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Former Northeast Florida Congresswoman Corrine Brown sentenced to prison

WOKV's Stephanie Brown and CBS 47/Fox 30 Action News Jax reporter Jenna Bourne recap the sentencing of former Northeast Florida Congresswoman Corrine Brown and her two co-defendants.
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  • A federal judge in New York sentenced President Donald Trump’s former long-time attorney Michael Cohen to 36 months imprisonment on Wednesday after he pleaded guilty to several charges earlier this year. >> Read more trending news Cohen, 52, admitted to lying last year to Congress in connection to a Trump Tower deal in Moscow after prosecutors with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team charged him with making false statements. >> Michael Cohen pleads guilty to making false statements to Congress He also pleaded guilty in August to eight charges including multiple counts of tax evasion and arranging illicit payments to silence women who posed a risk to Trump's presidential campaign. >> Trump was implicated in two felonies: What does that mean? Update 1:55 p.m. EST: Cohen prompted American Media Inc. to purchase the rights to Karen McDougal’s story about an affair she claims she had with Trump years before the 2016 presidential election, federal prosecutors with the Southern District of New York confirmed Wednesday. McDougal claimed she had a nearly year-long affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007. The rights to her story were bought in August 2016 by American Media, the publisher of the National Enquirer, the Wall Street Journal reported in July, McDougal’s story was never published. Prosecutors said Wednesday that officials previously reached a non-prosecution agreement with American Media Inc. Company officials admitted to making the $150,000 payment “in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election. Cohen also paid adult film star $130,000 in exchange for her silence about an alleged sexual encounter she says she had with Trump in 2006. Prosecutors said Cohen was reimbursed for his payment to Daniels in monthly installments “disguised as payments for legal services pursuant to a retainer, when in fact no such retainer existed.” “Cohen made or caused both of these payments in order to influence  the 2016 election and did so in coordination with one or more members of the campaign,” prosecutors said in a news release. Update 12:45 p.m. EST: U.S. District Judge William Pauley said Wednesday that Cohen’s cooperation with prosecutors 'does not wipe the slate clean' of his crimes. Pauley sentenced Cohen to serve three years in prison for crimes including tax evasion, lying to Congress and arranging illicit payments to silence Daniels and McDougal. Cohen’s former attorney, Lanny Davis, said in a statement released Wednesday that Cohen “continues to tell the truth about Donald Trump’s misconduct over the years.” “Mr. Trump’s repeated lies cannot contradict stubborn facts,” Davis said. “Michael has owned up to his mistakes and fully cooperated with Special Counsel Mueller in his investigation over possible Trump campaign collusion with Russian meddling in the 2016 election.” Trump has accused Cohen of lying to authorities in order to get a lighter sentence and denied any wrongdoing. >> Cohen pleads guilty to 8 charges, says Trump told him to pay off Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal Update 12:15 p.m. EST: Cohen will be required to surrender to authorities on March 6 to serve the 36-month sentence handed down Wednesday, Bloomberg News reported. U.S. District Judge William Pauley III also required Cohen forfeit $500,000 and pay $1.4 million in restitution and $50,000 in fines, the news site reported. >> More on Robert Mueller's investigation Update 12:05 p.m EST: U.S. District Judge William Pauley III sentenced Cohen to 36 months imprisonment and three years of supervised release after he pleaded guilty to eight charges in New York over the summer, Newsday reported. He was sentenced to two months for lying to Congress. The sentence will run concurrent with the New York sentence. “Cohen pled guilt to a veritable smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct,' Pauley said before handing down the sentence Wednesday, according to CNN.  Pauley credited Cohen for his cooperation with Mueller's team, however, he added that as an attorney, 'Mr. Cohen should have known better,' Newsday reported. Update 11:50 a.m. EST: Cohen said he takes “full responsibility” for the charges he's pleaded guilty to while addressing the court Wednesday. “This may seem hard to believe but today is one of the most meaningful days of my life,” he said, according to CNN. “I have been living in a personal and mental incarceration ever since the day that I accepted the offer to work for a real estate mogul whose business acumen that I deeply admired.' Update 11:45 a.m. EST: Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Nicolas Roos said Wednesday that Cohen's crimes carried a 'tremendous societal cost,' CNN reported. “In committing these crimes, Mr. Cohen has eroded faith in the electoral process and compromised the rule of law,” Roos said. Update 11:35 a.m. EST: Jeannie Rhee, an attorney for special counsel Robert Mueller's team, said in brief comments in court Wednesday that Cohen provided investigators with 'credible information' related to the investigation into Russian election meddling, Newsday reported. 'Mr. Cohen has sought to tell us the truth, and that is of utmost value to us,' Rhee said. Update 11:15 a.m. EST: Cohen's attorney, Guy Petrillo, said in court Wednesday that Cohen cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office 'knowing that he'd face a barrage of attack by the president,' according to the Courthouse News Service. Petrillo said Cohen “offered evidence against the most powerful person in our country,” CNN reported. Update 10:55 a.m. EST: Cohen arrived at the federal courthouse in Manhattan early Wednesday ahead of an 11 a.m. sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge William Pauley III. Original report: Federal prosecutors in New York have asked that Cohen receive a “substantial prison term” of around four years, saying in a court filing last week that he'd failed to fully cooperate with investigators and overstated his helpfulness. Cohen’s attorneys have argued for leniency, arguing that some of Cohen's crimes were motivated by overenthusiasm for Trump, rather than any nefarious intent. >> From Cox Media Group's Jamie Dupree: Feds: Manafort lied to prosecutors, Cohen should get jail time The president has denied that he had affairs with either McDougal or Daniels, but prosecutors said Cohen orchestrated payments to the women at Trump’s direction. On Monday, the president wrote in a tweet that the payments were “a simple private transaction,” and not a campaign contribution. Trump said that “even if it was” a campaign contribution, Cohen should be held responsible. “Lawyer’s liability if he made a mistake, not me,” Trump wrote. “Cohen (is) just trying to get his sentenced reduced. WITCH HUNT!” >> From Cox Media Group's Jamie Dupree: Denouncing Cohen, Trump disputes campaign link to payoff of women A sentence of hard time would leave Cohen with little to show for his decision to plead guilty, though experts told The Associated Press that Wednesday's hearing might not be the last word on his punishment. Cohen could have his sentence revisited if he strikes a deal with prosecutors in which he provides additional cooperation within a year of his sentence, said Michael J. Stern, a former federal prosecutor in Detroit and Los Angeles. 'Few things spark a defendant's renewed interest in cooperating faster than trading in a pair of custom Italian trousers for an off-the-rack orange jump suit,' he said. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • As a grieving California couple shares photos of their 13-year-old son with autism, who died last month after being restrained by teachers, other parents have begun pulling their children from the inclusive private K-12 school where it took place.  The parents of Max Benson, a student at Guiding Hands School in El Dorado Hills, shared photos of their son with Fox 40 in Sacramento to show his sweet demeanor, the news station said. The family, from Davis, is also fighting back at Guiding Hands, which a preliminary investigation by the state shows violated multiple rules in its handling of the boy. Max was allegedly placed in a prone restraint, face-down on the floor, Nov. 28 after school officials said he became violent. The El Dorado Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the incident, said in a news release that Max was 6 feet tall and weighed about 280 pounds.  An attorney for Max’s family, Seth Goldstein, disputed the claims of the boy’s height and weight, saying that Max was 5 feet, 4 inches tall. At most, he weighed 230 pounds, Goldstein said. “He was not an unmanageable child in any sense of that term, in terms of that size,” Goldstein told The Sacramento Bee. The Bee previously reported that sources said Max was held in the prone restraint position for about an hour before he became unresponsive.  “A teacher began CPR until medical aid arrived,” a news release from the Sheriff’s Office said. “The student was transported to Mercy Folsom in critical condition and later to UC Davis (Medical Center).” Max died two days later.  “At this time, there appears to be no evidence of foul play or criminal intent,” investigators said in the release. Cherilyn Caler, whose own 13-year-old son witnessed the restraint used on Max, said the teacher and an aide restrained the boy, who had been a student there for just a few months, because he kicked a wall, the Bee reported. A second parent who asked to remain anonymous backed Caler’s account. Caler told the newspaper her son, who is also on the autism spectrum, told her Max became unresponsive, at which point those restraining him told him to stop pretending to be asleep. After about 30 minutes, they realized he wasn’t pretending, she said. Caler has since removed her son from the school, the Bee reported. >> Related story: Teen with autism dies after being restrained at school A Dec. 5 letter from the California Department of Education states that staff members at Guiding Hills violated multiple state rules when trying to get Max under control. The Department of Education’s own preliminary investigation found that the staff used an emergency intervention to stop predictable, or non-emergency, behavior. It also found that an emergency intervention was used as a substitute for Max’s behavioral intervention plan, or BIP, which is designed to change, replace, modify or eliminate a targeted behavior. The intervention was also used for longer than necessary and it was used with an amount of force that was “not reasonable and necessary under the circumstances.” The school staff’s actions also failed to take into account Max’s individualized education program, or IEP, which required specific intervention strategies that were not used, the letter says.  Guiding Hands School’s certification has been suspended until the end of 2019, according to the letter. The school can continue to serve current students but cannot accept new pupils.  “The (California Department of Education) is continuing to conduct its investigation into the actions of (Guiding Hands),” the letter reads. It is likely required corrective actions will be issued by the CDE resulting from this investigation.” All corrective actions would have to be completed for the school to regain its certification. Caler is not the only parent who has pulled their child out of Guiding Hands, which had an enrollment of 137 this school year, according to state records. Melissa Lasater told Fox 40 that she was appalled at how the school handled Max’s death.  “When they were bringing the chaplains from class to class, instead of just letting the chaplains say, ‘We’re here for you,’ the staff also shared their message: ‘Just so you know, we didn’t kill anyone,’” Lasater told the news station.  Lasater said her own 13-year-old son, who knew Max, did not realize his classmate died until his death made the news about a week later.  “He immediately started to, like, cry and started to process, like, ‘Who’s been missing the last few days, who could it be?’” Lasater said. “And then his face just dropped and he’s, like, ‘Mom, mom, it was Max. They killed Max.’ And then he was petrified.” Lasater said the school had used restraints on her son in the past, sometimes leaving him with bruises. In the wake of Max’s death, she initially revoked her permission for the school to use any force on her son.  Ultimately, she chose to pull him from the school. “They’re all still there with the same staff, who are trained in the same techniques, who are going to use them the same way. They use them as punishment,” Lasater told Fox 40. Other parents and students tell stories of physical restraint being used as punishment. Josh Greenfield, 23, was a student at Guiding Hands until 2013, the Bee reported. Greenfield told the newspaper he was restrained twice during his time there and found the experiences frightening.  The restraints were excessive and were done for dubious reasons, according to the former student. He told the Bee he was once placed in a prone restraint because he ignored a teacher calling his name in a hallway.  Melanie Stark, of Elk Grove, pulled her 9-year-old son from Guiding Hands Thursday, the Bee reported. She also has a pending complaint with the Department of Education regarding the use of restraints in the school.  Stark said her son was restrained on his first day at the school in September. She said a teacher’s aide wrapped her arms and legs around the boy so he could not get up from his desk.  The reasoning was to keep him seated and guide him through the activity he was working on, she said. “That was too aggressive and it was happening about four times a week,” Stark told the Bee.  Rebecca St. Clair, of Folsom, told the newspaper her son was put in a prone restraint two years ago. In that incident, staff members rolled him inside a gym mat and put their weight on the mat to keep him still.  Despite being upset by the incident, it was not until the week before Max’s death, when she personally witnessed a student being rolled inside a mat that she realized how “alarming and unsettling” the practice is, the Bee reported.  “I tried to assure myself that this was based on trust. I really trusted the teachers,” St. Clair told the newspaper. “That trust has been broken. I thought they were so careful. I feel so wrong about that now.” Lasater and others protested outside the California Department of Education Monday, demanding that Guiding Hands be shut down. One of those protesting was Katie Kaufman, a former student there.  According to CBS Sacramento, Kaufman said she also was restrained multiple times at the school. “They always use the one where you throw the person on the floor in a body slam,” Kaufman told the news station. “It was a matter of time. Someone dies, and they finally start listening.”
  • According to court documents filed on Friday by New York prosecutors and the office of special counsel Robert Mueller, President Donald Trump not only knew about hush money being paid to two women whom he allegedly had affairs with but also directed his personal attorney to pay the women for their silence. The allegations implicating Trump surfaced last week in sentencing recommendations filed in criminal cases against Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney. The filings indicated that Mueller and prosecutors from the Southern District of New York believe that Trump was an accomplice in the payments to the two women, payments that are felony violations of federal election laws. >>Who is Michael Cohen, personal attorney for Donald Trump? How can money spent to quiet someone rise to the level of a federal felony? Here’s a look at the two portions of Friday’s filings that implicate Trump in unlawful activity. What do the filings in the Cohen case say? Prosecutors are alleging that violations of federal campaign finance law took place when Cohen made payments to silence porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Both women alleged they had extramarital affairs with Trump. Trump has denied their claims. According to prosecutors: Cohen negotiated an agreement with American Media Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer, to pay McDougal $150,000 to keep quiet about an alleged 10-month relationship with Trump. According to the plea, McDougal transferred the rights to her story to the Enquirer which did not publish the story. Cohen paid AMI to compensate the company for payments made to McDougal.  Cohen’s $130,000 payment to Daniels, also over an alleged affair with Trump, was made with funds drawn on a home equity line of credit he took out. The plea said Cohen paid Daniels “by making and causing to be made an expenditure, in cooperation, consultation, and concert with, and at the request and suggestion of one or more members of the campaign (identified as Trump, though not by name) … to ensure that she not publicize damaging allegation before the 2016 presidential election and thereby influence that election.' Cohen said during the plea that he “participated in this conduct for the principal purpose” of influencing an election and did it at the “direction of a candidate for federal office.”  What are the violations? The crimes include a charge of making a campaign contribution in excess of the $2,700 individual limit set by federal campaign law and unlawful corporate contributions. The violation of the $2,700 contribution limit came when Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about the alleged affair with Trump. The unlawful corporate contribution charge refers to Cohen’s promise to pay the parent company of the National Enquirer which purchased the rights to McDougal’s story of an affair with Trump but never published it. How does money paid to keep someone quiet become a campaign contribution? Under federal campaign finance law, individual campaign contributions are limited to $2,700 per individual, or $5,400 for a couple, for each election cycle. Federal law bars direct corporate contributions to federal candidates. The money paid to Daniels – $130,000 – was moved through a limited-liability company called Essential Consultants. Cohen created the company a few weeks before the election. The payment to Daniels was a campaign contribution, according to Cohen, who said in court that when he paid Daniels off, he was acting on behalf of the campaign with the aim of helping Trump win the presidency. In McDougal’s case, Cohen paid AMI to compensate the company for payments made to McDougal.  Cohen testified at his August plea hearing  that he orchestrated payments to McDougal and made payments to Daniels weeks before the 2016 presidential election so that the affairs would not become public, and that he did so “for the principal purpose of influencing the election.” He also said Trump knew about the payments. Both of those payments far exceed the $2,700 limit. Trump, on the other hand, said the payments were “simple private transactions” not campaign contributions, and that the payments were meant to spare his family embarrassment, not influence an election. If Trump were to be charged, prosecutors would have to prove that he knew certain campaign finance laws prohibited what he was doing and that he then willfully violated those laws. Cohen originally said he acted on his own and had not been reimbursed by the Trump Organization, or by the campaign for the payments. He recanted that statement in August, saying he was reimbursed for the payments by Trump who had directed him to make them. “I used a company under my control to make the payment (to Daniels)” Cohen told the judge, adding that “the monies used were later repaid by the candidate.”  What does the law say about this case? What we know is that prosecutors believe Trump directed Cohen to violate campaign finance laws. What we don’t know is if Trump knowingly violated the law. According to the Federal Election Campaign Act, while individuals are limited to making donations of $2,700 to presidential candidates, candidates can use or loan their personal funds for campaign use. While those contributions are not subject to limits, they must be reported on campaign finance forms filed with the Federal Elections Commission. Companies may not make campaign contributions, and it is a felony to conspire to make a campaign contribution that exceeds $25,000. What is the statute of limitations for these crimes? For the violations cited in the filings, there is a five-year statute of limitations. Will Trump be charged? Trump will not likely be charged with crimes while he is a sitting president.Legal opinions that have directed Justice Department procedure say a sitting president will not be indicted because criminal charges would undermine the job he or she does. A president could be charged after he leaves office as long as the statute of limitations on the crimes the person is alleged to have committed have not expired. Will he be impeached? Bringing articles of impeachment and impeaching a president are two different things. The U.S. House drafts articles of impeachment, but the U.S. Senate, with the chief justice of the Supreme Court presiding, holds a trial to examine the charges and votes on whether a president is impeached. It requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate for impeachment. It is possible that the House could start impeachment proceedings against Trump. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, has suggested that Trump’s actions, according to what was revealed in the filings, would rise to the level of an impeachable offense. “Until now, you had two different charges, allegations, whatever you want to call them,” Nadler of New York, the incoming Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in an interview on Saturday. “One was collusion with the Russians. One was obstruction of justice and all that entails. And now you have a third — that the president was at the center of a massive fraud against the American people.” The House Judiciary Committee would be the committee that would draft impeachment charges against Trump if it came to that. What does the White House say?  The White House said Friday's news has nothing to do with them. Trump said “thank you” in a tweet on Friday, saying he had been exonerated concerning campaign finance.
  • Mayport-based USS Fort McHenry is leaving for a seven-month deployment in support of maritime security operations in Europe and the Middle East.  A spokesperson for Naval Station Mayport says more than 4,500 Sailors and Marines serving in the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) will deploy next week.  The 22nd MEU is comprised of approximately 2,500 Marines and Sailors.  It includes a command element, ground combat element, aviation combat element and logistics combat element.  The Kearsarge ARG consists of the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), the amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington (LPD 24), the dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43), Fleet Surgical Team (FST) 2 and FST 8, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 26, Tactical Air Control Squadron 21, components of Naval Beach Group 2 and the embarked staff of Amphibious Squadron 6.
  • People in the Southeast were woken up by an earthquake early Wednesday.  >> Visit WSBTV.com for complete coverage of this developing story The U.S. Geological Survey reported the quake happened about 4:15 a.m. near Decatur, Tennessee. It had a magnitude of 4.4. A 3.3-magnitude aftershock followed happened about 15 minutes later. Atlanta’s WSB-TV received dozens of phone calls in the minutes following the quake. >> Read more trending news  The earthquake happened along the New Madrid Fault Line, which is along the Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi state lines.  The earthquake was the second strongest on record in east Tennessee, according to the USGS. The strongest was a magnitude 4.7 near Maryville in 1973. There have been several small earthquakes in northwest Georgia over the past few years, including a 1.9-magnitude quake near Villanow, in Walker County, in August.  A 2.7-magnitude quake was reported in Catoosa County, near Fort Oglethorpe, in January, and a 2.3 hit Trion, in Chattooga County, in November 2017. In July 2017, a 2.2-magnitude quake was registered just north of LaFayette in Walker County.

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