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Lawmakers, community react to Brown's conviction

Response mixed after longtime congresswoman found guilty in federal trial

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After the news broke that longtime congresswoman Corrine Brown had been convicted of 18 federal fraud and corruption charges following a two-week trial filled with last-minute drama, lawmakers and community members offered mixed reaction -- some passionate -- about the verdicts and their aftermath.

The verdict handed down against Brown, a Democrat who was one of the first three African Americans to be elected to Congress from Florida since Reconstruction and represented the district that included Jacksonville from 1993 to 2016, incited opinions from people across the city and in the nation's Capitol.

RELATED: Corrine Brown found guilty on 18 charges

Brown supporter Denise Hunt said she believed the trial was fair but that Brown was treated badly after the verdicts were read Thursday because she was “paraded through the front door” and through a swarm of cameras.

“I'm hurt not because she was found guilty -- it's about whatever the system says it is; I accept that,” Hunt said. “But the fact they couldn't give her the courtesy or decency to come out the back door. Come on, she built this place. She named it. It's a damn shame in Jacksonville today we have no decency, no respect for black life in this city.”

Several vocal supporters gathered outside the courthouse as Brown was led out, shouting their love for her as she was driven away.

Brown said in a statement that she maintains her innocence, despite the convictions and would be filing motions for a new trial. During two days of testimony in her own defense, Brown laid all of the charges against her at the feet of her former chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, saying he stole money from unregistered charity One Door for Education and that she knew nothing about it.

Her testimony won over veteran Phillip Ansell.

“Ronnie Simmons ... put money in her account without her knowing about it and didn’t tell her where it was coming from,” Ansell said, adding that he would tell Brown “stick it out as best you can.”

The reactions came from on both ends of the political spectrum, but remained consistent.

"I feel sorry because she is an older woman and jail is not fun, but you got to deal with your consequences," Alison Merritt said.

"If you do the crime, you have to do the time," Siera Benton said. 

"I do hope she serves some jail time," Mickey Schneider said. "Ms. Brown is the same age as myself. The fact that she tried to pretend, or say that she wasn't taking charge of her own person accounts -- I find that hard to understand."

PHOTO TIMELINE: Corrine Brown's 24 years in Congress ends after federal indictment

Jacksonville resident Juan Montgomery told News4Jax that he's followed Brown throughout her nearly 25-year career representing Florida in Congress, and he likes her as a person. But he also said she is held to a much higher standard than the average person on the street.

"I'm a little disappointed, but I have to look at it like this: When you're a public official and in the public eye, and part of public consciousness, you're the same as everybody else. You have to be responsible and accountable for your own actions," Montgomery said. "You're a politician. You enact policy and laws that we have to follow. So when you don't follow them, it just looks really worse on your behalf than it does on ours. I hope they show her leniency and a little mercy."

Jacksonville residents said they hope Brown's conviction sends a message to all politicians. 

RELATED: Recent history of members of Congress breaking the law

"Be honest. You're representing your constituents. Be honest," Schneider said. 

"You can't steal from the people that your promised to help and get away with it," Lindsay Livings said. 

In an interview with News4Jax, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, a former Judge Advocate General in the Navy, offered his perspective on the trial and its result.

“I thought it would have been a miracle if she wasn't convicted on at least some of (the charges) after reading the indictment,” DeSantis said.

He said those who serve in Congress are human but that they need to remember that its not about them.

“All you are is a vessel to be able to pursue the principles and values and ideas that your constituents elect you to pursue. But you're really their agents, and I think people that go there and think it's about them, that, I think, is where people kind of get into trouble,” DeSantis said. “So it's disappointing to see that when that happens.”

He also said the conviction of a 12-term representative supports the need for term limits in Congress.

“When you're there a long time, your perspective can sometimes change,” DeSantis said. “I think folks who are there for a shorter amount of time tend to want to do it right.”

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson Jr., who defeated Brown in the primary last year before going on to win the general election, posted a tweet Thursday, reacting to Brown's conviction.

"My thoughts & prayers are with Corrine Brown during this difficult time. We're grateful for her many years of service to Jacksonville," he wrote.

State Sen. Audrey Gibson voiced her support of Brown in a statement:

“Congresswoman Corrine Brown's work for her district in the Legislature and in Congress will never be diminished by the outcome of this trial. She has been a champion and worked tirelessly for many years.”

Word of Brown's conviction even reached Washington, D.C., where her U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, of Texas, issued a statement, which reads, "This is very sad news for my friend and former colleague and the people of Florida."

Brown's attorney, James Smith, pointed out that tireless career began with a battle.

“She's an incredibly strong woman. Never forget how this woman was able to get into politics. She fought and sued the state of Florida to be able to get into Congress, and she served in Congress as an African-American woman at a time where that was something that was unusual,” Smith said. “You don't do all the things that she has done and accomplished all that she has accomplished without being incredibly strong. … This is not the first trial that she has had to deal with in her life. And it's not going to be her last one.”

The judge did not set a date for Brown's sentencing, which could include many years of prison time. 

About the Authors:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.

16-year veteran journalist and Emmy Award winning anchor