the House is also favored by donors outside the region.

Proof positive: the impressive October hauls of Renner’s two political committees, “Florida Foundation for Liberty” and “Conservatives for Principled Leadership.”

The former brought in $70,500; the latter, $37,500 … adding up to a tidy sum of $108,000 — much more than an incumbent running in a deep-red seat against an underfunded Democrat needs for re-election.

LeAnna Cumber, Rory Diamond pace October fundraising in Jax City Council races

Two recently-filed Republican candidates for Jacksonville City Council seats set the pace for the growing field of hopefuls in October.

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The biggest haul: District 5 hopeful LeAnna Cumber, who brought in $101,775 last month in her bid to succeed termed-out Lori Boyer.

While $12,000 of Cumber’s receipts came from a personal loan, Cumber’s support came from a broad swath of members of the donor class, including Gary Chartrand, the Fiorentino GroupJohn Rood, and the Jacksonville Kennel Club, as well as the political committees of Sen. Aaron Bean and Rep. Paul Renner.

Cumber has ballot competition: Democrat James Jacobs, whose $100 raised brought him to $753 raised total, and $353 on hand.

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The second biggest haul of the month in Jacksonville City Council races: currently unopposed Beaches candidate Rory Diamond, who brought in $85,326, and retained just over $82,000 of such as cash on hand.

Among Diamond’s donors: Gary Chartrand, Paul HardenPeter RummellChris Hand, and the Jacksonville and Orange Park Kennel Clubs.

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Former Councilman Matt Carlucci, running to replace termed-out Greg Anderson in At Large District 4, continues to lead all candidates in fundraising after a $17,825 October.

The most interesting name on Carlucci’s donor list for the month: current Councilman Doyle Carter, who donated $250 to Carlucci.

Carlucci has raised over $166,000, and has $156,000 on hand.

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In what may have been the most anticipated entry to a race last month, former Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Bishop began his quest to return to the legislative body, filing to run against Ron Salem in At-Large District 2.

Bishop had a respectable first month — bringing in $13,325 off of 24 contributions — though Salem almost matched him, with $11,125 collected in what was Salem’s best month since May.

Salem has just under $114,000 cash on hand, and it will be worth watching to see how Bishop closes the cash gap.

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Republican Randy DeFoor in City Council District 14 had her second straight strong month, bringing in $25,975.

DeFoor has raised $77,825, and has spent $6,200, giving her almost $72,000 after two months in the district race.

DeFoor’s opponent, Republican Earl Testy, has yet to report fundraising.

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Republican Rose Conry filed last month in City Council District 6, a race in which she is almost assured to have some competition … competition which likely won’t be scared off by her first month’s tally.

Conry brought in $18,675 in her first month in the race.

The Kennel Clubs and the Fiorentino Group donated, as did Jax Chamber Chair Darnell Smith.

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Some candidates have yet to show fundraising for October at this writing; this piece will be updated if anything notable is filed.

Second Republican, Earl Testy, files for Jax Council District 14 seat

It looks like there will be a competitive race for the Jacksonville City Council District 14 seat after all.

Last month saw Earl Testy file as the second Republican in the field, joining Randy DeFoor in the race to succeed Jim Love in the district that runs from Riverside through Avondale and Ortega toward NAS Jax.

DeFoor has the lead in endorsements and fundraising, having brought in $51,000 in September, with October numbers pending.

Yet Testy, who ran in 2011 the last time the seat was open — and raised $100.01 total — has the lead on hot quotes, as his Facebook page suggests.

Testy got testy in recent weeks about the Jacksonville Jaguars, lambasting Jags’ owner Shad Khan.

“Kubla Khan needs to find another country to dock his uber luxury yacht, The Kismyasmet,” Testy observed.

“Khan was raised in Pakistan, comes to America, makes billions of dollars, and buys himself a NFL franchise. That’s the American dream. Then he takes the team to London, on foreign soil, and doesn’t show the world, especially our children, what American Exceptionalism is by placing his hand over his heart during our National Anthem!” Testy added.

Testy is also opposed to Jacksonville’s recently expanded Human Rights Ordinance, offering support for the Empower Jacksonville movement that seeks to roll back the law protecting LGBT people from discrimination.

“I gratefully add my support to this critical civil rights initiative,” Testy wrote on the group’s Facebook page.

Florida Politics attempted to set up an interview with Testy, who declined based on this writer’s “political worldview.”

However, Testy did offer a statement.

“If you like Trump/Pence and despise Kublai Khan, Get Very Testy for City Council District 14!”

With a candidate in the race who is opposed to [Shad] Khan, who tends to donate in sync with the rest of the donor class, and to the Human Rights Ordinance expansion, which many on the right thought Mayor Lenny Curry should have stopped, what is clear is that the 2019 City Council races will offer contrasts between establishment Republicans like DeFoor and those who come from different parts of the GOP.

Another potential benefit of Testy’s entry could be realized for local Democrats via splitting the GOP vote; Dems are already scouting candidates.

In 2011, the last time this seat was open, ten candidates filed for election; the two best funded candidates, Jill Dame and eventual winner Jim Love, ultimately advanced.

Both ran as Republicans.

Corrine Brown witnesses limited Thursday; December sentencing for ‘One Door’ 3

While Corrine BrownRonnie Simmons and Carla Wiley have sentencing hearings this week in federal court, their fates won’t be known until December 4.

The Court will take what is heard in the hearing “under advisement and will reconvene on Monday, December 4, 2017 at 10:00 a.m..”

Brown also now faces a hard limit on character witness speaking times.

“While the Court will hear from all who wish to speak, the Court must set some time limits. Ms. Brown may designate three character witnesses who may each speak for up to five minutes; her other character witnesses may speak for up to two minutes each.”

Brown’s hearing is Thursday morning at 10 a.m, while her co-conspirators face hearings on Wednesday morning at 10 a.m.

Brown is expected to have a robust witness list, as her contention is that probation would be a means of “restorative justice.”

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

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

The feds, meanwhile, paint Brown’s defense as riddled with falsehoods and misrepresentations. And they called attention in their sentencing memo to what they see as the true lost opportunity cost of the case.

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

For two days this week, the skeleton of this case will be rehashed again in a Jacksonville courthouse.

 

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