Jacksonville, FL - For prosecutors, this is a case that makes a statement that public corruption will not stand.
“Imprisonment in this case is unequivocally necessary,” says Assistant US Attorney A. Tysen Duva.
But in the eyes of the defense, a longtime Congresswoman- Corrine Brown- needs to be credited for her decades of public service.
“If you balance this offence with all of the good that she has done, it doesn’t just outweigh it, it substantially outweighs it,” says Brown’s attorney James Smith III.
FULL COVERAGE: The federal fraud case of former Congresswoman Corrine Brown
16 character witnesses presented before US District Judge Timothy Corrigan during the sentencing hearing for the now-former Northeast Florida Democratic Representative. For some, Brown was the godmother to a child, to others she was a tireless public servant, to still others she was an inspiration.
“Devoted, faithful, committed,” says Bishop Kelvin Cobaris, the President of the African American Council of Christian Clergy, in central Florida.
“She means the absolute world to me,” says a longtime friend of Brown.
“It was not just saving people’s homes, she was saving people’s lives,” says Neighborhood Assistance Cooperation of America founder and CEO Bruce Marks.
“The sentence that we are asking for is extraordinary, but that sentence is being asked for on behalf of someone who’s extraordinary and has lived an extraordinary life,” Smith says.
But prosecutors have now confirmed they’re recommending Corrigan adopt what the advisory sentencing guidelines call for in this case- up to nine years in prison. If the Court seeks to give Brown a lighter sentence, the government wants her to serve no less than five years.
“This was a significant criminal case,” Duva says.
Duva says Brown obstructed justice during the trial proceedings through several statements she made while testifying in her own defense. He says she improperly shifted blame to others like her CPA, denied knowledge about the fraud scheme which prosecutors say she had, and gave explanations for cash payments that didn’t make sense.
“Corrine Brown committed crimes on that witness stand. She lied for hours on end,” Duva says.
Corrigan says this is something he plans to very carefully consider, after Smith raised an objection to classifying any of Brown’s testimony as obstruction of justice.
“Just because a person testifies at trial and is convicted, doesn’t mean they committed perjury,” he says.
Duva also read several statements Brown has made pre-indictment, post-indictment, and post-verdict, criticizing the justice system, implying she was being targeted for political or racial reasons, and suggesting the jury was tampered with.
“Just totally ludicrous and it makes no sense,” Duva says.
Smith asked Corrigan to understand that Brown grew up in a different time and under different circumstances, where racism exsited and it was never thought that an African American woman who did not come from an elite background could rise to Congress. He implored Corrigan not to sentence her based on those statements.
“Sometimes, as a 71-year-old black woman, she’s reminded of the scars she’s gained by fighting for all of us,” Smith says.
Smith also told the court he objects to much of the Pre-Sentence Report that was put together by Brown’s Probation Officer, because Brown still maintains her innocence and, as such, does not concur with the facts that are laid out. That objection was preserved for appeal.
Brown did address the judge herself, chiefly thanking family and supporters for their continued support and prayers.
“I am sorry that you have to be here today to see me in this situation. I have always tried to protect my name and reputation, I would never imagine that one day I would be in court to ask people to speak on my behalf. I have learned from this unfortunate turn of events that too many times I have trusted without verifying. In hindsight I wish that I had been more diligent in overseeing my personal and professional life,” she says.
She told the judge she has worked to help people, and public service has been an honor and priviledge.
“I humbly ask for mercy and compassion,” Brown says.
The government says the real tragedy and victim in this case is all the money that could have been used for charitable purposes, if Brown followed through on her promises to donors.
“Throughout, it was all about raising scholarship money for kids, and that never happened,” Duva says.
Brown was convicted in May on 18 federal charges for her role in soliciting donations to a sham charity and using the money instead on personal expenses. The charges also include that Brown lied on tax returns and financial disclosure forms by underreporting her income and overreporting charitable contributions.
Corrigan heard arguments today, but will not issue the sentence order for Brown or her two co-defendants until December 4th.
“Judges are humans too, and all I can do is the best I can do, and I will do the best I can do,” he says.
Brown’s former Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons and the President of the sham charity money was funneled through Carla Wiley both pleaded guilty and testified against Brown at her trial. They had their sentencing hearing Wednesday, which established advisory guidelines that could have Wiley serve between one year nine months and two years three months, with Simmons potentially serving between two years nine months and three years five months. Both expressed remorse during their statements to Corrigan.
While Corrigan has the advisory sentencing guidelines for all three defendants, he will also weigh other factors, and has discretion to impose the sentences he sees as appropriate in each case.
Smith is also disputing what the government has valued as loss associated with this case. Among his objections is that prosecutors claimed around $330,000 used on events was loss in this case, because the people who donated thought their money would benefit charitable purposes. The defense says the events did happen, so claiming the money is improper. Attorneys for Brown, Simmons, Wiley, and the government have been asked to try to work through their differences on loss and forfeiture sums, and must submit any outstanding objections by next week.