Lawyers make their case, deliberations begin in Corrine Brown trial

Former congresswoman denies allegations of federal corruption, fraud

By Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter, Jim Piggott - Reporter, Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The federal corruption trial of former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown entered its final phase Monday as attorneys for each side presented their closing arguments and the jurors began deliberations.

The deliberations, which began about 1:15 p.m., ended for the day at 5 p.m. and will resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday. Legal analysts say those deliberations could take days.

The judge reminded the jurors before he dismissed them for the day that they're not permitted to talk to anyone about the case.

News4Jax has learned that Brown may not come to court Tuesday until its announced that a verdict has been reached.

As Brown waited for the verdicts Monday afternoon, members of her inner circle said she "appears to be happy, almost jubilant."

Brown, 70, was indicted last July on 22 federal charges, including participating in a conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, mail and wire fraud, concealing material facts, obstruction of IRS laws and filing false tax returns.

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The jury could find her guilty on any or all of the charges, but each verdict must be unanimous or a hung jury will be declared on that charge, which could lead to a retrial on the charge.

Federal prosecutors want Brown to go to prison for a scheme to raise $833,000 for the One Door for Education Foundation, which promised that the money would go to provide scholarships and computers for poor children.

Instead, the charity gave only $1,200 in scholarships while Brown, Simmons and the foundation's president, Carla Wiley, spent funds on a lavish lifestyle, according to their indictments.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Olshan delivered the government's closing argument, saying the real victims of Brown's crimes “are all those deserving, worthy kids who could have gotten a scholarship to get a leg up in life but didn't.”

He used Brown's own words on the stand against her.

"She told you herself she knows how to rob Peter to pay Paul, and she's right," Olshan said. "She knows how to rob Peter to pay herself."

He made a point to the jury that a conviction on the conspiracy charges requires only that Brown was a willing participant in the scheme.

Brown also is charged with lying on her taxes about charitable donations the government said she never made, and falsifying her congressional financial disclosure forms.

Olshan said Brown claimed on her taxes to have given four times more to charity ($28,000 a year) than she actually gave ($6,600 a year).

Eric Olshan, deputy chief of the U.S. Justice Department Public Integrity Section, delivers the government's closing argument.

"Just like the rules don't apply to One Door they didn't apply to her taxes,” he said, adding that her 2015 taxes were filed correctly after she learned of the federal investigation in January 2016. “These are the actions of someone who knows 'I've been caught.'”

Brown represented a Jacksonville congressional district from 1993-2016. She lost re-election after she was indicted last summer. On the stand, she said that she didn't know about the scheme until after the indictment was filed, and that her only mistake was being too trusting of Simmons, and perhaps too laissez-faire about her personal finances.

IMAGES: Courtroom sketches from closing arguments |
RELATED: Recent history of members of Congress breaking the law

Over several days of testimony, prosecutors documented that at least $300,000 of One Door's funds paid for receptions, luxury boxes at sporting events and concerts, and trips and expenses for Brown and her associates.

Brown's attorney has argued Simmons, who was dating One Door founder Wiley at the time, was the mastermind and took advantage of the aging lawmaker and of Wiley. But Simmons, who has pleaded guilty to two related charges, testified that Brown ordered him to take money from One Door's accounts and deposit it into her personal bank account. He said he also forged checks from the charity but left the amount blank and gave the checks to Brown in her office, also on her orders.

Simmons said Brown ordered how all of the One Door money was spent and no one in her office ever dared to tell her "no." 

Under cross-examination, Simmons admitted that he lied for years about One Door, that he lied to the FBI when investigators came to question him about it and that he lied to Brown's defense attorney when the attorney, at one point, was going to represent him along with Brown.

Simmons said he had to be overly cooperative with the government to get a reduced sentence for his own crimes.

Sketch by Steve Bridges

Brown's attorney, James Smith, focused his closing argument on whether a "self-admitted liar and thief with a criminal conviction" for assault against his girlfriend and "a vested interest in what happens" in Brown's trial is someone the jury should trust.

"His handwriting is literally all over this case," Smith said. “He fooled One Door for Education, he fooled Carla Wiley, and he certainly fooled the investigators. I’m confident he’s not going to fool you.”

Smith told the jury that Simmons repeatedly used women for his benefit: getting his sister on Brown's payroll so he could steal her paycheck, using his girlfriend's charity to enrich himself and using Brown for money and power.

Brown's testimony Friday was briefly halted after she broke down under cross-examination and shouted, "They're trying to destroy my life," as jurors filed out of the courtroom for a break.

Corrine Brown Corruption trial
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Visit our Special Section to learn what's happened in and outside the courtroom, context from our team of legal experts and background on the case and the congresswoman.

Prosecutors hope jurors won't be distracted by Brown's emotional outburst Friday and will focus on the facts the government has presented.

"She exercised total control. No one told her no, but that didn't stop her, ladies and gentlemen, from using the power of her office to benefit herself,” Olshan told the jury Monday. “But you can say, 'No, enough,' because the defendant is guilty of each and every count in the indictment.”

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