JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Everyone is watching and a message must be sent, prosecutors argued Wednesday as they set the stage for their final push to ensure Corrine Brown spends time behind bars.
The embattled former congresswoman will walk into the federal courthouse Thursday six months after she was convicted of 18 counts of conspiracy, fraud and filing false tax returns in a scheme that involved stealing money from a fake children’s charity to fund her lavish lifestyle.
Prosecutors said that lifestyle was powered by greed and corruption and that Brown must be punished to set an example for other elected leaders.
Brown's attorney is planning to call 22 character witnesses, ranging from religious leaders to a retired Marine Corps colonel to Brown's 89-year-old mother, to speak to the good Brown says she did in her decades in Congress.
Prosecutors say Brown's office “enabled these crimes, and all the good things she'll claim she did only helped her pull it off more easily.”
Calling the case one of the worst examples of corruption Jacksonville has ever seen, prosecutors told Judge Timothy Corrigan on Wednesday that Carla Wiley, who founded the fraudulent charity, and Ronnie Simmons, Brown's chief of staff, deserved leniency for pleading guilty and serving as the federal government's star witnesses against Brown.
Wiley and Simmons both apologized for their roles in the scheme, but the court might not hear the same from Brown, who continues to maintain her innocence.
“There will be an apology, but again, it will be an apology for not conducting herself and managing herself such that these kinds of things could have been prevented,” Brown's attorney James Smith said. “She pleaded not guilty, so she will not be taking accountability for any crimes, because she still maintains her innocence. I think what she will say is she will take accountability for not having better measures in place in her office to have prevented these things from taking place.”
Prosecutors said Wednesday that they want Brown to receive the stiffest penalty of the three convicted in the case, who prosecutors said worked together to create and use the $833,000 slush fund.
A court officer recommends seven to nine years in prison for Brown.
Smith said Brown, 71, still hopes for probation since she has already lost her good name and public office.
“Let’s not forget the human element here and as we head into the holiday season, let’s focus in on forgiveness and charity and compassion,” Smith said. “When I say charity, I think charity in the sense of recognizing people do make mistakes and deserve second chances.”
Smith said he hopes Brown doesn't get a “disproportionate” sentence because of her office and the celebrity she built with it.
Brown won't learn her fate until Dec. 4, when Corrigan will hand down his sentences for all three.
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