Jacksonville, Fl. - The defense has rested in the federal fraud trial of now-former Congresswoman Corrine Brown, and with no rebuttal from the government, closing arguments have been scheduled for Monday.
This comes after an emotional day on the stand for Brown- at one point the judge calling for a short recess as she broke down. At the time, Brown was being questioned by prosecutors about the cash she received from her Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons.
“At no point did I think one penny of the money Ronnie was taking from his account was stolen money,” Brown said.
As she started sobbing and asked for a break, the jury was sent out. While they filed out, Brown said- loud enough to be heard over the courtroom noise- “He tried to destroy my life”.
During both direct and cross examination, Brown has not offered much of an explanation for the transactions in to her account. Regarding checks written off the alleged “sham” charity One Door For Education, Brown has told the court she didn’t pay attention to her personal finances. Many of those checks funneled through the business of a part-time staffer, according to prosecutors. Brown says she doesn’t know why that staffer, Von Alexander, would have received checks from One Door, but says any money Alexander gave to Brown was repayment on loans.
The government asked why Alexander didn’t just testify that she was repaying loans, as opposed to saying Brown directed her how to fill out the checks, cash them, and deposit the money.
“She told you all that and you didn’t want to hear it,” Brown responded.
Assistant US Attorney A. Tysen Duva followed up by asking if anyone else had testified that- as Brown claimed- this staffer claimed she would have to say certain things or potentially face indictment.
“I didn’t see another parrot in the courtroom programmed to say exactly what was told to her,” Brown responded.
Brown wasn’t sure how much she had allegedly loaned Alexander over the years, but claimed she was always in need of money.
There was close to $142,000 in cash deposited in to Brown’s account over several years. Prosecutors say that, in addition to One Door and Alexander’s business, there were deposits from a few other places as well. Brown said she didn’t know some of the businesses, may have taken a loan in one case, and isn’t sure what the origins are for the rest of the transactions.
“I had Christmas, I had birthdays, I had boyfriends,” she said.
Prosecutors say that money came from One Door
Brown admitted again to making mistakes by not managing her personal finances and office staff more closely. She says she takes the “major” share of the responsibility for that, but also looks at Simmons and others as sharing in the blame.
Simmons pleaded guilty in connection to this case and testified for the prosecution earlier this week. The third alleged co-conspirator, Carla Wiley, also pleaded guilty and testified.
Brown continues to maintain her innocence in regard to any intentional criminal wrongdoing.
“Did you commit any of these crimes you’re charged with?” asked Brown’s attorney, James Smith III.
“Absolutely not. Not one,” she responded.
Brown offered alternate explanations for some of the pictures painted by prosecutors, including specifically dealing with a check from the One Door account that was made out to the bank account of Brown’s daughter, and had “children summer camps” written in the memo line. Prosecutors say this money- and a few more cash deposits Simmons made in to Brown’s bank account- funded some high value shopping in Los Angeles. Prosecutors offered bank statements that show expenses and deposits.
While Brown says there was, in fact, no money for summer camps, they used the money for backpacks for children. She says she used cash in the garment district in LA to buy backpacks as part of an annual event she does in Jacksonville. Prosecutors asked where her bank statement showed any cash withdrawal to reflect that claim.
“I don’t know how to answer that. I used cash money that wasn’t in the account,” she said.
Information presented by prosecutors shows Brown went to LA from the Bahamas, where she stayed at the Atlantis resort. Brown says she did official works at both stops.
Another event Brown spoke proudly of was fundraising to send students on an exchange trip to China, describing it as an unbelievable experience. Brown stepped in when the trip looked like it would be cancelled because of a lack of funding, and raised tens of thousands of dollars in just a few weeks.
The government says Brown actually wound up raising too much money, and the donors were never approached after to see what they wanted to do with the excess. Instead, prosecutors say the money continued to funnel in to personal expenses. They also questioned the selection process for the trip, because several people were closely tied to Brown. She told the court the selection criteria was whoever could get the needed paperwork together in time.
While Brown’s direct examination Thursday indicated she believed that the charitable donations she had claimed on her income tax returns were donations she actually made, despite what gift receipts showed, during cross examination Friday, she instead said her tax preparer was incorrect.
“Let’s be truthful with this, I did not double check my taxes. It was a mistake,” Brown says.
Brown denies being the person who gave her tax preparer and staff the information to fill out the charitable contributions portion of the return. When Duva asked about a worksheet note from her tax preparer that said Brown verbally confirmed a $12,500 donation to One Door, Brown said that wasn’t a conversation she remembered. Brown was then shown her signature on a list of charitable contributions which was ultimately used to fill out the returns, but she said it was not her signature.
There was additionally a check written from the One Door account that prosecutors say went through a few steps and ultimately landed in Brown’s bank account in order to cover the cost of a payment to the IRS in connection to an amended tax return. Brown says she had no knowledge of that. Prosecutors asked Brown if it made sense that other people would conspire to make a payment to the IRS on her behalf using siphoned money, without her knowledge. She also could not answer that.
District Judge Timothy Corrigan had to intervene on several occasions to keep Brown on topic and keep the questioning moving forward.
Closing arguments are scheduled for 9AM Monday. Each side will be given 90 minutes, and prosecutors have indicated they intend to reserve some of that time for a rebuttal. One closing arguments are completed, the jury will be instructed and deliberations will begin.
WOKV is inside of the courtroom for all of the testimony. Follow our reporter Stephanie Brown on Twitter for frequent updates.