Corrine Brown won't learn fate until Dec. 4

Sentencing for Brown, co-conspirators to come weeks after hearings

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Former Congresswoman Corrine Brown won't learn her fate in her federal corruption case until Dec. 4.

Judge Timothy Corrigan said that Brown's hearing will take place as scheduled Thursday, but that he will not announce his sentence for several weeks.

Sentencing hearings will take place as scheduled on Wednesday for Brown's co-conspirators, Carla Wiley and Ronnie Simmons. 

Corrigan also set time limits on Brown's character witnesses. Three of them can speak for five minutes; everyone else is afforded two minutes. Brown's attorney said he plans to bring dozens of witnesses to testify to Brown's good works and contributions to the community.

Corrigan said he wants to take the matter of the trio's sentencing decisions under advisement and will release the decisions on Dec. 4 at 10 a.m.

"There is going to be an entire two-day sentencing for all the defendants that are getting sentenced," said Randy Reep, an attorney not affiliated with the case. "That is a lot for Corrigan to go over. The idea of ruling right from the bench and having the gavel fall is Hollywood style, but that is not how the law is really done."

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.

Brown asked twice for the sentencing hearing to be delayed, but those motions were denied.

A court officer will recommend that Brown be ordered to serve seven to nine years in federal prison, but Corrigan does not have to follow that recommendation.

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In a filing last week, Brown's attorney, James Smith, argued that Corrigan should sentence Brown to probation and community service. He cited Brown's history of public service, her age, her health and the likelihood should would not re-offend.

“The judge can go anywhere from probation to running each sentence consecutively,” said Elizabeth Hernandez, an associate with Reep's law firm.

Hernandez said Brown's age could definitely be a factor, considering she has not been in trouble with the law before in 71 years.

"If the judge decided to give her a 10-year sentence, that could turn into a life sentence," Hernandez said.

Wiley, the founder of the unregistered One Door charity, and Simmons, Brown's chief of staff, who both pleaded guilty and testified against Brown, have each asked for no jail time. Prosecutors argued that the two should get reduced sentences, but that those sentences should still include prison.

Hernandez said the sentences for Wiley and Simmons could be an indicator for Brown's sentence.

"You do have two co-defendants that cooperated, and you had one who did not," Hernandez said.

Brown, on the other hand, is deserving of a lengthier sentence, prosecutors said. 

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In a 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.

Corrigan's history

Corrigan has been a U.S. district judge for the middle district for 15 years, and was involved five years ago with the case of former Jacksonville Port Authority vice chairman Tony Nelson.

Nelson was found guilty of accepting bribes from contractors doing business at JaxPort. He was convicted of 36 corruption-related charges. Nelson maintained that he was innocent.

Corrigan sentenced Nelson to 40 months in prison, less than half of the minimum recommendation by federal sentencing guidelines of 97-121 months.

Hernandez believes its possible Corrigan could do the same for Brown.

“I'm not sure that Corrine Brown's offenses are as egregious as Tony Nelson’s,” Hernandez said. “It's still going to be considered that Corrine Brown breached the public's trust in her position. ... The public trust was affected tremendously by her actions and the decisions she made in office."

Other high-profile cases

Other federal judges in high-profile cases have also handed down less than the recommended sentence for public officials. 

In December 2016, former Pennsylvania congressman Chaka Fattah was sentenced for bribery, racketeering, money laundering, bank fraud and other charges. Fattah faced 17 to 21 years, based on federal guidelines, but he was sentenced to 10 years.

In August 2013, former Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. was sentenced for misuse of campaign funds, mail fraud, wire fraud and other charges. Jackson faced three to four years and was sentenced to 2½ years. 

Michael Grimm, Rick Renzi and William Jefferson, all congressmen as well, received less than their minimum recommended sentences, as well.

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