As she awaits verdicts, weary Corrine Brown remains 'prayerful'
Deliberations in Brown's federal corruption trial to resume Wednesday
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As a dozen men and women who heard 10 days of evidence and arguments in the federal corruption case against her continued to weigh her fate Tuesday, former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown waited at the Jacksonville Landing, telling News4Jax that she remains “prayerful.”
“I love the Landing. It's such a beautiful place,” she said. "The water is so peaceful."
The last 12 days have been anything but peaceful for the 70-year-old former representative, who has been on trial facing 22 federal charges, including participating in a conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, mail and wire fraud, concealing material facts, obstruction of IRS laws and filing false tax returns.
“It's been a tough 15 months, and I'm glad that it's coming to an end," Brown said. “It's just been a very difficult time. … The community has been wonderful; the people are praying. We're going through it together.”
Brown headed to the courthouse about 4:40 p.m. after a long day of waiting to learn that the wait would continue.
After deliberating for nearly 12 hours so far, there are no indications the jury has reached verdicts on any of the charges against Brown.
The jurors, looking visibly weary, told the judge just before 5 p.m. that after a full day of deliberations, they wanted to adjourn for the day and resume their work Wednesday morning. The judge again urged them not to speak about the case with anyone and told them to be back in court at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday.
At least two of the jurors appeared noticeably frustrated.
The jurors, who include seven men and five women -- eight white, three black and one Hispanic -- spent nearly four hours behind closed doors Monday before being dismissed for the night and returning Tuesday morning to begin deliberations just before 9 a.m.
So far the jury has not asked any questions of the judge during deliberations. Six members of the jury were spotted during a break by a court observer, who said they appeared "relaxed and chatty," were cracking jokes among themselves and did not look stressed.
Legal analysts told News4Jax that the longer the jury deliberates, the more likely the outcome will be in Brown's favor, whether that's a hung jury or an acquittal.
"They've been given a big hill to climb," said attorney Randy Reep, who has been one of the legal analysts for News4Jax during the trial. "It's not surprising that it's going to take a long time to sift through all that, particularly if you're going to do it diligently."
Brown supporters who have been at the courthouse every day said they also believe the longer the wait for the verdicts the better, because it means the jury is combing through the evidence and is not ready to make a quick judgment.
The jury could find Brown guilty on any or all of the charges, but each verdict must be unanimous or a mistrial will be declared on that charge, which could lead to a retrial.
Prosecutors wrapped up their closing arguments Monday in the fraud and tax evasion trial, calling on jurors to use their "common sense" as they deliberate her fate.
Prosecutor Eric Olshan spent more than an hour reviewing the highlights of the government's fraud and tax charges against Brown, saying that she funneled money from One Door for Education into her personal accounts and lied about her income and contributions on her taxes.
Olshan said Brown. who was indicted last July, claimed on her taxes to have given four times more to charity ($28,000 a year) than she actually gave ($6,600 a year).
Federal prosecutors said One Door raised $833,000 but gave only $1,200 in scholarships. Olshan told jurors that the real victims are the worthy students who could have gotten scholarships.
In his closing argument, Brown's defense attorney, James Smith, continued to insist that she trusted and was deceived by her former chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, and his one-time girlfriend, Carla Wiley, who founded and ran One Door.
Brown represented a Jacksonville congressional district from 1993-2016. She lost re-election after she was indicted last summer. On the stand, she said that she didn't know about the scheme until after the indictment was filed, and that her only mistake was being too trusting of Simmons, and perhaps too laissez-faire about her personal finances.
Over several days of testimony, prosecutors documented that at least $300,000 of One Door's funds paid for receptions, luxury boxes at sporting events and concerts, and trips and expenses for Brown and her associates.
Simmons, who has pleaded guilty to two related charges, testified that Brown ordered him to take money from One Door's accounts and deposit it into her personal bank account. He said he also forged checks from the charity but left the amount blank and gave the checks to Brown in her office, also on her orders.
Simmons said Brown ordered how all of the One Door money was spent and no one in her office ever dared to tell her "no."
Under cross-examination, Simmons admitted that he lied for years about One Door, that he lied to the FBI when investigators came to question him about it and that he lied to Brown's defense attorney when the attorney, at one point, was going to represent him along with Brown.
Simmons said he had to be overly cooperative with the government to get a reduced sentence for his own crimes.
James Smith focused his closing argument on whether a "self-admitted liar and thief with a criminal conviction" for assault against his girlfriend and "a vested interest in what happens" in Brown's trial is someone the jury should trust.
"His handwriting is literally all over this case," Smith said. “He fooled One Door for Education, he fooled Carla Wiley, and he certainly fooled the investigators. I’m confident he’s not going to fool you.”
Smith told the jury that Simmons repeatedly used women for his benefit: getting his sister on Brown's payroll so he could steal her paycheck, using his girlfriend's charity to enrich himself and using Brown for money and power.
Brown's testimony Friday was briefly halted after she broke down under cross-examination and shouted, "They're trying to destroy my life," as jurors filed out of the courtroom for a break.
Prosecutors hope jurors won't be distracted by Brown's emotional outburst Friday and will focus on the facts the government has presented.
"She exercised total control. No one told her no, but that didn't stop her, ladies and gentlemen, from using the power of her office to benefit herself,” Olshan told the jury Monday. “But you can say, 'No, enough,' because the defendant is guilty of each and every count in the indictment.”
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