JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One of two indicted Jacksonville City Council members told a federal judge Thursday morning that he's broke and will need a public defender to represent him.
Reggie Brown and fellow council member Katrina Brown were suspended by the governor following a federal fraud and money laundering indictment unsealed two weeks ago.
The Browns, who share a last name but are not related, arrived separately Thursday for a status hearing at the federal courthouse. They were asked questions about health concerns and their ability to pay for legal representation, then told they would be arraigned at 2 p.m. next Thursday.
Katrina Brown has said she will be represented by former federal prosecutor Curtis Fallgatter, who appeared with her Thursday, but they are still working out the logistics. Fallgatter told the judge it will all be settled ahead of a planned early August trial date.
Katrina Brown showed no emotion in court, and she let her attorney speak for her after the hearing.
"Obviously, it's all stressful, so health issues compound that," Fallgatter said of concerns about some of Brown's family members, who she lives with and shares financial interests in the company at the heart of the accusations of government fraud.
Reggie Brown told the judge that he can not afford representation. He told the court that with his suspension from the City Council post, he lost his $49,000 annual salary and benefits from the city. He said he receives $500 a month from the Army and his home, which city record show is worth about $75,000, is paid off. Reggie Brown told the judge he owns three cars and has about $2,000 in cash.
On Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge James Klindt appointed Jacksonville attorney Thomas Bell to represent Reggie Brown.
Leaving the courthouse, Brown said he is confident he will be cleared of the charges.
"Absolutely, we have a superior justice system," he said."
Asked if he still planned to run this year for a Florida Senate post, he didn't directly answer, but said, "I'm glad I have the support of the voters."
A combined 38-count indictment unsealed in late May accuses the Browns of using Katrina Brown's family barbecue businesses and a business set up by Reggie Brown to submit fake invoices to their lender for services the businesses had not provided.
Federal prosecutors said the businesses handled nearly $3 million in federal and city loans and grants and that the Browns used the money for personal use and hid the paper trail.
Katrina Brown is named in 37 counts, including conspiracy, mail and wire fraud and attempted bank fraud. She could face up to 720 years in federal prison and $12,250,000 in fines if convicted on all counts.
Reggie Brown is named in 34 counts, including conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, and a tax charge. He could face up to 601 years in prison and $8,275,000 in fines if convicted on all counts.
The work usually done by the suspended City Council members, who serve District 8 and District 10, has been divided up among the other council members. At-large Councilman Samuel Newby is taking over District 8, and at-large Councilwoman Anna Lopez-Brosche is taking over District 10, until Gov. Rick Scott appoints replacements for the Browns.
While neither Brown has resigned from office, all traces of them have been removed from the City Council offices. Their photos are down, name plates removed and references to them on the city's website.
Dozens of men and women have applied to be considered for the appointments. The replacements would likely serve until the Browns' terms end June 30, 2019, or the federal investigation ends, whichever comes first.