Ex-Jacksonville City Council members found guilty of fraud, conspiracy

Katrina Brown guilty on all counts; Reggie Brown guilty on all but 1 count

By Jim Piggott - Reporter, Nick Jones - Digital producer, Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor, Corley Peel - Reporter, Scott Johnson - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Two former City Council members were found guilty Wednesday of multiple counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering. The jury was convinced by evidence that Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown skimmed money from nearly $3 million between a federally backed loan and a city grant to a Jacksonville barbecue sauce business.

After hearing more than a week of testimony, the jury deliberated for about seven hours over two days before finding Katrina Brown guilty on all 37 counts she faced and Reggie Brown guilty on 33 of 34 counts he faced.

Both Browns, who are not related, could face lengthy prison sentences when they are sentenced, which is scheduled for Jan. 27.

After the verdicts were announced, U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard shook hands with the former council members.

"I know this has been difficult for you, and you will move forward to the next chapter," Howard said.

Reggie Brown was visibly upset in the courtroom and maintains his innocence.

"I had absolutely nothing to do with this," Reggie Brown told reporters as he left the courthouse. "Like I stated from day one, I had absolutely nothing to do with this, never had any conversation about anything with her and I thought and I still feel the work that I did was legitimate."

UNCUT: Reggie Brown, Katrina Brown react to verdict

He maintained his innocence, saying he will appeal and prays he doesn’t go to prison. He said that will be up to the judge, but also up to God.

"I'm frustrated, I'm tired," Reggie Brown said as he got into his car. "I'm just going to go home and spend time with the family.​​​​ It's been a long two years and I've had enough."

Katrina Brown was seemingly void of emotion when the verdicts were read. She had little to say as she exited the courthouse.

"I think Judge Howard is a great judge. She did a great job," she said. "I leave it all in God's hands, so I'm OK." 

Katrina Brown said she did not regret representing herself in the trial. It's a factor attorney Rhonda Peoples-Waters, who was not affiliated with the case, said she would advise against.

"I think that it definitely is an example of just an additional hurdle that you put before yourself and that the jurors had to deal with," Peoples-Waters said.

Katrina Brown said she will have to piece together the events of the trial before deciding if she will appeal the verdict.

"The jury spoke, but I don't agree with it," Katrina Brown said. "I didn't take any money. Not one dime went in my pocket."

A statement from the FBI in Jacksonville reads:

"Rooting out corrupt public officials who undermine public trust is the FBI's top criminal priority. This case demonstrates our relentless efforts to ensure that those who are elected to serve their communities do so for the greater good, and not their own personal gain."

The 37 charges Katrina Brown was found guilty of:

  • 1 count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud
  • 13 counts of aiding and abetting mail fraud
  • 13 counts of aiding and abetting wire fraud
  • 6 counts of illegal monetary transactions (money laundering)
  • 2 counts of attempted bank fraud
  • 2 counts of false statement to a federally insured institution

The 33 charges Reggie Brown was found guilty of:

  • 1 count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud
  • 12 counts of aiding and abetting mail fraud
  • 13 counts of aiding and abetting wire fraud
  • 6 counts of illegal monetary transactions (money laundering)
  • 1 count failure to file form 1040 return

GALLERY: Trial's events told in courtroom sketches

The case & arguments

Prosecutors argued at length that Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown skimmed money for personal use from government grants and loans given to Katrina Brown's family barbecue sauce startup in Northwest Jacksonville. 

The barbecue sauce business received a multimillion-dollar Small Business Administration loan and a grant from the city of Jacksonville, but prosecutors said the company existed only on paper.

Katrina Brown argued that the government's case had inconsistencies and did not meet "the burden of proof."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Coolican told the jury that the only explanation for checks that moved money between business accounts was "a criminal conspiracy."

"That's what money laundering looks like," Coolican said.

Coolican said companies controlled by Reggie Brown used fake invoices to take in nearly $500,000, keeping $50,000 for himself and funneling the rest to Katrina Brown's company. 

Katrina Brown argued that the government couldn't show where any misdirected money was spent -- no lavish trips or cars -- and called the summary of bank account activity prosecutors used "an illusion."

Thomas Bell, Reggie Brown's attorney, said there's no evidence that his client knew any money was fraudulently obtained. Bell said Reggie Brown decided not to testify in his own defense due to the lack of evidence tying him to the conspiracy.

“There is absolutely no explicit evidence that Katrina Brown approached Reggie Brown and said, ‘Listen, I need some help. I need to keep the money train moving,’” Bell said.

In his rebuttal closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tysen Duva said there is not a mountain of evidence against Reggie Brown as there is against Katrina Brown, but the government has proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Reginald Brown would have you believe that he didn’t know what was going on -- and it’s just not credible,” Duva said.

Timeline of grant/loan and Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown's business connections

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