JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Questions continue to swirl about what lies ahead for former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown after a federal judge sentenced her Monday to spend five years in prison for her role in a scheme to bilk wealthy donors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars intended to help educate disadvantaged children.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan, 71, allowed Brown to go home after imposing the sentence and told her she would receive a letter in the mail specifying when and where she must report. As part of the conditions of her release, Brown surrendered her passport Wednesday.
In addition to prison time, Corrigan's sentence calls for the longtime lawmaker to serve three years of supervised release. He also ordered her to pay more than $515,000 in restitution, including nearly $63,000 to the Internal Revenue Service, in installments of $250 a month.
Brown's sentence will begin no sooner than Jan. 8. But her attorney, James Smith, said his client plans to fight the conviction, adding an element of uncertainty to the anticipated timeline.
The last word
Smith said Brown would file an appeal in the coming weeks and intends to ask for a bond pending appeal. That would allow her to remain free until her appeals are exhausted, a potentially lengthy process.
Attorney Mitch Stone, who has no ties to the case, said although a successful appeal may be a long shot, he would not rule it out. But, he noted, challenging Brown's conviction or sentence won't be a breeze.
"It's very rare that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturns a criminal conviction out of a federal district court," said Stone, who could only recall a handful of times that happened in three decades.
The most ripe grounds for appeal might be the dismissal of a juror, who claimed to have received guidance on Brown's innocence from "the Holy Spirit." The context of that statement has since come into question.
"That certainly is grounds for an appeal, if there was a juror who was qualified to stay on the jury and was excused for a reason that essentially would have benefited Corrine Brown, then I think the appellate court has to look at that," Stone said.
Smith said his client will continue to collect her congressional pension while the appeals process unfolds -- a process that could drag out for years -- even though she was convicted of felonies.
That's despite a pair of federal laws enacted to halt pension payments to lawmakers found guilty of certain crimes, including wire fraud, one of the offenses for which a jury in May convicted Brown.
The Florida Times-Union reported there's a precedent for lawmakers convicted of crimes to keep their pensions while appeals are active. The newspaper cited Chaka Fattah, a Democrat and former Congressman from Pennsylvania, who was convicted of 23 charges last year.
A glimpse inside
A Jacksonville woman who spent time in a federal prison camp gave the I-TEAM a sense of what Brown may encounter, if and when her appeals run out.
The woman, who agreed to speak in exchange for anonymity, said Brown could expect to find women living together in a dormitory-like setting with no bars on the windows or perimeter fencing. She said prisoners live in 10-by-10 cubicles with two or three women in each cube.
Security is a little more lax, the woman said. She said security guards do not carry guns and do not conduct nightly lock-ups. But she noted that prisoners must do mandatory count twice a day, once at 4 p.m. and again at 10 p.m.
The former prisoner said most women are required to work Monday through Friday, unless a doctor specifies that a medical condition specifically forbids it. That labor entails janitorial duties, cooking, landscaping, electrical work or driving.
And while the woman said the food left a lot to be desired, the staff was respectful and there was decent medical care available, particularly where it concerns mental health.