Judge denies sentencing delay for Corrine Brown

Source: Ex-congresswoman could face 7 to 9 years in federal prison

By Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Out of options and nearly out of time, embattled former congresswoman Corrine Brown will soon be sentenced for stealing from needy children and donors through a fake charity after her request for a delay was denied Thursday by a federal judge.

Brown, who represented Northeast Florida for 24 years, was convicted on 18 federal mail, wire and tax fraud charges in May for taking money raised for the One Door for Education Foundation, and lying on her taxes and congressional financial disclosure forms. 

Prosecutors convinced a jury that Brown used the unregistered charity as a personal slush fund.

Brown, 70, will be sentenced Nov. 16, and a source told the I-TEAM that a court officer is expected to recommend Brown be ordered to serve seven to nine years in federal prison.

Judge Timothy Corrigan, who denied Brown's request for a delay in the sentencing hearing, can accept that recommendation or could give Brown more or less time in prison. The maximum she could receive is more than 300 years.

The recommendation is part of a pre-sentence investigation report, compiled by a probation officer, who helps the court determine an appropriate sentence after spending four months reviewing documents, interviewing parties and weighing the evidence presented at trial.

Brown, who maintains her innocence, was among those interviewed for the report.

What helped Brown in the recommendation is her lack of criminal history, but what hurt her is that not only is she an elected official, but she hasn't accepted any responsibility nor showed any remorse for her crimes, which tends to weigh heavily in federal court, attorneys tell the I-TEAM.

Attorney Rhonda Peoples-Waters said Brown's age might be in her favor for a shorter sentence. 

Peoples-Waters, who is a friend of Brown's, said the former congresswoman is still hoping to be sentenced to only probation, but Peoples-Waters considers that a long shot at this point.

Peoples-Waters said she represented Brown as Brown met with the probation officer tasked with researching her past -- the good and the bad -- to decide what punishment would be appropriate.

The attorney said she couldn't discuss specifics but described Brown's demeanor.

“It affected you to be able to see someone that you've seen for so long in such a strong state and now to see them in a very weak position,” Peoples-Waters said.

A source told the I-TEAM Brown's sentencing hearing will be everything her trial was not, including a parade of people singing her praises and good works in Jacksonville and Washington, D.C.

An attorney said that if Brown is sentenced to prison, she will likely be remanded to custody right away.

Delay denied

Brown's attorney, James Smith, argued in a motion filed this week that they needed more time to prepare for her sentencing hearing after Brown's home was damaged in Hurricane Irma. She even applied for FEMA assistance while out on bond. 

The I-TEAM visited Brown's home along the Trout River to get a comment but we were greeted with locked gates and a no-trespassing sign. It's unclear if Brown was home.

More than a month after Hurricane Irma, extensive damage could still be seen, including downed power lines and chunks of trees littering her neighborhood.

But the damage was not enough to convince Corrigan to agree to the four-month delay Smith requested.

In denying the delay request, Corrigan wrote, “(The) defendant has not articulated why a continuance of 'at least four months' is justified. While the court is sympathetic to Ms. Brown’s circumstances following the hurricane, it is in the interest of justice for the sentencing to go forward as scheduled.”

If Brown demonstrates at the sentencing hearing that there’s some document or information that she was unable to obtain, the court will decide then whether to allow additional time to produce it, Corrigan said.

“While we are disappointed with the judge's decision, we will continue to press forward and prepare for sentencing," Smith said.

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