JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Prosecutors who allege that two former Jacksonville City Council members personally benefited from some $3 million in government grants and loans given to a minority-owned barbecue sauce business questioned a lending officer who worked to provide the funds.
Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown, fellow council members at one point but unrelated, are on trial on a total of 36 counts of fraud and conspiracy.
Frank Palmisano of BizCapital, a New Orleans bank that handles loans from the Small Business Administration, testified Tuesday that he had been in contact with Katrina Brown throughout the loan process, getting bills and disbursement requests. Prosecutors went over the expenditures, highlighting invoices from A Plus Training and RB Packaging.
The indictment of the Browns indicated that Katrina Brown incorporated both those businesses, and state records listed Reggie Brown as the manager and registered agent of RB Packaging.
Palmisano said that Katrina Brown would email a check request for thousands of dollars along with an invoice. Reggie Brown would then send out the check. Invoices from A Plus Training entered as evidence list employee hiring and training expenses, and RB Packaging invoices show expenses for supplies including bottles, caps, boxes, labels and equipment.
When prosecutors asked Palmisano if he was under the impression that barbecue sauce was being made and packaged, he answered, "Yes."
It has been nearly three years since the FBI raided the sauce manufacturing plant. The two Browns were removed from office just over a year ago.
Reggie Brown's attorney, Thomas Bell, said his client would take the stand in his own defense and tell the court how he became involved in Katrina Brown's family barbecue business, and as they became better acquainted, how he offered to help her in her ambitions.
Bell said Reggie Brown did not delve into the Browns' business financials, was not suspicious of Katrina Brown's motives and took the actions he did at her request.
Bell also said the two defendants' relationship had become "intimate at times."
Katrina Brown is representing herself after her court-appointed attorney withdrew from the case. In cross-examination of Palmisano, she appeared unsure and could not locate documents she wanted to use in her questioning. The judge did grant some leeway.
Coming into the courthouse Tuesday, Katrina Brown said she felt great, but her father said she's not getting much sleep.
I stay up all day and all night," Katrina Brown said. "I only had 30 days to prepare, and it’s work."
Reggie Brown said he is glad most of the focus so far is on his co-defendant, something that he anticipated.
"I knew that on day one," Reggie Brown said.
The trial is expected to last two full weeks.