Corrine Brown passes out ice cream, then heads to court

Former congresswoman accused of using charity's money for personal expenses

By Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter , Staff

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - After passing out ice cream to supporters and others outside the federal courthouse Wednesday afternoon, former Congressman Corrine Brown appeared at a final pre-trial hearing before standing trial on 22 federal charges, including mail and wire fraud.

The hearing was largely procedural, U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan told all involved -- including Brown -- that no one was to talk to the media once the trial begins April 26.

Leaving the courthouse, Brown was uncharacteristically quiet. 

"There is one thing about my client, is she is obviously feisty and we know that she likes to talk, but the one thing she believes in is authority," said Brown's attorney, James Smith.

Smith said she will testify, defending herself in court.

"She’s confident in testifying, and when she tells her story, the jury will vindicate her," Smith said.

Jury selection, which is expected to last two days, is set for April 24.

Discussed at the trial was the anticipated length of the trial -- lawyers anticipate 11 days of testimony -- and that people called to the stand will include donors to the charity at the center of the alleged fraud, Brown's tax preparer and two sitting members of congress. Neither side will say which two.

One complication for the defense is that the 60 people in the jury pool will not all come from Jacksonville, potentially the 12-term congresswoman's constituents. 

"I feel like the truth is what we need," Brown said, not able to stay completely silent. "I’m ready. I want this to be behind me. (This) chapter in my life, this needs to be over."

Prosecutors said Brown and her former chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, hid income they should have reported on financial disclosure forms, using more than $800,000 raised for a questionable Virginia charity for their own purposes.

The head of that charity, One Door for Education, pleaded guilty last year and Simmons accepted a plea deal earlier this year. Both could be called as witnesses at Brown's trial and won't be sentenced until after Brown's trial, which is scheduled to begin April 26.

Brown has claimed all along that she is innocent and told the I-TEAM last month that she will not take a plea deal.

"I've been watching the news and it seems as if that's what the prosecutors do. They go after people and make them plea out,' Brown said. "They say you take three years or we [are] going to give you 30 or in my case 350 years. I'm going to clear my name. I'm afraid that my name is all that you have. My name means something."

Brown serves ice cream before court appearance

Former Congresswoman Corrine Brown sat in an ice cream truck passing out treats at midday Wednesday, two hours before she was expected in court for the pre-trial hearing.

UNCUT: Corrine Brown hands out ice cream outside U.S. Courthouse

"The people have been so supportive, so I decided to bring my favorite ice cream truck out here and pass out ice cream," Brown told News4Jax. 

Brown said that even though she's out of office, people still ask her for autographs, photos and for help with solving problems. 

Brown said she still gets questions from people who have a problem with the Veterans Administration or how to get help sending their child to college, and she directs them to resources.

"I can't tell just say, 'I'm not elected any more,'" Brown said. "Yes, I'm still working."

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