Corrine Brown asks to stay out of prison until appeal complete

Ex-Florida congresswoman sentenced to 5 years in federal corruption case

By Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter, Francine Frazier - Senior web producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Corrine Brown wants to remain a free woman as she awaits the outcome of her appeal of her conviction in a federal corruption case and her five-year prison sentence.

Attorney James Smith, who represents Brown, has requested a bond pending appeal, which would allow Brown to stay out of prison until she exhausts her appeals.

COURT DOCUMENTS: Notice of appeal | Corrine Brown's motion for release on bond pending appeal

U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan allowed Brown, 71, to go home after imposing the five-year sentence and told her she would receive a letter in the mail specifying when and where she must report. He said that date would not be before Jan. 8.

As part of the conditions of her release, Brown surrendered her passport last week. She was spotted dining out over the weekend at a Ruth's Chris Steak House in Jacksonville.

Brown, who was convicted in May of 18 fraud and tax-related charges for her part in a scheme to use a sham charity as a personal slush fund, was first arrested behind closed doors at the federal courthouse in July 2016 on the day she was indicted.

She has been free on bond since then and is hoping her good behavior will keep her out of prison as she fights for a new trial.

Attorney Gene Nichols, who is not affiliated with the case but has provided legal analysis for News4Jax throughout Brown's indictment and trial, said Brown's request is part Hail Mary and part sound legal argument.

“Everybody asks,” Nichols said. “It is grounded in case law, and it is grounded in the statutes. The real answer becomes whether or not the judge will do it.”

Nichols said Corrigan will have to consider three important factors:

  • Is Brown a threat to the community?
  • Is she a flight risk?
  • Does the appeal raise a substantial question of law or fact that could result in a new trial?

Brown's argument on that last point focuses on the dismissal of a juror during trial deliberations over comments made about “the Holy Spirit.” The juror admitted to Corrigan that he thought Brown was innocent because a higher power told him so, but said when questioned by Corrigan that he thought he could follow the law and the jury instructions on his own.

Corrine Brown spotted dining out over the weekend at Ruth's Chris Steak House.

Corrigan decided to dismiss the juror and replace him with an alternate.

Nichols said as part of the motion to remain out on bond, Brown's attorneys are having to ask the same judge who kicked the juror out and felt he had strong legal grounds to do so to now agree that there might have been something wrong with that decision and that an appellate court should review it.

Nichols said that while that’s a rather large hurdle on its own, Brown faces another big challenge to getting a new trial: the fact that her two co-defendants admitted guilt and are headed to prison without a fight.

Brown's cohorts, former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons and his ex-girlfriend Carla Wiley, who founded the bogus charity, pleaded guilty in the case and testified against Brown. Simmons was sentenced to 48 months and Wiley received 21 months for their roles in the scam.

All three must also serve three years of supervised release and pay $250 a month in restitution until they have paid back the money they stole from One Door for Education.

The charity was founded as a way to help needy children get scholarships and computers, but despite raising $833,000 in a four-year span, only $1,200 in scholarships was given out.

The rest paid for things such as events and travel for Brown and those in her orbit, as well as dozens of cash deposits to her personal bank account and a range of frivolous expenses, including nearly $14,000 for Beyonce tickets and $15,000 for a suite at a Jaguars-Redskins game. 

If Brown's new request is denied, she could be ordered to prison next month and will be forced to fight her conviction and sentence from inside a federal prison.

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