Jacksonville, FL - If not for cash transfers- which in part included money from an alleged “sham” charity- now-former Congresswoman Corrine Brown would have been financially in the red.
And the account of the “charity” she’s accused of taking money from was not on solid footing either.
FBI Forensic Accountant Kimberly Henderson walked month-by-month through Brown’s income and expenditures, in testimony during Brown’s federal fraud trial. She considered Brown’s salary from the House of Representatives, her pension from the State of Florida, and any other non-cash deposits across Brown’s accounts, and compared that to the amount of money that was going out, dating back to 2009. Many of the months showed Brown’s spending outpaced her income- often by thousands of dollars, and on one occasion as much as around $9700.
FULL COVERAGE: Federal fraud trial of now-former Congresswoman Corrine Brown
Not all of the months that were studied correspond to a time when Brown is believed to have been getting money from One Door For Education, but prosecutors are working to continually boost their take on a long-term motive- which is that Brown was living outside of her means, and needed to supplement her income to cover that.
Brown and two others are accused of soliciting more than $800,000 in donations to One Door, and using the money for their personal expenses instead. Cash deposits to Brown stopped in January 2016, which is when Henderson says the FBI went “public” with the case, meaning they started interviewing people- including Carla Wiley and Ronnie Simmons.
Henderson says they tried to screen out cash deposits that were considered “normal”- for example, Brown’s brother would occasionally pay her back for a mortgage they were splitting that was drawing off Brown’s account. Henderson also looked for any cash deposits that were in close proximity and amount to cash withdraws, which could potentially show Brown had taken money from an ATM and was putting back the balance she didn’t use.
The intent was to leave the cash to reflect money that was ultimately funneled from One Door For Education, donors to the group, or other organizations that made checks to cash, and then allegedly gave the money to Brown, as Brown continued to live outside of her means. Some of the organizations that were studied include her campaign account, her legal fund, and an affiliated PAC.
A few of the transactions which prosecutors haven’t focused on until now include a Jacksonville non-profit, the Community Rehabilitation Center. Now-Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney is the Executive Director of the CRC, and Stanley Twiggs was at one point a senior official as well. Brown’s tax returns show claims of frequent donations of money and goods to the CRC, but a file found with one of Brown’s staffers also shows that she was in possession of multiple versions of a donor letter from the organization, including one that was unsigned, and one that didn’t have an amount filled in. Henderson says she found no record in Brown’s accounts of any donation to the CRC.
Henderson says, in 2011, Twiggs formed a for-profit corporation called Community Rehabilitation Center Transportation Inc.. Later on, Twiggs filed articles of incorporation for LaPool Training & Education LLC. In 2010, Gaffney also formed the for-profit company Northwest Services Inc.
In July 2010, bank records show LaPool got $6,000 from the CRC. Henderson says Twiggs then withdrew $5,100 cash, and the same day as that withdrawal, $4,900 was deposited in to the bank account of Brown. The next month, Lapool got $3,000 from Northwest Support Services. Henderson says a countercheck was written for the same amount the next day, and then $1,700 in cash was deposited in to Brown’s account. Another instance in October 2011 shows CRC Transportation making a $4,000 check to “cash”- with Gaffney’s signature- and then $4,000 in cash being deposited in to Brown’s account about 20 minutes later. Henderson says there are even more examples that show a similar pattern. This all pre-dated One Door’s existence relating to this case.
Specifically with these transactions, Henderson says she found no evidence that Simmons was involved. Simmons is the man Brown’s defense is putting the blame on- saying he took advantage of Brown as she became more reliant on him.
For some of the expenses, Henderson also had surveillance showing Brown was hands on with cash deposits. There were also deposit slips that were reportedly signed by Brown. Brown’s attorney, James Smith III, asked Henderson how she knew that it was Brown’s signature. Henderson said she went by what the records were showing, but confirmed she is not a handwriting expert.
When Smith further pressed what information Henderson had when putting together the charts and examples, she said she was records driven. She looked at the financial and bank records for a range of people and organizations, but confirmed she did not do any of the interviews with the parties involved, saying instead that was up to the agents and investigators. Because of that, she had no knowledge of whether Simmons had a card for Brown’s account or whether he potentially admitted to taking money from Brown, all in connection to some of the ATM withdrawals off Brown’s account.
When it comes to One Door’s account specifically, Henderson says she noticed some definite patterns.
A chart she assembled reflects the balance on the One Door account at the end of every day. Each year, there would be a big uptick in September- which corresponds to when Brown would host a reception at the Congressional Black Caucus’ Annual Legislative Conference. Prosecutors say money that was donated to One Door was used to put on these events. As an example, in early September 2013, the balance on the One Door account was just over $7,000. That peaked around $35,000, before dropping back down below $4,000 at the end of the month. For the rest of that year, the account was under $10,000- sometimes only a few hundred dollars, and sometimes negative.
At no point did Henderson find any record of Brown directly contributing to One Door. She also says there was no record of One Door spending on computers for children, despite apparently having solicited donors for a computer drive.
One Door donors unwittingly supplementing these events, freeing up money to go to Brown, though, according to Henderson’s analysis. In addition to some of the transactions previously vetted in testimony about checks being funneled through the business of a Brown staffer and ultimately deposited with Brown or her daughter, Henderson showed a few other transactions that came at times when the accounts of One Door and Brown were either low, or negative.
One such transaction was January 2014, when John Picerne wrote a $10,000 check to One Door- which was a couple of hundred dollars in the red. The check was deposited within a few days, and a few days after that, there was an $800 ATM withdrawal from the account and $800 deposit in to Brown’s account- which was under $1000. Wiley then also spent the next few days transferring or withdrawing thousands of dollars to cover her own expenses.
There were two examples where Henderson says she found essentially a double-draw for an event. One instance connected to a Beyonce concert in July 2013. The catering estimate for that event was $3,055.16, but a receipt for the event showed the actual total came out to $3,582.62. The One Door debit card was used to cover the actual bill, but Henderson also traced a One Door check for the initial estimated amount- which had been written with no date or “pay to” initially- through various steps and ultimately cashed in to Brown’s account.
Another $4900 bill for the entertainment for a reception hosted by Brown was covered by Picerne Development directly, although Henderson says she also found a One Door check to Simmons for the same amount, which was then shuffled between Simmons and Brown.
WOKV is inside of the federal courthouse as testimony continues. Follow our reporter Stephanie Brown on Twitter for developing information.