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Posted: November 09, 2017

Prosecutors seek “justice” in sentence for “significant” case against former Rep. Corrine Brown

Now-former Congresswoman Corrine Brown outside of the federal courthouse in Downtown Jacksonville on the day she testifies in her own defense.
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Now-former Congresswoman Corrine Brown outside of the federal courthouse in Downtown Jacksonville on the day she testifies in her own defense.

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By Stephanie Brown

Jacksonville, FL —

“Leaders of American democracy owe a duty to the public to act within  the law, uphold the highest ethical standards, and conduct themselves beyond reproach. Corrine Brown failed in those areas. She became corrupt. Society expects courts to punish convicted and corrupt politicians.”

It’s the start of the sentencing memorandum from the US government in the case against now-former Northeast Florida Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown, and it makes it clear that prosecutors think Brown should serve some serious prison time.

The government isn’t giving any specific figure yet for how long they believe Brown’s sentence should be, but the 50-page memo details multiple enhancements that have been recommended by her Probation Officer, and with which prosecutors agree. This memo comes on the same day the US Attorney’s Office recommended more lenient sentences for Brown’s two co-defendants, who both pleaded guilty and testified in Brown’s trial. 

Those co-defendants, Brown’s Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons and the President of sham charity “One Door For Education” Carla Wiley, will both be sentenced November 15th. Brown faces sentencing on November 16th.

FULL COVERAGE: The federal fraud trial of former Congresswoman Corrine Brown

Speaking on the convictions, prosecutors scorn Brown’s “ridicule” of the American justice system, lack of remorse, and willingness to blame others.

“Corrine Brown’s mantra that the prosecution was racially and politically motivated is, and always has been, a complete fabrication to distract the public- and no doubt potential jurors- from the very serious allegations against her,” the memo says.

They further say the longstanding tax fraud and other things show Brown’s “entitlement disposition transitioned into criminal conduct”.

Prosecutors note on several occasions that Simmons and Wiley are not without blame. In addition to essentially taking over control of “One Door” from his then-girlfriend Wiley and linking Brown to the group, Simmons is accused of getting his sister a job with the House for which she did little actual work but got paid for- money he shared. Wiley was separately taking money from “One Door’s” account online and transferring it in to her personal account.

Brown was convicted on 18 fraud related charges, many of which stemmed from soliciting hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to the sham charity “One Door”, and using the money for personal expenses and lavish events like a luxury box at an NFL game and Beyone concert instead. She was further found guilty of not claiming income from “One Door” on her financial disclosures or tax forms, while also overreporting charitable contributions.

“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 memo says. “Brown, Simmons, and Wiley not only squandered this opportunity, they abused it for their own benefit. The voiceless victims in this case are the students who received nothing.”

Brown under oath

Some of Brown’s explanations on the stand were without merit, according to prosecutors. One line of questioning was around how Brown could explain cash deposits she was receiving, which the government says was money funneled from “One Door”.

“I had birthday. I had Christmas. You know, and sometimes I had boyfriends. So I mean, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Brown testified.

“Instead of providing an honest answer, Brown chose to quip and lie under oath,” the sentencing memo says.

Beyond these “quips”, prosecutors say there were several flat out falsehoods and instances of perjury in Brown’s testimony.

“Throughout her testimony, Brown attempted to weave together explanations for the charged criminal conduct, explanations that were inconsistent, beyond far-fetched, outright false, and refuted by the evidence,” the memo says.

Examples of that outlined in the court records include Brown’s testimony on the role of Von Alexander in the money transfers, her accusations that some of the exhibits at trial were not completely accurate, her statements about not knowing Simmons was engaged in any wrongdoing, and more.

In fact, when asked about Simmons during trial, Brown had an emotional outburst that led the judge to call a recess. Prosecutors go so far in this memo as to call that breakdown “contrived”.

She also tried to cast doubt on some of the forensic accounting while on the stand, saying agents were fabricating information or not using complete financial data- which prosecutors deny.

Brown blaming others

Prosecutors say Brown refuses to take responsibility for her actions or show remorse. Instead, they pointed to several portions of the defense’s case and Brown’s testimony where she blamed others.

In her testimony about problems with her tax filings, for example, Brown put much of the blame on her tax preparer and the person in her office who handled the form. Both of them testified that they had to consistently push Brown to get the forms done on time and that they filled out the forms according to what she said, even if they didn’t have full documentation of her claims. Brown testified that she should have paid closer attention to those filings, and that she was guilty of mismanaging her personal finances and office, but not of criminal offenses.

The defense was built around blaming Simmons for what happened, saying he preyed on Brown and her position for his own financial benefit. Simmons testified that many of the financial transactions he made between “One Door” and Brown were at her express direction, noting that if she was not directing him, he would not have had any reason to give her money.

Brown’s pre- and post-trial statements

Hand-in-hand with the blame she placed on other people are comments Brown made about the justice system, their motivations in this case, and other areas that prosecutors refute across the board.

The memo outlines some of the statements that raised flags for the government, including Brown saying the prosecution was to “take her out”, that she was being “persecuted” because of her race, that the indictment was “half-truth and witch hunt”, and similar things.

Ahead of one pre-trial, Brown even served ice cream for supporters from a truck just outside of the courthouse, while distributing an editorial talking about her being a victim of a “racist system”.

The comments didn’t stop after her conviction- she did interview where she made comments including that she believed there may have been jury tampering.

“These public comments speak for themselves. Corrine Brown heaved rhetoric and undue criticism at every facet of the criminal justice system, both prior to and after the fair trial that she received,” the memo says.

Prosecutors say Brown could have chosen- as her co-defendants did- to not make public comment. Instead, the memo says she failed to show remorse and resorted instead to these blame tactics.

Brown’s abuse of a position of trust

“Corrine Brown held one of the highest positions of public trust in American democracy. She abused that trust in multiple ways,” the sentencing memo says.

One of the chief abuses, according to prosecutors, is how Brown used the relationships she had built and her status in Congress to “trick” donors. Donors testified they trusted Brown, and her reputation and the fact that she voiched for it is what led them to donate.

“The Court must fashion a sentence that reflects the seriousness of the offenses, promotes respect for law, provides just punishment for the offenses, and affords general and specific deterrence,” the memo says.

And in an effort to get ahead of Brown’s anticipated defense in sentencing focusing on her history of charitable work and fighting for the needs of her constituents, prosecutors say that very public office was “critical” to her crimes.

“No amount of good work can overshadow the fact that Brown used the very same goodwill she generated over the years as the means to commit crimes, and then made efforts to hide her crimes from the electorate and taxpayers,” the memo says.

The memo further notes that there is a wide range in how “public corruption/fraud cases” have been handled in the country. While the sentences recommended in those cases varied widely, the government says none led to a recommendation of probation- as Brown is seeking.

“This is a significant case. The Court must fashion a sentence for each defendant that renders justice,” the memo says.


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