Posted: April 28, 2017
By Stephanie Brown
Jacksonville, FL —
There have been seven different witnesses, but one consistent answer- those who donated or orchestrated donations to One Door For Education wouldn’t have done so if they knew the money wouldn’t be going to charity, as prosecutors claim.
A flurry of witnesses has been led through questioning by the US Attorney’s Office prosecuting team during the first two days of the federal fraud trial of now-former Congresswoman Corrine Brown. Among the seven over the two days, the theme emerging is that donors and those helping them believed in Brown, and were willing to take her at her word as she vouched for One Door. Prosecutors say instead of the donations going toward scholarship and opportunities for children, though, the money was going to events and the personal expenses of Brown and a few others.
As each witness took the stand to speak of the trust they had in Brown, her defense attorney continued to push his own theme- that Brown herself wouldn’t have had any reason to believe anything wrong was taking place.
John and Bob Picerne are brothers in the Central Florida area. Bob Picerne says he met Brown about 20 years ago and gradually formed a professional and personal relationship. He has a passion for helping children who are going through foster care and helping families who want to adopt, but can’t afford it.
When his company gave to One Door, Picerne believed it would be toward advancing educational opportunities. He didn’t deal with many of the details of the transactions or with personally writing the checks, but in all, the company gave about $90,000 over three years, including $5,000 to cover printing for a commemorative edition of a magazine featuring Brown- a check that they made out to One Door, with the cover ultimately marking the magazine as funded by a re-election campaign.
John Picerne met Brown through his brother, and he says she was able to help his business using her relationship with Naval Station Mayport. She asked him for charitable giving two or three times, and there was a $10,000 check from Picerne to One Door. He says he gave that money because he trusted Brown and believed she was doing good things.
The defense continues to try to drive a wedge between Brown and any knowledge of wrongdoing with One Door funds, and Bob Picerne confirmed that he never spoke with Brown about One Door specifically. John Picerne said he believes he found out about One Door through Brown, but most of his communication about the donations would have been with Brown’s Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons.
In fact, Brown’s reputation appears to have kept donations flowing, even after potential signs of problems.
Gasper Lazzara- a longtime orthodontist turned business man who has developed orthodontic schools and operates a family foundation focused on healthcare and education for children- says he’s known Brown for about 15 years, since they met at a Jacksonville University groundbreaking. Since then, she has solicited him for donations to summer camps, Edward Waters College, and other causes. In 2012, he says Brown talked to him about a new charity- One Door- and he agreed to invest in a specific program he believed would provide computers to students during the summer session.
When his daughter took over the family foundation, she raised two issues. The first was when Simmons apparently asked them to make the above mentioned check out to One Door, instead of the school district. An email from Lazzara’s daughter to Simmons said they didn’t understand Simmons request to pay the Community Rehabilitation Center, and they just wanted to make sure the money was actually going toward computers for students. Simmons responded that he would get with the Congresswoman, but then never responded. The second issue surfaced when Lazzara’s daughter started doing research and found One Door was not, in fact, a registered 501(c)(3), as they had represented themselves. Despite that, Lazzara says he kept donating to the group, because he “absolutely” trusted Brown.
This was another area where Smith jumped, asking what Lazzara did when he learned One Door was not a registered 501(c)(3). Lazzara couldn’t remember telling Brown directly, believing instead that his daughter communicated the problem with Simmons.
Some on Brown’s staff apparently not only told these prospective donors that One Door was a registered non-profit, but put forward some documentation.
The first big check in One Door’s account came from a PAC backed by a lobbying firm where Brown’s daughter, Shantrel Brown, worked. Tandy Bondi worked with some of the administrative elements of that PAC and did some of research ahead of the $25,000 donation.
Bondi says she couldn’t find that the group was a registered 501(c)(3), and when she asked Simmons, he sent her an attachment about One Door’s IRS Employer Identification Number- which does not grant non-profit status- and a one-page note about the history of the group that explicitly said they were a 501(c)(3).
Another person who orchestrated a donation- Husein Cumber with Florida East Coast industry- says Brown approached him first about a donation to her legal fund to help her redistricting fight, and when he declined, she asked instead for a donation for One Door. Cumber says the way Brown described the group seemed to be a “natural fit” for the business’s charitable giving, so he said to send a W9 and they would consider and process a donation. Cumber says a W9 is required under their corporate guidelines to help ensure the organization is properly registered. Ultimately, that W9 was sent, and Cumber allowed a $10,000 donation.
The legal fund was also apparently the destination for a small number of high value donations that went instead to One Door.
Susie Wiles, a Public Affairs Consultant, says Brown approached her at an August 2015 meeting in Orlando, telling Wiles that she needed help funding a battle she was mounting against Congressional redistricting- which substantially changed Brown’s district from one that stretched from Jacksonville south to Orlando, to one that stretched west instead. Wiles agreed to help Brown put together a small fundraiser, and Brown suggested reaching out to the head of Haskell, Steve Halverson, to host the event at his office. When Wiles did, she says Halverson believed he could bring in the money Brown was seeking without even needing to hold an event.
Wiles says Brown checked in once, and Wiles told her things were moving along. When Halverson came back with checks, Wiles asked Simmons what the “Pay To” line should say. When he didn’t answer right away, Wiles reached out to another Brown aide, Vonn Alexander. Alexander told her to have them made out to One Door, and sent to an address that turned out to be Simmons’ home. Simmons would later respond to make the check to him, and to send them to his home address.
Again there was cross examination, with Smith pointing out that Brown solicited for her legal fund and was not herself involved in any of the communication on where to ultimately send the money.
One of the people solicited by Halverson is retiring CSX CEO Michael Ward. He wrote a $5,000 check he believed to be in some way going toward Brown’s re-election efforts, although wasn’t sure exactly where. He did not believe the money would ultimately be flagged for One Door.
He had personally given $30,000 to One Door though. Ward was animated and passionate as he described for the court some of CSX’s charitable giving and his own, which focuses on improving neighborhoods where the railroad operates.
“Education is the best gift you can give anyone,” he says.
His tone was much more subdued when prosecutors started asking specifically about One Door, though. He first heard about the group from Brown, when she was asking for funding for a golf tournament sponsored by One Door. When he ultimately donated $10,000, though, Ward says he believed his money was going toward iPads for students and not the event. His wife ultimately signed another $10,000 check, but again, Ward says they believed their money was specifically for helping children. Ward would later give another $10,000 to Brown’s effort to send students to China on a cultural exchange. While prosecutors say donor money did, in fact, go toward the trip, the tens of thousands of dollars in excess funds were never returned.
The response was the same across the board- all of these witnesses either donated or orchestrated the donation because of their trust in Brown, and none of them would have signed the checks if they believed the money wouldn’t be going to charity.
WOKV is inside of the federal courthouse and will continue to bring you full details on the testimony. Follow our reporter Stephanie Brown on Twitter for updates during court recesses.
Prosecutors are building a money trail of deposits, withdrawals, and lavish spending allegedly benefiting former Congresswoman Corrine Brown and a few others, through the testimony of an FBI Special Agent.
But Brown’s defense says, at no time, did she have control of the account in question.
Deputy Chief of the Department of Justice Public Integrity Section Criminal Division Eric Olshan’s questioning of FBI Special Agent Vanessa Stelly spanned two days of Brown’s federal fraud trial. Stelly was assigned to this investigation as part of her work in the white collar crime division. She told the court she had worked through bank and business records for Brown, as well as the alleged “sham” charity One Door For Education, which Brown and a few others are accused of funneling money through.
Stelly confirmed that at no time was One Door registered in either Florida or Virginia- where it was incorporated as a business- to solicit charitable donations as a 501(c)(3) organization. One Door’s President, Carla Wiley, opened a bank account for the organization in 2011, but it closed about a year later because of a negative balance. Wiley opened another account with a $250 initial deposit, and there was no activity until August 2012, when Stelly says there was a $25,000 check deposited by a Political Action Committee based in Virginia. That PAC is backed by a lobbying firm where Brown’s daughter, Shantrel Brown, works. Corrine and Shantrel Brown share a home in Virginia.
One of the points that prosecutors are trying to hammer in is that there was a habit of using One Door donations for the personal expenses of Brown and a few others. To do that, Olshan first walked Stelly through repeated instances where bank records show hundreds of dollars at a time being taken from the One Door account at an ATM near the Laurel, MD home of Brown’s Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons, with a like sum soon after deposited in one of Brown’s accounts- also in Laurel. Prosecutors further showed a surveillance photo of Simmons making at least one withdrawal and deposit. Prosecutors alleged Simmons would sometimes withdraw the cash and give it directly to Brown, and there was a surveillance photo of Brown herself making one deposit.
Brown’s attorney, James Smith III, jumped on the charted expenses though, pointing out with Stelly that only about $3,000 of the roughly $26,000 One Door Funds allegedly deposited in to Brown’s account are suspected to have been deposited by her, with the majority done by Simmons. As he works to show Simmons betrayed Brown’s trust, Smith guided Stelly through cross examination, where she confirmed Brown did not have access to the One Door account, did not have the debit card, and was not formally affiliated with the governance or running of the organization.
Another focus of the prosecution is a trip by Brown and her daughter to the Bahamas, and later Los Angeles. A July 2013 check for $3,000 from the One Door account made out to a specific Bank of America bank account said in the memo line that it was for children’s summer camps. Stelly says bank records show $3,000 being deposited around the same time in to Shantrel Brown’s bank account, and $1,000 being transferred from Shantrel Brown’s account to that of her mother. At the same time, Stelly says bank records show several cash withdrawals from One Door’s account in Simmons’ city of residence amounting to $3,000, the same sum which was then deposited in to Brown’s account as well. This all happened as Brown and her daughter first spent time at a resort in the Bahamas and then traveled to the Los Angeles-area, where they did a significant amount of shopping, according to Stelly’s analysis.
When Stelly’s testimony resumed Thursday, the focus turned to more than $330,000 in One Door funds that the US Attorney’s Office says funded events hosted by Brown or in Brown’s honor which didn’t actually result in any kind of scholarship fundraising.
There were several events Stelly says were represented as being paid for by another group, like Friends of Corrine Brown, but actually had at least some One Door dollars. Still other events were largely entirely funded by One Door, but prosecutors allege that’s not what the donations were intended for. They pulled out fliers for the events, which generally listed One Door as a sponsor or gave more detailed explanation of the organization. Smith questioned whether there were any documents that had been introduced as evidence which specifically said donations would only be going toward education scholarships, though, and Stelly said there were none. Smith further questioned whether Stelly could be sure there were no scholarships or opportunities created as a result of the networking done at these events. Stelly could only confirm One Door had not given out scholarships at the events or raised money for scholarships they would distribute. Olshan added that it was not Stelly’s job to investigate other charity and scholarship organizations.
GALLERY: One Door For Education’s website
A substantial amount of time was also spent on the Congresswoman Corrine Brown Invitational Golf Tournament which was advertised as sponsored by One Door to benefit a scholarship fund and other community non-profits. Stelly says $55,594.55 in One Door funds were used to put on the event. Among the expenses charged to One Door, though, are hotel nights for Brown in the days leading up to the event- at a hotel about five miles from her Jacksonville home- and several nights for her and a few others at a hotel near the golf tournament- about 25 miles from her home. The hotel nights alone added to a little more than $1,400.
Prosecutors also took the time to look at the charitable giving One Door touted on its website. In all, over about two years, Stelly says she found just $10,408 she identified as “possible charitable contributions”, which includes everything from $30 to the Town of Eatonville to $1,500 for the Jacksonville Men Who Cook Fundraiser.
WOKV is inside of the federal courthouse as the testimony in this trial continues. Check back frequently at wokv.com.
Was it corruption or betrayal?
There is a fundamental question that’s been brought to light through opening statements at the federal fraud trial of now-former Congresswoman Corrine Brown- exactly how much did she know about her personal finances and affairs. The question becomes central, as her defense paints the picture of a Chief of Staff in over his head and acting behind Brown’s back, while prosecutors say it would be impossible for her not to know about the source of the tens of thousands of dollars she was allegedly benefiting from.
CONTINUING COVERAGE: The trial of now-former Congresswoman Corrine Brown
Assistant US Attorney A. Tysen Duva started his argument talking about Brown being hailed as a trailblazer for her historic election in the 90s. He spoke about the committees she served in her more than two decades with the House of Representatives, and the reputation she built to deliver for her constituents.
“We wish that was the end of the story,” Duva said. “There’s another side- corruption, greed, and a significant entitlement attitude. That’s what this case is about. It’s about lying, cheating, and stealing.”
Duva says Brown leveraged her position and relationships she built as a Congresswoman to solicit money for a “bogus” charity “One Door for Education”, without ever telling donors the money wasn’t being used on scholarships and other things to help disadvantaged children. Instead, prosecutors say the money was being used for parties, travel, shopping trips, and more of Brown and a few others.
Duva says Brown’s Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons would frequently drive to an ATM in his Virginia hometown and withdraw the maximum allowed in a day- $800- from the One Door account, then depositing a like sum in to one of Brown’s bank accounts or giving the cash to Brown directly.
“When we dug even further, we saw this was a way of life,” he says.
Duva says Brown was driven by finances- with three properties and a shopping habit.
“She simply spent way more than she took in, she became accustomed to this money coming in,” He says.
Brown would also throw “lavish” events using One Door funds, according to Duva, about $330,000 overall. The US Attorney’s Office says donations to the group funded a golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass, a luxury box at a Jaguars game in DC, a luxury box in a Beyonce concert, and more. The money would also allegedly be used for an event at an annual conference, which Duva called a party for Brown to “be celebrated”. No fundraising was done at these events, according to Duva.
In his opening statement, though, Brown’s attorney James Smith III said Brown was not responsible for event planning, travel, or even much of the day-to-day operations in her office- Simmons was, and the jury needs to decide if they can trust him.
“She trusted that he would always look out for her and care for her,” Smith says.
Smith says Brown first offered to be Simmons’ mentor after he and her daughter broke up, but remained friends. Simmons first worked in Brown’s travel agency, then eventually her campaign for the Florida House, then Congress. Smith says Brown looked at Simmons as a son, and was unaware that many thought he was in over his head. Rather, she trusted him to run her staff, keep her schedule, plan her travel and more. Simmons also had access to Brown’s bank accounts, according to Smith.
“As far as she knew, everything was running smoothly,” Smith says.
Smith says Simmons was always developing “schemes”, though, to fund the lifestyle he had become accustomed to. One such scheme involved getting a House of Representatives job for his sister by telling Brown she was sick and needed money. In reality, he says Simmons took much of the money over many years, and the relative didn’t do much work. So, when Simmons met and ultimately started having a relationship with Carla Wiley, the President of One Door, the opportunity for another scheme “fell in to his lap”.
“The two of them did that, on their own, without any encouragement or direction from Congresswoman Brown,” Smith says.
He says Brown solicited donations for a group she had every reason to believe was credible, because Simmons had vouched for it, and she trusted him. Even when Wiley ultimately took a plea deal, Simmons maintained his innocence, so Brown still had trust that he had done the right thing, according to Smith. Then, Simmons took a plea deal as well.
“She finally, finally had a chance to see clearly the betrayal that some in her inner circle feared,” Smith says.
Simmons and Wiley are both going to testify. Smith reminded the jurors that they will have to consider that testimony carefully, because of the plea deals Wiley and Simmons were given in exchange for their cooperation with the prosecution. He added that Brown herself will testify, because she can tell her story best, and he wants the jury to weigh Brown’s “well-earned reputation” against that of her two alleged co-conspirators.
And on the question of how Brown could have not known about the source of frequent large deposits in her accounts- the alleged One Door money Simmons would deposit- Smith says Brown traveled frequently for her work in Congress, and she would front the money and get reimbursed.
Prosecutors say that’s just not the case.
“The facts are going to show that Corrine Brown knew exactly what she was doing,” Duva said.
He adds that there are clearly established lies which will speak to that, including that Brown is also accused of underreporting her income and overreporting her charitable giving on House financial disclosures and tax returns.
If the One Door donors had known their money was not going to charitable education purposes, Duva says they wouldn’t have donated in the first place. He also says Brown using her influence and position as a Congresswoman was key toward soliciting the large donations- many ten thousand dollars or more.
Smith says Brown can only be convicted of fraud if she knowingly lied to the donors when she asked for the donations. He says she didn’t, though, and had instead been fooled by Simmons. Smith says Simmons fooled investigators and prosecutors too.
“Don’t let him fool you,” Smith said to the jury.
The courtroom itself was full for opening statements Wednesday, despite US Magistrate Judge Timothy Corrigan adding extra chairs in anticipation of a crowd. Those who did not secure a seat- which were first come, first served- were allowed in to an overflow room where there were audio and video feeds set up.
WOKV is inside of the federal courtroom and updating you frequently through the proceedings. This is a developing story that will be updated in to the evening.
The jury that will sit over the federal fraud trial of now-former Congresswoman Corrine Brown has been chosen.
Seven men and five women are on the panel. Four alternates have also been chosen- not two as the initial court order stated. The alternates will not be told they are alternates ahead of the trial, instead, they’ve been mixed in among the others and the group is sitting as a body of 16.
CONTINUING COVERAGE: The trial of now-former Congresswoman Corrine Brown
US Magistrate Judge James Klindt, who presided over the two-and-a-half day selection process, says they sat four alternates because of the anticipated length of the trial- at three weeks.
By the observation of our reporter in the courtroom, the 12 person panel appears to be three white females, five white males, two black females, one black male, and one Hispanic male. Nine of the jurors live in Jacksonville, one in Bunnell, one in Middleburg, and one couldn’t be determined by our reporter because it was not clearly stated by the juror.
The defense was allowed to make ten strikes “without cause” and the prosecution had six, but neither side used all of those strikes before agreeing on the panel.
US District Judge Timothy Corrigan- who is presiding over the trial- took the bench for the first time just ahead of 11:15AM Wednesday, had the jury sworn in, and then issued instructions to the panel.
The instructions included reinforcing that the jurors cannot speak to anyone about the case, and that none of the parties involved in the case should be approaching them through the trial itself. The jury will not be sequestered, but has been repeatedly instructed not to seek out any news reports about this case or discuss the case with anyone.
“Our whole system depends upon the fact that this case is decided in this courtroom on the evidence in this courtroom, and nothing else,” Corrigan told the jury.
Corrigan further started to explain the prosecution’s burden to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt”, and that there is no obligation on the defense to prove anything. Jurors will be given notepads and paper during the trial, but those are taken from them at the end of the day every day.
Juror 1- black male from Jacksonville, high school education, single and never married. He works in merchandising for a soda company. He served on a criminal jury in state court about ten years ago, and they were able to reach a verdict. This juror said he had some prior knowledge of this case from watching the news, but had no more details than the case statement delivered by Klindt and had not formed any opinion on guilty or innocence. Two of this juror’s cousins and two of his friends have been arrested- a cousin was arrested in the 1980s and did 27 years for drug possession, a cousin was locked up in the 1980s for a robbery, a friend was arrested for murder in 1993 and sentenced to life in prison, and another friend was arrested for molestation in the last five years. This juror says these cases wouldn’t influence him, because the people involved were guilty and he would be able to set those cases out of mind to focus on these proceedings.
Juror 2- white male from Jacksonville, high school education with some college, married with one 23-year-old child. He works in sales and his wife is a homemaker. He has been a juror on a criminal case in state court, and they did reach a verdict. This juror said he had met Brown once in the past when he got the chance to be in a luxury box his company owns, but that meeting does not influence how he views Brown.
Juror 3, who was identified in jury selection as Juror 9- black female from Jacksonville, associates degree, divorced with two children- a 4-year-old and a 9-year-old. She is recently unemployed, but previously worked as a registration analyst for a mortgage company and leasing agent at an apartment complex. This juror was a victim of a crime by her ex-husband, with the details of that crime being discussed during a private sidebar with the judge and attorneys.
Juror 4, who was identified in jury selection as Juror 12- white male from Bunnell, high school education, divorced with a 30-year-old son. He was a factory worker and previously served four years in the Army. This juror said he had some prior knowledge of this case based on a comment his sister-in-law made when he received a jury summons, but he had not otherwise paid attention to the case nor did he have an opinion about it. This juror’s brother was arrested in the 70s after drunkenly shooting up a man’s car in a retaliatory act, but he says that wouldn’t influence him because he didn’t follow the case closely since he was serving in Korea.
Juror 7, who was identified in jury selection as Juror 13- white male from Jacksonville, Bachelor’s degree in Communications, married. He is currently a hair stylist and his spouse is with an insurance group. This juror said he has some knowledge of the case because he watches the news nightly and he is active on social media, but he hasn’t formed an opinion on the case because he hasn’t looked in to it in depth.
Juror 8, who was identified in jury selection as Juror 17- white female from Jacksonville, high school education with some college, widow. She is a real estate property manager. She was a juror in a criminal case in state court in 2014, and they were able to reach a verdict.
Juror 9, who was identified in jury selection as Juror 19- black female from Jacksonville, Bachelor’s degree in Respiratory Science, married with one son. She served in the Navy for 21 years and her husband is retired Navy as well. She now works in the respiratory science field. This juror’s brother was tried and convicted of attempted manslaughter in the early 80s. She says her family doesn’t talk about it, so she hasn’t formed any opinions about it.
Juror 10, who was identified in jury selection as Juror 23- white female from Jacksonville, Bachelor’s degree in Business, married with three children. Her children as a 26-year-old waiter, a 23-year-old who works in a grocery store, and an 18-year-old graduating high school. She works in sales support for an insurance company and her husband grades essays for standardized tests. She served on a jury in a state criminal case in Indiana, and they were able to reach a verdict. This juror said she had some prior knowledge of the case because she reads the paper daily, but she stopped reading any articles about the case when she received her summons about a month ago. She did not have any opinion on the case.
Juror 13, who was identified in jury selection as Juror 26- white male from Middleburg, high school education with some college, married with three daughters- a paralegal, a waitress, and one who does financial work in the medical field. He is unemployed, but previously worked for a mortgage investor company. He has prior military experience of 13.5 years at Cecil Field.
Juror 14, who was identified in jury selection as Juror 35- white female from Jacksonville, high school education with some college, married with two kids- a 13-year-old and a 19-year-old college student. She is a service consultant for an insurance company and her spouse is self-employed in landscaping. This juror says she has some prior knowledge of the case, but only that she had heard on the news that there was a trial.
Juror 15, who was identified in jury selection as Juror 39- white male, Associates degree, single. Works for the Department of Transportation. This juror says he has some prior knowledge of the case from watching the news, but hadn’t heard many specifics. Friends had joked that he could potentially be on the jury, but it’s nothing that led him to form an opinion. This juror has a family member that worked for a county sheriff’s office, but that has no impact on how he views law enforcement.
Juror 16, who was identified in jury selection as Juror 40- Hispanic male from Jacksonville, Bachelor’s degree in Network Technology, married with three children- a 33-year-old case manager with DCF, a 31-year-old in the armed forces, and a 25-year-old in college. He works as a shift supervisor at a youth camp in Starke and his wife is a school teacher. He served 44 years in the military.
ALTERNATE JUROR DETAILS:
Juror 5, who was identified in jury selection as Juror 44- Hispanic male from Jacksonville, Bachelor’s in Communications, married with an 11-month-old daughter. He works as a Continuity Director with a media group and his wife owns a bed-and-breakfast. This juror says he knows one of the prospective witnesses, John Delaney, from having served as Vice President of UNF’s student government, but that was about seven years ago and it would not influence the weight and consideration he gave to Delaney’s testimony.
Juror 6, who was identified in jury selection as Juror 50- female of apparent East Asian descent from St. Johns County, high school education and some college, married with three children- one is a former Marine and current firefighter, one is a Marine, and one is a student. She has previously worked in account receivables, merchandising, and as a youth service worker. This juror says she has some prior knowledge of the case from watching the news daily, but she mostly consumes traffic and weather and had only heard generally about this trial. She has not formed any opinion and will weigh only the evidence presented at trial.
Juror 11, who was identified in jury selection as Juror 51- white male from Palm Coast, Masters in Business Administration, married with three children- ages 13, 11, and 6. He is a medical surgical rep and his wife is a homemaker. He served on a criminal jury in a case in Flagler County four years ago, and they reached a verdict.
Juror 12, who was identified in jury selection as Juror 52- black female from East Palatka, high school education with some college, divorced with one 41-year-old son who’s a bus driver in New York. She is a lab analyst. She has previously served on a jury on a state criminal, but the case settled. This juror says she has some prior knowledge of the case from seeing a little on the news, but she hasn’t discussed the case with anyone, nor has she formed an opinion. This juror answered affirmatively that she, a close friend, or family member had been arrested for a crime, but the specific details were discussed in a private sidebar with the judge and attorneys.
Almost ten months after she was first indicted on twenty-two federal charges, now-former Congresswoman Corrine Brown is officially going on trial.
Opening statements are Wednesday afternoon, following more than two days of vetting 95 prospective jurors to seat a twelve person jury with two alternates. With the estimated three week proceeding getting underway, WOKV is recapping how things got to this point.
Questions started circulating in January 2016, when Brown was served a federal subpoena, but the situation started coming to head in March 2016, when Carla Wiley pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and agreed to cooperate with the prosecution as part of her plea agreement. Wiley was the head of “One Door For Education”, and the information filed against her in federal court says she and two others- one of who was a public official- represented that group as a charity to solicit and collect more than $800,000 in donations.
In reality, the US Attorney’s Office says One Door was never registered as a non-profit, and the donations were used instead for the personal expenses of the three co-conspirators and a few others.
In July 2016, Brown and her Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons were jointly indicted- confirming them as Wiley’s alleged co-conspirators. In February 2017, Simmons pleaded guilty to two of the 19 charges he faced and also agreed to cooperate with the prosecution.
Federal court records say the trio used Brown’s position as a Congresswoman to aid their efforts to raise money for One Door. Simmons’ plea deal says Brown would often solicit the donations and then have Simmons recap and follow up with the donor. The deal also says Brown would frequently ask Simmons to have Wiley check the balance of the One Door account.
The US Attorney’s Office says there are tens of thousands of dollars that were withdrawn from the One Door account in ATMs where the city where Simmons lived, and then deposited in Brown’s account. About $140,000 was also allegedly transferred to Wiley’s account from One Door, and Simmons allegedly benefited from tens of thousands of dollars in checks as well.
Prosecutors say the money would go toward car repairs, travel and lodging, events hosted by Brown or held in Brown’s honor, among other things. Some of those events allegedly funded by One Door money included a golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass, a fundraiser in a luxury box at a Beyonce concert, a fundraiser in a luxury box at a Jaguars-Redskins NFL game in DC, and parties at an annual conference in DC. Court filings from prosecutors say the fundraisers and events did not actually raise any money or otherwise benefit any charity.
Throughout the time in question, prosecutors say there was only ever two scholarships paid by One Door- one for $1,000 to a person in Virginia in February 2013, and one for $200 to a person in Florida in June 2015.
Brown served in the House of Representatives for more than two decades, before losing a primary election in August 2016. She said then that the time and resources she had to dedicate to the federal case against her were a factor in her ability to focus on the election. She had also faced a newly re-drawn district that stretched from Jacksonville to the west, after her prior district which stretched from Jacksonville to Orlando was thrown out because of gerrymandering.
Before she was voted out of office, Brown also faced an investigation by the House Committee on Ethics, which formed an Investigative Subcommittee to look in to these allegations. That investigation had been put on hold, however, pending the federal law enforcement probe.
If convicted on all charges, Brown could get more than 350 years in prison. A jury must be unanimous to convict. She’s specifically charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, seven counts of aiding and abetting mail fraud, nine counts of aiding and abetting wire fraud, one count of scheme to conceal material facts, one count of corrupt endeavor to obstruct or impede the due administration of internal revenue law, and three counts of filing a false tax return.
The later charges against Brown deal with claims by the US Attorney’s Office that Brown underreported income she received from One Door and overreported the charitable contributions she was making.
Wiley- the first to plead- admitted to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She could be sentenced to 20 years in prison. Simmons pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and one count of theft of government funds. He could get 20 years in prison for the conspiracy count, and 10 years for the theft.
Simmons faced the theft of government funds charge separate from Brown. He’s accused of helping a relative- who is a teacher living in Jacksonville- get a job with the House of Representatives an earning some $735,000 over about 15 years while doing little to no work. Simmons allegedly benefited about $80,000 from the revenue he helped his relative secure.
The jury is being specifically instructed to carefully consider the testimony of those who have taken plea deals- Simmon and Wiley- to consider that there testimony could be incentivized by the potential to receive a lighter penalty. They are also, however, being told not to negatively view a person solely for having taken a plea deal.
WOKV is in the courtroom as these proceedings continue. Our reporter Stephanie Brown will have updates on Twitter during court recesses and new stories posted frequently to WOKV.com.
The opening statements in the federal fraud trial of now-former Congresswoman Corrine Brown have been pushed back, after jury selection fails to wrap up in two long days.
The court had hoped to have the 12 person jury and two alternates selected by the end of the day Tuesday. All of the questioning is done, but the attorneys have not yet had the chance to exercise all of their challenges to prospective panelists- with several dozen people still being held. Around 5:45 PM, Magistrate Judge James R. Klindt told the courtroom “some complications for jurors” that he wasn’t previously aware of prevented him from holding them any later in to the evening. Because of that, he decided to end for the night, and resume Wednesday to finalize the jury.
Opening statements, which had been scheduled for 9:30AM, will now take place at 1PM.
The first day of jury questioning focused specifically on this case, with Klindt asking prospective jurors whether they were previously aware of the charges, if they have any feelings toward former and- ultimately- if the information and pre-conceived notions could be set aside in order to consider only the evidence presented at trial. Prospective jurors were also able to raise issues of “extreme hardship”. In all, that led to 21 people being excused from the pool, while 44 rolled over to today.
Klindt wanted to have around 50 prospective jurors before moving to the second phase of questioning, so more were summoned to report for jury duty Tuesday morning. The day started with those new jurors facing the same hardship and case knowledge questions as those who first reported Monday. Of the 30 questioned as a group, 17 said they have some knowledge of the case and six said they have strong feelings toward Brown one way or the other.
While 19 were flagged for further questioning, the court only needed to vet a few in order to reach a threshold where they were comfortable moving forward- 53 total prospective jurors, including the ones who rolled over from yesterday.
The second round of questioning included looking at areas which are more broad and standard for jury selection- employment, prior experience in the legal or criminal systems, and more. Ultimately, 20 people were singled out for individual questioning following group responses. Many of them indicated they knew someone or had themselves been involved in either an arrest or some kind of legal filing. The majority of those who were questioned told he judge those legal proceedings would influence their ability to listen to evidence and render a fair and impartial verdict.
Unlike Monday, when prospective jurors were being challenged “for cause” as they were being individually questioned, Klindt allowed for a few strikes and then determined the rest should be done at the conclusion of the questioning. Those cause challenges will be the first thing tackled Wednesday.
After that, prospective jurors will be “sat” in the order of their randomly selected number, and the first 12 designated as the possible panel. From there, both prosecutors and the defense have a specific number of “peremptory” strikes- or strikes without cause- which they can exercise. As prospective jurors are removed from the box for those strikes, the next in line by number will fill in.
Once the 12 person jury is chosen, a similar process takes place for the two alternates. Once that is done, the jury is set.
It’s hoped that the jury will be seated by 11AM, at which point US District Judge Timothy Corrigan- who will preside over the trial itself- will come in an instruct the jury. There will then be a break, and opening statements will formally kick off the trial Wednesday at 1PM.
This jury will not be sequestered for this trial, which is currently scheduled for three weeks. Klindt has given the pool specific and repeated instruction that they’re not allowed to consume any news or social media about the trial, that they’re not allowed to communicate with anyone about the case, and that if someone speaks about the case in their presence they’re supposed to leave.
Brown and two others are accused of soliciting more than $800,000 in donations to “One Door For Education”- a group she represented as a charity- but using the money for personal expenses instead, including travel, luxury events, and more. Her two alleged co-conspirators- former Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons and the head of One Door Carla Wiley- both previously pleaded guilty. Brown has been indicted on 22 charges.
WOKV is in the federal courthouse as these proceedings move forward. Check back frequently to WOKV.com for updates, and follow our reporter Stephanie Brown on Twitter for updates during court recesses.
With just about three weeks to go before her federal fraud trial begins, former Congresswoman Corrine Brown spent time handing out ice cream ahead of a Wednesday status hearing.
Brown says the free treats were a way to say thank you to supporters. She also made some comments on the recent plea agreement reached with her former Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons- who is a co-defendant in the case- as well as the state of the investigation overall, according to our partner Action News Jax, who was there both in the hearing and before it.
Brown, Simmons, and Carla Wiley have all been indicted for allegedly soliciting more than $800,000 in charitable donations to an organization called “One Door for Education”, but using the money for personal expenses instead. They are accused of claiming One Door was an education charity and that the donations would go to scholarships, although the organization wasn’t registered and only a few hundred dollars in scholarship money were ever distributed.
Wiley pleaded guilty a little over a year ago and agreed to help the US Attorney’s Office with its case. Simmons entered his plea in February, and will also work with prosecutors. Brown has previously said she does not intend to take a plea deal.
The trial is slated to begin April 26th, with jury selection starting two days prior.
Brown’s indictment came in July, and covers 22 counts overall against her, including conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, mail and wire fraud, scheme to conceal material facts, and more. She went through three sets of lawyers, before getting Orlando-based attorney James Smith to take on the case in September. If convicted, she faces more than 350 years in prison.
Smith says Brown intends to testify during her trial. During the status hearing, prosecutors said they will be calling Brown’s tax preparer, One Door donors, FBI and IRS agents, and a forensic accounting expert to testify. The defense will call two elected officials and Brown, among other people.
Brown was voted out of office in August after 12 terms. Democrat Al Lawson beat her in the primary, and then went on to top the Republican challenger in November to secure the District 5 Congressional seat. Brown says the trial was a distraction to her re-election bid, and she was also hurt by redistricting.
When the federal courthouse doors opened in Downtown Jacksonville Monday morning, prospective jurors crowded around and quietly filed in.
By 8:54 a.m., former Congresswoman Corrine Brown was sitting in a courtroom next to her attorney, with a small notepad and pens in front of her, waiting for the people who would decide her future to file in to the courtroom to be screened.
While a court order indicated 39 prospective jurors had been summoned for the fraud trial, the instructions laid out Monday morning by Magistrate Judge James R. Klindt put the pool at 65 people. By the time the day was done, 21 of those prospective jurors had been excused.
The number will be whittled down to twelve jurors and two alternates, and the court aims to have that done by the end of the day Tuesday.
Brown and two others are accused of collecting more than $800,000 in donations for a group they claimed was a non-profit - One Door For Education - and using the money for personal expenses instead, including travel, car repairs, and events hosted by or held in honor of Brown, who was in Congress at the time.
Her two alleged co-conspirators - her former Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons and the head of One Door Carla Wiley- have both taken plea deals.
Brown faces twenty-two charges including conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, filing false tax returns, and more. If convicted, she faces more than 350 years in prison. A jury must issue a unanimous verdict to convict.
After the list of prospective jurors was passed out to the attorneys, there was a brief break so either side could sort through the information. Brown was actively engaged with her attorney James Smith III during this break, including pointing to different items on the papers that were handed out. Prospective jurors then filed in one-by-one, seated in the order of their randomly assigned number, to face the initial group questioning.
For this jury selection process, Klindt told the courtroom he had studied high profile and high publicity cases from the Middle District of Florida and the 11th Circuit to determine the best practices. Even before the standard questions, he asked jurors about any familiarity with Brown, whether they’ve supported her in the past, whether they have any bias toward or against her, whether they know the witnesses who will be called, and similar areas.
While there were only a few people who said they knew Brown or had any feelings about her, more than half of the pool- 39 people- had some level of personal knowledge about this case because of conversations, social media, or what they’ve consumed through the news. These questions were laid out in the group setting, with jurors raising their hands, for an affirmative answer.
Individual questioning then followed, where the court got a better idea of the range of knowledge about the case and, more importantly, whether that information has led the prospective jurors to form an opinion on guilt or innocence, and if that opinion could be set aside to consider only the evidence presented as trial and the instructions provided by the court. The court also probed deeper in to any “extreme hardship” that would prevent a juror from committing to this trial, with most of those relating to medical or financial issues.
The extended questioning was done individually, with Klindt specifically saying he wanted to be careful that anything a prospective juror had to say would not influence others.
In all, 45 prospective jurors in the 65 person pool were questioned through Monday, specifically about this case. 21 were excused “for cause”- nine of those were based solely on prior knowledge of the case or feelings toward Brown that couldn’t be set aside, while another six were excused for multiple factors that included pre-trial publicity. The remaining strikes “for cause” were because of hardship or familiarity with people involved in the process.
Two strikes “for cause” were denied by Klindt.
The 24 prospective jurors who were questioned and retained, along with the 20 people who didn’t face questioning Monday, will return Tuesday for the second phase of screening. That will involve the standard questioning, like personal information of the prospective jurors, whether they’ve served on a jury before and other areas.
Before that second phase, though, Klindt has decided to add another ten or so prospective jurors to the pool. They’ll be individually questioned to start the day, and any remaining after that will join the group of 44 rolled over from Monday.
In addition to strikes “for cause”, attorneys have a set number of “peremptory” strikes they can exercise when questioning is done. The attorneys for both sides have been allowed to ask questions of the prospective jurors as well, through the process so far.
WOKV is inside the federal courthouse as these proceedings move forward. Check back frequently at WOKV.com for updates.
Twelve jurors will decide the future of former Congresswoman Corrine Brown- and they’ll be selected from a group of 65 in a two-day process starting Monday.
Last July, Brown and her Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons were indicted in a federal fraud case centered on the group “One Door For Education”- which prosecutors say Brown and others represented as a non-profit to solicit donations, but used the more than $800,000 they collected for personal expenses instead. Prosecutors say the trio used Brown’s position as a Congresswoman to promote the group and solicit donations, without One Door having ever been registered as a charity.
Simmons and third alleged co-conspirator, Carla Wiley, have previously pleaded guilty. Brown faces a total of 22 charges including mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, and more. The jury must reach a unanimous decision in order to convict.
WOKV will be in the federal courthouse through the proceedings, which start Monday for two days of jury selection. The trial is slated to start Wednesday and expected to last two weeks.
Court records show the 65 people who have been summoned as prospective jurors have already been initially screened by the court for hardship. They have been randomly numbered, and that randomized list of names- and the corresponding juror number- has already been distributed to the attorneys for both sides.
Jury selection will begin with the judge outlining the nature of the case and questioning the prospective jurors. That process can include questions which have been submitted by the attorneys, at the judge’s discretion.
Federal court records show the US Attorney’s Office has submitted proposed instructions and questions for jury selection. The instructions include reinforcing that their decision should be based on evidence alone and not sympathy or prejudice for the defendant, explaining the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt and not all possible doubt, how to consider the credibility of a witness, and the meaning of the various charges. The questions include whether the prospective jurors know anyone involved, have any issue with the nature of the charges, have ever been involved in legal proceedings in any capacity, have any impression of the federal government, have any bias against plea agreements, have any political views that could influence the verdict, and more.
After questioning, the panel will be excused while attorneys first raise any challenges “for cause”, and then issue “peremptory” strikes, which don’t have to have a cause. The defense has ten peremptory strikes, while the US Attorney’s Office has six, according to the court records.
Ultimately, twelve jurors will be seated through this process, which works down the list based on the randomly assigned juror numbers. The next two jurors on the list who weren’t seated on the panel will be slated as the alternates- with each side getting one peremptory challenge to exercise on the alternates.
WOKV will have comprehensive coverage through jury selection and the trial proceedings. Check back frequently at WOKV.com for updates.
Ronnie Simmons, the chief of staff of former Congresswoman Corrine Brown, has pleaded guilty to two counts in the federal fraud case facing him and his one-time boss.
Simmons previously pleaded not guilty to all counts, along with Brown, but reversed his position on Wednesday. He has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fround and one count of theft of government funds.
The fraud trial against former Congresswoman Corrine Brown is scheduled to start in just over a week, and there could be some notable names called by prosecutors.
The US Attorney’s Office has submitted 45 names as potential witnesses and Corrine Brown’s lawyer submitted 33 names. Among the people who will be called are Jacksonville politicians, political strategists, prominent attorneys, independent authority members and leaders, Brown’s daughter, among others. The list also includes Brown’s former Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons and the former head of One Door For Education Carla Wiley, both of whom have agreed to take plea deals for their part in this case, in exchange for helping prosecutors.
Brown, Wiley, and Simmons are accused of collecting about $800,000 in donations to One Door, saying the money would be used for scholarships and other charitable purposes. The US Attorney’s Office says, in reality, the money went toward personal expenses of the three involved.
Brown is facing various charges- aiding and abetting mail fraud, aiding and abetting wire fraud, conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, scheme to conceal material facts on financial disclosure forms, corruptly endeavoring to obstruct or impede the IRS, and filing false income tax returns.
Jury selection is slated to start April 24th, with the trial scheduled to begin April 26th. Brown intends to testify during the trial.
United States’ witness list:
1. Shawn Batsch, IRS-CI
2. Dawn Goldberg, IRS
3. Kimberly Henderson, FBI
4. Tracy Lane, IRS
5. Vanessa Stelly, FBI
6. Carolyn Chatman
7. Linda Foster
8. Reginald Gaffney
9. Nathaniel Glover
10. April Green
11. Eurmon Hervey
12. Charles McCormick
13. Ju’Coby Pittman
14. Doug Shackelford
15. Dawn Smith
16. Stanley Twiggs
17. Dawn Wright
18. John Baker
19. Robert Birnbaum
20. Stephen Bittel
21. Tandy Bondi
22. Edward Burr
23. Husein Cumber
24. Jack Hanania
25. Marva Brown Johnson
26. Gasper Lazzara
27. Richard Lipsky
28. Eugene Ludwig
29. Don Miller
30. Steve Pajcic
31. John Picerne
32. Robert Picerne
33. Kent Stermon
34. Michael Ward
35. Susan Wiles
36. Jessica Wynne
37. Voncier Alexander
38. Ingrid Burch
39. Tasha Cole
40. Siottis Jackson
41. Lavern Kelly
42. Brad Mims
43. Shantrel Brown
44. Elias Simmons
45. Carla Wiley
Corrine Brown witness list:
1. Martin Luther King III
2. The Honorable Bennie Thompson
3. Geraldine Centeno
4. Peter Mikon
5. Julia Wilson
6. Rontel Batie
7. The Honorable Marcia Fudge
8. Patrick Lewis
9. Jackie Gray
10. Helen Sachs
12. Lavern Kelly
13. Tonia Bell
14. Ju’Coby Pittman
15. Jimmy R. Jenkins
16. Brenda Simmons
17. The Honorable Jeff Triplett
18. John Delaney
19. The Honorable Sheila Jackson Lee
20. Bruce Marks
21. Nick Martinelli
22. Clint Brown
23. Barbara Skinner
24. Genesis Robinson
25. Cathy Gass
26. St. Elmo Crawford
27. James Sampson
28. Jesse Jackson
29. Roslyn Burrough
30. Hector Alcalde
31. Ava Parker
32. Mary Adams
33. Elias “Ronnie” Simmons
The daughter of former Congresswoman Corrine Brown has been denied a blanket excuse from taking the stand during her mother’s federal fraud trial.
Shantrel Brown’s attorney filed a motion this week aiming to squash the subpoena issued to her by the US Attorney’s Office, saying Brown intended to plead the Fifth and remain silent on any questions from the government. A District Judge Friday denied that motion.
The motion from Shantrel Brown claimed the only purpose for issuing a subpoena on her was “for the atmospheric effect upon the jury to see the defendant’s daughter invoke her Fifth Amendment rights”. Her attorney said she intends to invoke the Fifth on any question, so calling her to the stand solely to have her invoke is “improper”.
Prosecutors had fought Brown’s motion, calling it “premature” because it’s founded in the belief that a witness can refuse to answer questions without knowing what the questions will be. The government says Brown has the right to assert her Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, but that some of what she may be called to testify on does not deal with her personal actions. Specifically, the court filing highlights that Brown shares a home with her mother in Virginia and would naturally know about her habits and often her whereabouts. Prosecutors further say there is evidence Brown planned and attended events in her mother’s honor.
Former Congresswoman Corrine Brown, her former Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons, and the head of One Door For Education Carla Wiley are all accused of collecting more than $800,000 in donations to One Door- which they represented as an education charity- and using that money for personal expenses instead. Wiley and Simmons have previously pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the US Attorney’s Office as prosecutors build their case. Brown does not intend to take a plea deal and has said she will take the stand during trial. That trial is slated to start Wednesday, with jury selection on Monday.
The US Attorney’s Office further noted it’s possible the defendant will try to shift blame for her alleged role on to her daughter. As such-and with all of these factors considered- prosecutors say Shantrel Brown can’t be given any exemption at this point. They added that they will consistently evaluate her role as a potential witness through the early court proceedings to determine whether to call her to the stand, and if she is called on, she would be able to lay out her case for invoking the Fifth- arguments that would be done outside of the presence of a jury, according to the US Attorney’s Office filing.
The District Judge’s ruling denying the motion to squash the subpoena said the proper procedure is to have an “inquiry into the legitimacy and scope”- not in the presence of a jury- to look at the specific questioning Brown could face and whether privilege is “well-founded”. That inquiry will be conducted if the US Attorney’s Office determines they will, in fact, call Shantrel Brown as a witness.
Shantrel Brown is one of 45 witnesses the US Attorney’s Office has filed notice they may call to testify. The prospective witness list for the defense is 33 people.
She's served the Jacksonville area in Congress for over 20 years. Facing a new district map and a federal indictment, 12-term incumbent Democrat Corrine Brown has lost narrowly to former State Representative and State Senator Al Lawson in Tuesday's primary for the District 5 Congressional seat. Lawson will now face Republican Glo Smith in November. Even though Lawson didn’t defeat Brown in her home base of Duval County, he managed to make more inroads than Brown was able to make into Lawson's base in Leon County, according to the voting results. Those results also show that former Duval County Democrat Party Chairwoman LJ Holloway - who finished a distant third - did most of her damage in Duval, finishing close behind Lawson and cutting even further into Brown's voter base. She says her newly redrawn district boundaries were a big factor in the failed re-election bid. When asked if a recent federal indictment for fraud and related charges was also a factor, Brown said it was to the extent that she couldn’t focus as much on campaigning. “It’s been an honor serving the people, and they’re going to have a new representative,” Brown says.
She’s accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to a fake charity and using the money instead for personal expenses. Brown says she will support Lawson in November and called for a higher turnout overall if Democrats want to be successful in the November 8th general election. “We’ve got to have a better turnout or we will all have sad faces,” she says. She says she will now focus on “living in the moment”, although she does have things she would like to accomplish before she leaves office, including work with the Port and the VA. She also thanked supporters, saying she loves them.
Lawson had a similar tone after he formally announced his victory.
“Now we’ve got to get out there and meet even more people, hear what’s on their minds, and make sure we’re doing all we can to encourage others to get out and vote this November," Lawson added. "I promise to be a leader District 5 can trust and to work hard to deliver for the people of North Florida. .@RepCorrineBrown thanks supporters after @AlLawsonJr defeats her in tonight's primary. pic.twitter.com/LdTO4qQoLn— Robert Alonso (@RAlonsoWOKV) August 31, 2016 .@RepCorrineBrown dancing after tonight's primary loss to @AlLawsonJr. Recap coming to https://t.co/ldNUnTXQbX. pic.twitter.com/CYAD9zxOHK— Robert Alonso (@RAlonsoWOKV) August 31, 2016 .@RepCorrineBrown leaves room. Supporters getting fed as results come in. @AlLawsonJr with slight lead. pic.twitter.com/2nMAm7QreN— Robert Alonso (@RAlonsoWOKV) August 31, 2016
Congresswoman Corrine Brown has been federally indicted over her connection to a “bogus” non-profit.
Brown, a longtime Democratic Congresswoman in Northeast Florida, faces 22 counts. The indictment charges her with one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, sixteen counts of mail and wire fraud, one count of scheme to conceal material facts, one count corrupt endeavor to obstruct and impede the due administration of the internal revenue laws, and three counts of filing a false return.
Brown’s Chief of Staff Elias “Ronnie” Simmons has also been indicted on 19 counts, including one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, sixteen counts of mail and wire fraud, one count of theft of government funds, one count of scheme to conceal material facts
If convicted, Brown could face 357 years in prison. Simmons is looking at a maximum sentence of 355 years. Both pled not guilty in federal court Friday, choosing to have an arraignment instead of just making a first appearance.
“Our Office is committed to ferreting out and prosecuting all forms of corruption and fraud, regardless of who the offender is. In our nation, no one is above the law,” says a statement from US Attorney A Lee Bentley III.
The charges stem from the ties Brown and Simmons have to an organization called “One Door for Education”. We first told you in March that the head of the group- which Brown had promoted as a charity- pled guilty to wire fraud for allegedly collecting more than $800,000 in donations but using the money instead for personal gain. Carla Wiley agreed to cooperate as the government continued to build its case against two other co-conspirators who were unnamed in the court documents. These indictments confirm prior speculation that Brown and Simmons were the unnamed parties.
The donations were allegedly used for personal expenses of the three parties, including travel, personal auto repairs, and entertainment. The indictment says $200,000 in donations to One Door was used instead for events hosted by Brown and held in her honor, including a golf tournament in Ponte Vedra Beach, a luxury box at a Beyonce concert, receptions at an annual conference in DC, and a luxury box at a game between the Jaguars and the Redskins in DC. There are several pages in the indictment detailing the exchange of money between One Door’s account and those of the involved parties.
While prosecutors claim the trio collected more than $800,000 through One Door, only two scholarships totaling $1200 were ever paid out, according to the indictment.
“Corrupt public officials undermine the integrity of our government and violate the public’s trust. That is why public corruption is the FBI’s top criminal priority. It is incredibly disappointing that an elected official, who took an oath year after year to serve others, would exploit the needs of children and abuse the charitable hearts of constituents to advance her own personal and political agendas and deliver them with virtually nothing,” says a statement from FBI Jacksonville Special Agent in Charge Michelle Klimt.
On several occasions in the court records, the government claims Brown used the influence of her office to solicit these donations, and along with the other parties they misrepresented that One Door was fully registered as a non-profit, even though it wasn’t.
Brown is separately charged with “fraudulently inflating and fabricating her total gifts to charity” in tax filings. For the purpose of getting a deduction, the indictment says in Tax Year 2013, Brown claimed to donate $19,100 to a non-profit, two churches, and One Door, but only actually donated $3,495. In Tax Year 2014, she claimed to donate $26,700 to two non-profits, two churches, and One Door, but the indictment claims she only gave $4,378. She’s also charged with failing to disclose reportable income she received from One Door, an independent consulting business, and Friends of Corrine Brown- an official campaign committee.
Simmons faces a charge of theft of government funds over using his position to help get a “close relative” a job with the US House of Representatives, where the person worked 15 years and collected about $735,000, but did little or no work, according to the indictment. Simmons is accused of using at least $80,000 of that money for himself, including paying a boat loan and credit card bills.
The trial date has been set for September 6th.
"I'm looking forward to a speedy day in court to vindicate myself,” Brown says.
After the federal court hearing, Brown and her attorney spoke briefly with reporters about what they believe to be politically and racially motivated charges.
"In reality, she has endured a one-sided inquisition in the court of public opinion for over one year,” says Brown’s attorney Betsy White.
White says Brown was willing to comply with all of the conditions from the government on how to surrender, but asked the process be delayed one week so she could complete some votes in the House. She says that was denied.
"Its decision to treat Congresswoman Brown like a common street criminal rather than a sitting member of Congress, shows that this is a politically motivated prosecution,” White says.
According to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Brown has stepped down from her position as Ranking Member of the house Committee on Veterans’ Affairs “pending the resolution of this matter”. The statement from Pelosi says this falls in line with standing rules of the House Democratic Caucus.
The House Ethics Committee opened an Investigative Subcommittee on Brown in March, but immediately put the investigation on hold because of the pending DOJ probe. They have no official comment now that the indictment has been released.
The head of an organization touted by Congresswoman Corrine Brown as a charity has now pled guilty to a federal charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The plea agreement says Carla Wiley and two others who are unnamed- but one of who is a public official- conspired over about four years to collect donations for “One Door for Education”, saying the money would be used for scholarships but instead using it for personal expenses. In fact, in the history of the organization, court records say only one $1,000 scholarship was given out, despite about $800,000 being deposited in to the organization’s bank account.
While the public official is not named, it aligns with Brown. For one, the plea agreement says the public official is pictured three times on the organization’s homepage. You can see in the screenshot to the left that Brown is pictured three times. The unnamed public official is also tied to several events which Brown was affiliated with.
Brown was recently issued a federal subpoena, but until now she has declined to give details about the nature of the subpoena.
Wiley has agreed, as part of her plea, to cooperate with the US Attorney’s Office as they build their case and to testify as needed against others involved.
The plea says money from One Door was used to put on many events- sometimes for tens of thousands of dollars. The money was further used for travel, vehicles, catering, entertainment, and other personal expenses which investigators say had no impact on the organization.
“The vast majority of funds deposited into the One Door bank account have been used for the personal or professional benefit of Person A, Person B, Wiley, and others,” says the plea agreement.
A July 2013 golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass claimed One Door was sponsoring the tournament to benefit a scholarship fund and other non-profits. Person A- the unidentified public official- solicited donations as part of that tournament, claiming the foundation was a non-profit organization. The plea says tens of thousands of dollars from One Door went in to the tournament, but no money was actually raised for non-profits.
One Door funds were also allegedly poured in to receptions in Washington DC in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 that were held during a conference for an unrelated non-profit. The court records further say $10,000 in One Door funds were used for expenses at a fundraiser in a Washington DC music concert luxury box. In September 2014, Person A hosted a fundraiser in a luxury box at an NFL football game in DC, allegedly tapping some $30,000 in One Door money.
Not only do investigators say One Door was never properly registered as a charity, but there is a period of time it wasn’t officially a corporation, but was still operating and collecting donations.
The State Corporation Commission in Virginia incorporated One Door in May 2011 and they obtained a Tax Identification Number from the IRS. One Door’s corporate status was terminated in September 2012 because of failing to pay an annual registration fee and it was reinstated in June 2014 when the reinstatement fees were paid. At no time, according to the court records, was One Door a tax-exempt organization or registered to solicit charitable contributions, and the donations never qualified as charitable contributions.
The plea agreement claims the money- totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars- was solicited as donations for charity, without ever informing the donors that the money would instead be used for personal expenses. Major corporations, private philanthropies, and entities and individuals out of Jacksonville are among the donors cited in the plea agreement.
“One Door for Education” claims online to be established in honor of Wiley’s mother, Amy Anderson, a retired school teacher.
“… believed that it was opportunity and love of the field that creates good teachers- not just good grades. The scholarship foundation creates such an opportunity for those students that have the desire, the potential and may not see it until the “Door of Opportunity” opens,” the website says.
GALLERY: One Door for Education website
It further claims in its mission statement to do a variety of work in the community. On the same page as the mission statement, “Charities and Organizations Supported” are highlighted, including “Congresswoman Corrine Brown’s Annual Veteran’s Reception”. The “Services” page of the website specifically says the organization provides scholarships, financial assistance to families, volunteerism and financial support for the YMCA, and financial and academic support for students in need.
Wiley faces a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine. She has been released on her own recognizance at this time.
A request for comment issued to Brown’s office hasn’t been returned at this time.
Congresswoman Corrine Brown didn’t think her appeal to the Supreme Court had a good chance, which is why she dropped it last week.
Brown was appealing a decision by a three-judge panel back in April rejecting her challenge to her newly redrawn east-west Congressional district.
“I’m not happy with it, but I think it’s the best thing,” Brown says.
After considering with civil rights people and her attorneys, Browns says she agrees this wasn’t “the best case” to go to the Supreme Court.
She also says she considered recent Supreme Court rulings when making her decision.
“I strongly believe what happened in my case was wrong,” she says.
Brown doesn’t think “communities of interest” were considered when her north-south district was redrawn to east-west.
While she debates whether to continue her challenge of her newly re-drawn Congressional district, Corrine Brown will run to keep the seat regardless.
A federal court recently upheld Florida’s new Congressional map over Brown’s protest. She claims the new map hurts minority voters, but the federal panel said she didn’t prove the case. The new map changes the District so that it will run from Jacksonville to the West, rather than down to Orlando.
“I’m very disappointed in the Federal court’s decision earlier this week. Although I still maintain that the new congressional districts will be severely disadvantageous to minorities throughout the state of Florida, I intend to declare my candidacy for the newly drawn Congressional District Five of Florida,” Brown says in a statement.
Brown is still weighing options relating to the future of her redistricting challenge. With the federal court’s ruling, her only remaining option will be taking the case to the Supreme Court.
“I have a lot of unfinished business to address in Washington, and I look forward to providing a strong voice in Congress for the citizens in the new 5th Congressional District,” Brown says.
The ongoing redistricting fight is only one of several challenges Brown is currently juggling.
The House Ethics Committee formed a panel to investigate allegations, including using campaign funds for personal reasons, improperly soliciting charitable donations, and more. That probe was put on hold, though, per the request of the Department of Justice. The DOJ declined to say why they asked for the panel to defer its action.
The head of a group Brown had promoted as a charity has also pled guilty to wire fraud relating to using donations for personal expenses. Carla Wiley implicates two other people, including an unnamed public official, in the plea. She further agreed, in court documents, to cooperate with the ongoing federal investigation.
Brown has declined to comment on the pending Ethics investigation and her ties to “One Door For Education”, other than to say she is “clean”.
Several candidates have already filed to run against Brown, including Democrats LaShonda Holloway and Alfred Lawson and Republicans Thuy Lowe and Glo Smith.
Take www.myhot995.com everywhere you go! Download your app below from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store:
Enable our Skill today to listen live at home on your Alexa Devices!