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Under legal pressure, longtime Jacksonville politician Corrine Brown vents, asks for money

August 12, 2017 in Hot Business Tips, In the news, Members Only by admin

Posted August 11, 2017 10:43 am | Updated 04:05 pm -Reprint FTJ, August 12, 2017


Under legal pressure, longtime Jacksonville politician Corrine Brown vents, asks for money

Bishop Rudolph McKissick Sr. escorts former congresswoman Corrine Brown as she leaves the Federal Courthouse in May after being found guilty on 18 of 22 federal fraud and tax charges. (Bob Self/Florida Times-Union)

Outside the federal courthouse recently, former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown’s defense lawyer had a question of his own for the scrum of reporters that had gathered: What does the community owe Brown.

It’s a question that seems to have been on the mind of the former congresswoman in the time since her conviction earlier this summer on 18 fraud and tax charges, and it’s one she is putting to the test.

Throughout the summer, Brown has held at least one fundraiser, planned another and made numerous public pleas for cash to help finance her long-shot bid to nullify the jury’s guilty verdict against her  the result of a trial during which Brown’s relentless, sometimes flippant appeals for money from donors and her penchant for attending pricey receptions came under scrutiny.

Brown put up little effort during the trial to rebut substantial government evidence she helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars sometimes by cajoling donors for a fraudulent charity, One Door for Education, which was little more than a secret slush fund to finance parties and keep her bank account afloat. But she has vigorously maintained her innocence in the time since her conviction in May, calling the prosecution a racially motivated witch hunt and blaming the media for her public-relations problem


 


As Brown waits for U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan to rule on her motions for a new trial and acquittal, there is little indication the weight of her legal troubles convinced Brown to change her old habits.

A prominent gospel singer, Shirley Caesar, was set to headline a fundraiser for Brown Aug. 6 at Bethel Baptist Institutional Church, though it was canceled at the last minute and rescheduled for Sept. 3.

Last month, following a Jacksonville performance by R&B singer Betty Wright, Brown tried to raise money at an after party at Benny’s Steak and Seafood in downtown.

The success of these efforts is not clear.

A website set up for Brown’s legal defense shows she has raised $2,110 out of a $10,000 goal. Brown said the Caesar show was canceled because of anticipated bad weather, but then later indicated in an interview with First Coast News that she needs more time to sell tickets. The prices ranged from $25 to $100 for VIP seats.

LEGAL RISK

Cash might be hard to come by, but Brown’s words and actions this summer might be having an effect — even if it’s not the one she wants.

If her motions for acquittal and a new trial fail, Brown could face years in prison — a sentence that will be based on a number of factors Corrigan will have to consider.

Brown’s criticism of the prosecution against her, as well as her public fundraising events, might create risk for her down the road.

Judges sometimes take into account whether the defendant has shown any remorse for the crimes they have been convicted of. A judge can’t hold a defendant’s silence or right against self-incrimination against them in sentencing.

But Brown has flirted with the limits of those protections, and that could figure into the picture Corrigan will weigh when he sentences her.

If Brown had merely remained silent or insisted on her innocence without saying anything else about the case, the judge would have no evidence that she lacks remorse, said Ken Levy, a Louisiana State University law professor who teaches criminal law and white-collar crime.

But Brown didn’t do this. She said plenty of things about the case, in addition to maintaining her innocence. The judge may take all of these other statements into account when determining whether she lacks remorse for the crimes that the jury convicted her of.

Brown’s attorney, James Smith III, has discussed with her the possibility her statements and actions could eventually be used against her. But Smith said he is not concerned she has crossed the line and that she has always been respectful to the court.

She’s not out there bad mouthing, he said earlier this month. She’s never contradicted herself.

Of her fundraising? It’s very expensive to defend yourself when you are being prosecuted by the federal government. Now, more than ever, there is a microscope on what she’s doing financially.

There isn’t necessarily a bright line on what constitutes a lack of remorse, or any guarantee Corrigan will consider that in sentencing.

Evidence in Brown’s trial was lopsided: The government called a laundry list of witnesses, including an FBI forensic accountant, and had reams of financial records belonging to Brown and other organizations. Brown’s defense rested almost entirely on her. She took the stand and tried to answer for the allegations against her, though she was often forced to concede that she couldn’t explain away questions from prosecutors.

That imbalance could also haunt her.

The more overwhelming the evidence against you, the more protestations of your innocence will look like a lack of remorse, Levy said.

Regardless, Brown and her supporters fervently and religiously maintain her innocence.

We believe in God for dismissal, Pastor Rudolph McKissick Jr. told his congregation earlier this month. The church, where Brown is a member, plans to host the Caesar fundraiser for Brown.

Jurors found that Brown fabricated charitable donations on her tax filings to multiple nonprofits and churches over several years — one of the crimes for which the jury found her guilty. Bethel was among the groups whose financial statements showed that Brown did not make the donations she claimed.

McKissick was in the courtroom the day prosecutors walked though evidence that Brown inflated her donations to Bethel.

Church leaders haven’t let that misdeed get in the way of supporting her.

We want to fill this place next Sunday night, McKissick told his congregation about the now-canceled event.

THE MOTIONS

Smith has filed two motions to upend Brown’s conviction, both of which were debated in a hearing last week.

One is a routine, blanket motion for acquittal, essentially arguing the government did not provide proof that Brown is guilty.

The second motion asks for a new trial, which Smith argues is necessary because Corrigan made an error when he removed a juror who said the Holy Spirit had told him Brown was innocent. Corrigan replaced that juror with an alternate, and the jury unanimously convicted Brown the next day.

Corrigan said at the time, given the juror’s comments, there was no substantial possibility that [the juror] is able to base his decision only on the evidence and the law as the court gave it to him.

Smith’s motion argues the removal deprived Brown of her rights and ignored the possibility that the holy spirit was actually the juror’s own mind or spirit telling him that one or more witnesses had not testified truthfully.

Prosecutors dismissed that argument, arguing that it was clear the juror believed an external force communicated with him and told him how to view evidence.

Those are not the words of someone who is merely mulling things over in his own mind, prosecutors wrote.

Corrigan has said he will issue written rulings on each motion but did not say when to expect his decisions.

Nate Monroe: (904) 359-4289

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