JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A day after a scathing report from prosecutors pushed for a “significant” sentence for Corrine Brown, the former congresswoman's attorney asked that she receive only probation for her convictions in a federal corruption case.
Brown, 71, was found guilty of 18 counts of federal mail, wire and tax fraud for soliciting donations for a fake charity, using that charity as a “slush fund” for herself and her associates, and lying on her taxes and congressional disclosure forms.
After two unsuccessful requests for a delay, Brown is set to be sentenced Nov. 16. A court officer will recommend that Brown be ordered to serve seven to nine years in federal prison.
But her attorney, James Smith, asked for a "reasonable sentence," pointing to the “humiliation and ostracization that she’s already experienced” as part of the reason that probation with community service would be an appropriate sentence.
He wrote in a sentencing memo that Brown's personal history and characteristics, and her lack of a criminal history warrant a lesser sentence than what the guidelines lay out.
He said it would take "a thousand pages" to list all of her good works and contributions, pointing to decades of public service and letters that describe her as a “compassionate advocate” for people of all races.
Smith said he plans to bring dozens of witnesses to testify to that during the sentencing hearing.
But prosecutors said in a scathing 50-page report on Thursday that they are prepared for that tactic, saying that “her office enabled these crimes, and all the good things she'll claim she did only helped her pull it off more easily.”
In that lengthy memo, prosecutors made a case for a “significant punishment” for Brown, who they said never had any intention of using the One Door for Education Foundation to raise money for disadvantaged students in Jacksonville or anywhere else.
They point to Brown's words before, during and after her trial as continuing to deny responsibility for her actions, and said she went so far as to repeatedly lie on the stand about her crimes.
They said Brown's assertions that her prosecution “was racially and politically motivated” were calculated to distract the public and potential jurors from the truth of what she did.
“Society expects courts to punish convicted and corrupt politicians,” prosecutors wrote. “If the legal system does not do so, our system of justice loses credibility, and the public is left with the impression that there are some citizens who are truly above the law. This cannot be the case.”
But Smith argues that Brown's decades of public service, her age, her health and a comparison of other public integrity cases with Brown's case justify a sentence of probation.
In a separate memo, Smith wrote that Brown's medical records reflect at least 14 confirmed diagnoses, along with possible glaucoma and untreated sleep apnea, and that she has recently had problems with memory loss, coupled with a family history of dementia.
He said that Brown's close relationship with her mother, who has dementia, and her daughter mean that any corrective measures would be more effective if she can be close to her family.
Smith argued that there’s no reasonable basis to believe Brown will ever commit another crime, and that because she lost re-election, there’s no risk that she will ever commit a public integrity offense again.
Smith said a prison sentence of nine years in prison would be “devastating, emotionally and physically, for Corrine Brown.”
He asked instead for a sentence of probation and home confinement with extensive community service. He said the negative publicity from her conviction could be converted to positive energy "by using her notoriety as a public example of a fallen person working in the community to repair harms and restore broken trust."
He also suggested having Brown make public apologies to each of the One Door donors and having her participate in public service announcement directed at encouraging youth to make good life choices.
“The interests of justice would not be served by imposing a sentence of imprisonment,” Smith wrote. “Corrine Brown respectfully requests that this court show mercy and compassion and impose a term or probation.”
Co-conspirators also seek leniency
At the same time they were pushing for a stiff sentence for Brown, prosecutors requested leniency for her co-conspirators, Carla Wiley and Ronnie Simmons.
Wiley, who founded the unregistered One Door charity, and Simmons, Brown's chief of staff, both pleaded guilty and testified against Brown.
Their cooperation was essential to the government's case against Brown, prosecutors said, and should earn them reduced sentences.
Simmons' attorneys have asked for home detention and Wiley's attorneys suggested she receive probation, including community service and home detention.
Getting the money back
This week, prosecutors also filed forfeiture motions seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars from the three co-conspirators.
The government wants to collect $654,292.39 from Brown, Simmons and Wiley collectively, representing the money that was fraudulently raised for One Door for Education.
Prosecutors also want to collect an additional $10,000 from Brown and Simmons, and an additional $96,000 from Simmons, in connection with his guilty plea for aiding and abetting the theft of government funds.
The forfeiture motions state that since the actual money the three received through One Door is no longer available, the government can collect other property, up to the full dollar amount.