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Government witnesses say they cashed checks, gave money to councilwoman

Katrina Brown, Reggie Brown's federal trial expected to last 2 weeks

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The owner of a furniture company testified Wednesday that he got two checks from a company connected with a federally subsidized barbecue sauce business even though he never sold that company furniture.

It's the third day of testimony in the trial of Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown, two former Jacksonville City Council members who are accused of multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy over how government loans and grants were used.

Federal prosecutors claim the two, who are not related, skimmed money for themselves from some $3 million given to Katrina Brown's family barbecue sauce business.

Vandaren Carlos Gantt testified that his company showed up in the invoices as having sold furniture to Basic Products, the name of the startup that was supposed to manufacture Jerome Brown Original Barbecue Sauce. Gantt said he cashed two checks totaling nearly $7,500 and gave the money to Katrina Brown, but kept $500.

On cross-examination, Katrina Brown, who is acting as her own lawyer, got Gantt to admit that he was trying to get his business certified as a Jacksonville Small and Emerging Business, and he was going to use one of the invoices to show the city he sold the furniture.

Katrina Brown cross-examines Vandaren Carlos Gantt on Wednesday.

A second government witness also testified to cashing checks and giving the money to Katrina Brown.

Tommie Hogan admitted he lied about working for the Brown family at the warehouse. He testified he received checks totaling more than $6,000 even though he never worked there. Hogan said he gave all but $1,000 back to Katrina  Brown.  

In cross-examination, Hogan admitted he made a deal with the government to testify against her. On the stand Wednesday, Hogan admitted he lied the FBI and his attorney when first questioned, but said he knew what he did was wrong.

Entering the courthouse Wednesday, Reggie Brown commented on his co-defendant's handling of her own defense.

"What would make a citizen decide that it is better to represent themselves than someone who is school trained?" Reggie Brown asked. "But I think she's doing a great job."

The trial is expected to last through next week.

About the Authors:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013 and reports every weekday for The Morning Show.