JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown's attorney made his case Monday afternoon for why her convictions on 18 federal mail, wire and tax fraud charges should be thrown out, or that she be given a new trial.
The 12-term congresswoman from Jacksonville was convicted in May of 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.
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Brown arrived at the Federal Courthouse with the Rev. Jessie Jackson and other supporters nearly an hour before the 3 p.m. hearing. Brown said she'll let her attorney do all the talking, but she had asked the community to come out to support her.
"She’s everything to us, and for them to railroad her like that and to try to put her in jail, it sends a bad message," Brown supporter Datra Purcell said. "It’s just bad. The system is bad.”
Brown's attorney, James Smith, said the government never proved that she was a liar and a thief.
About 90 minutes after the hearing began, U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan took both motions under advisement and said he will issue written responses on the motions as soon as possible.
One of Smith's key arguments was that the judge erred by removing a juror who said he received guidance about Brown’s innocence from what he described as “the holy spirit.” Prosecutors said the judge had no legal choice but to remove the juror. They suggested that if if the situation was reversed -- a juror had said the Holy Spirit told them Brown was guilty -- that person would also have been removed.
Corrine Brown talks to her attorney, James Smith, before Monday's hearing began.
“I think that the law is very supportive of the defense's argument," said attorney Rhonda Peoples-Waters, who is not connected to the case. "Did that belief control with that juror did or didn't do and did it interrupt his ability to follow the law?"
A concert intended to raise money for Brown's defense, which was scheduled for Sunday night, was postponed because of weather. The concert at Bethel Baptist Church has been pushed back to Sept. 3, according to a notice posted on social media. Gospel recording artist Shirley Caesar is set to headline it.
Brown told News4Jax on Friday that the postponement was a result of flooding from recent downpours in the neighborhoods around the church.
Legal expert Curtis Fallgatter, who was a federal prosecutor for 17 years, said it's not likely the concert would have caused issues for Brown legally, because the judge should understand it's an expensive case, and she needs to fund her defense.
“It's an important event for her, because she sold her houses, gave up her retirement account, so clearly she needs some money to pay for her criminal defense, so I would have to think there is a fairly good reason to cancel the concert,” Fallgatter said.
Bethel Baptist Church is one of the nonprofit organizations to which Brown's tax returns claimed tax-deductible donations. Jurors found those returns were fraudulent.
Bishop Rudolph McKissick Jr., lead pastor at Bethel Baptist, said the church is only renting the venue to Friends of Corrine Brown for the concert and the church will not benefit in any way.
"She attends this church faithfully every Sunday and the event is happening here because the venue was rented, and it just makes sense," McKissick told News4Jax last week. "If I turned my back on every member who had been charged or rumored, I wouldn't have a church. It would be empty and I wouldn't have a church, inclusive of me. So you can't turn your back on them."
Fallgatter said Brown has a good chance at a retrial, partly because of the dismissal of a juror who believed Brown was innocent and reports from another juror who told the I-TEAM that she felt intimidated into voting to convict Brown.
“I think it's a very solid motion and incredibly unique,” Fallgatter said. “I've been doing this a long time, and I've never seen something like that happen with a jury. The judge hasn't either, I'm sure, so it's very solid ground.”
Corrigan has not set Brown's sentencing date yet, in part to let the issues play out surrounding the dismissal of that juror.
Experts said Brown faces five to seven years in federal prison, and that not taking responsibility for her crimes -- if the conviction holds -- could equal more prison time.
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