JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Former City Councilwoman Katrina Brown is rolling the dice by choosing to represent herself in her upcoming federal fraud trial.
The I-TEAM on Wednesday talked with a longtime attorney who said he's never seen anything like it in Northeast Florida.
But just because former federal prosecutor Curtis Fallgatter has never seen it in his 40 years experience doesn't mean he thinks it's a bad move for Katrina Brown, who has been charged in a 38-count federal indictment. In fact, he said she may have just improved her odds with the jury.
"It's gutsy, but she's a bright young lady," said Fallgatter, who is now a criminal defense attorney practicing in the Jacksonville area. "She's articulate. She knows the facts of the case, could pass a thousand polygraphs that she wasn't trying to defraud anyone and the
facts back that up."
Fallgatter said there is one key point Katrina Brown may capitalize on serving as her own counsel.
"A jury may tune a lawyer out, where they might be more attentive when she provides explanations," he said. "It's certainly a dangerous move. But when you look at the pros and cons, she can be very effective in explaining to the jury her good faith and what she did and when she did it and why she did it and who she did it with."
Fallgatter previously helped Katrina Brown with the case. Together, they tried to convince prosecutors the missing money was not criminal, but rather bad business.
Katrina Brown is accused of taking more than $2 million in a small business loan from the federal government attempting to bottle her father Jerome Brown's BBQ sauce and sell it commercially. The business also got a loan and a grant from the city. But prosecutors claim the business submitted fake invoices in order to get the federal loan money and Katrina Brown is to blame.
Fallgatter disagrees on the fundamentals of the case.
"Remember, City Council and their auditors vetted this business plan and put a young, late 20s gal with zero business experience, let alone a manufacturing business, put her in that business and she had to sink or swim. She did her best to swim, but ultimately sunk through any cause of her own. She worked very hard to make the business a success," he said.
Fallgatter said Katrina Brown never took a lucrative salary -- less than $6,000 a year. He thinks her last hope is to try to get a jury to listen to her side even if prosecutors won't.
Federal prosecutors have a 90% conviction rate, so it's likely to be an uphill battle for Katrina Brown. Fallgatter said even with 40 years of experience, he would want three to six months to prepare for the trial. Currently, Katrina Brown has about six weeks. A judge on Tuesday ruled it will begin Sept. 23, with jury selection to start the Wednesday before.
Katrina Brown's decision could affect her former colleague Reggie Brown's trial since they were indicted together last year. He has asked a judge to sever the cases, but that request was denied. Since they are being tried together, if she pulls a Hail Mary and convinces a jury of her innocence, expect Reggie Brown, who is not related, to benefit. He's always maintained his innocence. Katrina Brown has even filled out legal documents, saying he had no blame in the business going bad.