On Air Now

Listen Now

Weather

cloudy-day
54°
Showers
H 60° L 52°
  • cloudy-day
    54°
    Current Conditions
    Showers. H 60° L 52°
  • rain-day
    59°
    Evening
    Showers. H 60° L 52°
  • cloudy-day
    54°
    Morning
    Cloudy. H 56° L 47°
Listen
Pause
Error

The latest top stories

00:00 | 00:00

Listen
Pause
Error

The latest traffic report

00:00 | 00:00

Listen
Pause
Error

The latest forecast

00:00 | 00:00

Local
“Tell the truth and get it over with”: Former Rep. Corrine Brown’s Chief of Staff tells his side
Close

“Tell the truth and get it over with”: Former Rep. Corrine Brown’s Chief of Staff tells his side

“Tell the truth and get it over with”: Former Rep. Corrine Brown’s Chief of Staff tells his side
Photo Credit: Action News Jax
Rep. Corrine Brown's former Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons at the federal courthouse in Jacksonville to testify at Brown's trial.

“Tell the truth and get it over with”: Former Rep. Corrine Brown’s Chief of Staff tells his side

What he did was at the direction of now-former Congresswoman Corrine Brown.

“I usually don’t tell her no,” says Brown’s former Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons.

“Is that the culture in the office?” asked Assistant US Attorney A. Tysen Duva.

“Yes,” Simmons says.

In the ongoing federal fraud trial, Brown’s attorney has been building a case about betrayal, saying she put her trust in Simmons and increasingly relied on him to handle her business and financial needs.

Now, Simmons is telling his side in testimony Wednesday.

FULL COVERAGE: Federal fraud trial of now-former Congresswoman Corrine Brown

Simmons is one of two people who have taken plea deals in connection with this case, with the other being One Door For Education President Carla Wiley, who testified Monday. Prosecutors claim the three were involved in soliciting more than $800,000 in charitable donations to One Door, and using the money for personal expenses instead.

An early focus of Simmons’ testimony was ATM withdrawals he made from the One Door bank account, ultimately depositing most of the cash in Brown’s account. The first one came in September 2012, and there were many that followed. The defense has previously argued that Simmons could have done these transactions without Brown’s knowledge, and that Brown didn’t know where the money she was getting was coming from. Simmons says that’s not the case.

“All the others [transactions] on this chart- did you just do that on you own, or did the Congresswoman ask you to do it,” asked Duva.

Simmons responded that Brown directed him.

“If you were going to take the money for yourself, what would be the better way to do that,” asked Duva.

“Deposit it in my account and keep it,” Simmons said.

There were additionally dozens of ATM withdrawals that didn’t have any apparent matching deposit in Brown’s account. Simmons says, in about two-thirds of those transactions, he gave Brown all of the cash directly. In the other third, he says he got some of the money, but always gave some to Brown as well.

Simmons also told the court he was unaware of money Brown allegedly received from other organizations before One Door, including the Community Rehabilitation Center non-profit. Prior testimony has shown checks written off that account or a few closely affiliated were ultimately deposited as cash with Brown as far back as 2010. Prosecutors are working to show a pattern of Brown taking money from these organizations, independent of any involvement by Simmons.

On cross-examination, though, Brown’s attorney James Smith III pointed out that one of the checks in question mentioned Simmons’ mother in the memo line. Simmons told the court he and his family had previously received money from the CRC’s Executive Director Reginald Gaffney, who he had known for about three decades. Simmons testified he didn’t believe his mother had ultimately received money in connection to that specific check.

One Door came forward while Simmons and Wiley were boating with a few other people and talking about an annual reception for Brown in conjunction with the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference. Simmons said he needed a non-profit to host the event because it’s easier to collect money through a 501(c)(3). Simmons says One Door was a very interesting option.

“Primarily, because I would be able to control it,” he testified.

According to the testimony of Simmons and Wiley, they would both wind up stealing money from the organization- independent of each other. Wiley had pleaded guilty to transferring about $140,000 online, while Simmons took control of the debit card and checks. Wiley says she only found out Simmons was using One Door money after a romantic trip they took together to South Florida where she assuming he was treating her out of her pocket, but it turned out he was using the One Door account. Simmons says he wasn’t aware of Wiley taking money until federal investigators came to him.

The management of that account- and others in Simmons control- was a big question for the defense.

The defense has been working to put distance between Brown and any knowledge of wrongdoing. In the opening statement, the defense said Brown trusted Simmons to handle her money, and that it wasn’t uncommon for her to see deposits in to her account, because she would pay for her own travel or expenses relating to her work, and needed to be reimbursed. Simmons described Brown as heavily engaged with her constituents, including flying back to the District almost every week. 

“In order to be able to accomplish this task, she relied upon you?” asked Smith.

“Yes,” Simmons responded.

He says there is a proper way to do those reimbursements, and this is not it.

The defense is not questioning that Brown solicited money for One Door, but they’re trying to show Brown did not know those donations would be going to things other than charity.

Smith had Simmons confirm that, not only would he write checks off the One Door account- by signing Wiley’s name- but he would also sign checks from the Friends of Corrine Brown campaign account- where he would sign the Treasurer’s name- and Florida Leadership PAC which was affiliated with Brown. Simmons says he generally would sign the check and give it to Brown, without the rest filled out. He says he wasn’t aware of what happened to the checks after that, and he never asked.

Prosecutors asked why Simmons didn’t just write the checks to Brown directly.

“That would have been too obvious,” he said.

One of the most heated lines from prosecutors came when looking at the $330,000 in One Door funds that allegedly went to hosting various events. During cross-examination, defense attorney James Smith III had Simmons talk about the intent of those events being to raise money for scholarships and charity. Simmons says they brought donors together and hoped there would be giving.

Duva asked when Simmons found out that they weren’t actually raising scholarship money, and he said they would see that after pretty much every event. Simmons said the events were always in the hole.

“I can’t help that,” Simmons said.

Duva pressed how long it would have taken them to make changes to benefit charity, and Simmons wasn’t sure.

In fact, Simmons confirmed they were making withdrawals from One Door during one of the occasions where they were fundraising for a legitimate trip- sending some students to China. There was also an instance where they were soliciting money to One Door after an event in an effort to cover some more of the expenses. That involved telling the donor the check would go to a separate Foundation, but to write the check to One Door. The donor ultimately decided to cut out the middle man.

This comes after Simmons testified Brown never asked about the progress of any of the charitable work One Door was reported to be doing, and further, that there were not in fact raising money for scholarships, computers, or other charitable projects. There were also no photo ops or media opportunities that you may typically expect from a politician that’s promoting a charitable organization.

Simmons says he came to know One Door was not a registered non-profit, but he didn’t “care”, because it was an entity that he could control. When he found out, he says he did tell Brown, but he further testified that he thought the problem had been resolved.

Simmons and Brown were jointly indicted in July 2016, with Simmons facing 19 charges overall. He ultimately pleaded guilty to two counts- conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and theft of government funds. The conspiracy charge deals with the misuse of One Door funds, while the theft charges deals with a House of Representatives job Simmons got for his sister, where she did little to no actual work. In the plea agreement, Simmons admits to taking some of the $735,000 his sister received from that job over the years, and using it for his own expenses.

Simmons could be sentenced to twenty years in prison on the conspiracy charge and ten years in prison on the theft charge. He is hoping for leniency as a result of his testimony and cooperation with the government- even going so far as to say he hopes to avoid prison altogether- but stated during his testimony that nothing has been promised by the government at this point.

Smith countered that Simmons has been promised the other charges would be dropped. He then further focused in on the fact that Simmons has to provide “substantial assistance” to the government in their case.

“So telling the truth just isn’t enough?” Smith asked.

“Correct,” Simmons responded.

Simmons at one point told Brown that he was feeling pressured to plead, according to Smith. Simmons said prosecutors were threatening to indict his sister, and he also feared for the future of Brown’s daughter, Shantrel. Duva says there’s nothing in the plea agreement that binds them to whether or not another party is charged in this case.

“Did you plead guilty because you are guilty?” Duva asked.

“Yes,” Simmons responded.

Simmons says after reading through all of the discovery and dealing with the investigation and subsequent case for more than a year, he realized the right thing to do was plead.

“Tell the truth and get it over with,” he says.

Brown is scheduled to testify late Thursday, with the prosecution wrapping up it’s case mid-morning Thursday.

Simmons was measured and composed through most of his testimony. He kept his attention focused on the attorneys and lawyers, and didn’t appear to look over at Brown for any period of time. Brown listened closely to the testimony, occasionally conferring with her attorney or taking notes. Simmons described their relationship as “extremely close”, after having worked together for more than two decades.

WOKV is in the courtroom following all of the developing testimony. Get frequent updates by following our reporter Stephanie Brown on Twitter


Now-former Congresswoman Corrine Brown's Chief of Staff tells his side of the story, and the Congresswoman herself is expected on the stand tomorrow.

Posted by News 104.5 WOKV on Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Read More

The Latest News Headlines

  • A jury found Roger Stone guilty Friday of obstruction, giving false statements to Congress and tampering with witnesses in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. >> Read more trending news  The verdict came on the second day of jury deliberations. Stone had denied any wrongdoing and framed the charges as politically motivated. Update 12:20 p.m. EST Nov. 15: Jurors found Stone guilty Friday of all seven counts against him, including one charge of obstruction, one charge of witness tampering and five charges of making false statements connected to his pursuit stolen emails damaging to Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential bid. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman set a February 6 sentencing date for Stone, Fox News reported. Until then, Berman allowed Stone to be released on his own recognizance. Stone, who did not take the stand during his trial, is the sixth Trump aide or adviser to be convicted of charges brought as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. The president slammed the jury's verdict Friday, questioning in a tweet whether Stone fell victim to 'a double standard like never seen before in the history of our Country.' Original report: Jury deliberations in the case against Roger Stone, a political consultant and confidant of President Donald Trump, extended into a second day Friday after jurors failed to reach a verdict on whether he lied to Congress about his attempts to contact WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential election. Jurors asked U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson two questions Thursday during their six hours of deliberations, Reuters reported. The questions were about what was considered testimony in the case and a request for a clarification of the charges, according to the Courthouse News Service. Authorities arrested Stone in January on charges brought by then-special counsel Robert Mueller, who headed the Justice Department's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Stone was charged with obstruction, giving false statements and witness tampering. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kravis said Stone lied to protect the Trump campaign from embarrassment and scrutiny in its quest for emails hacked by Russian officials and disseminated by WikiLeaks, according to The Washington Post. Attorneys for Stone claimed he never intentionally deceived Congress and that he was simply wrong in his testimony after committee members unexpectedly peppered him with WikiLeaks-related questions. 'There was nothing illegal about the campaign being interested in information that WikiLeaks was going to be putting out,' defense attorney Bruce S. Rogow said, according to the Post. 'This is what happens in a campaign. … It happens in every campaign.' In testimony, several witnesses highlighted how Trump campaign associates were eager to gather information about the more than 19,000 emails the U.S. says were hacked by Russia and then provided to WikiLeaks. Former campaign CEO Steve Bannon reluctantly testified last week and told jurors Trump's campaign saw Stone as an 'access point' to WikiLeaks. He said Stone boasted about his ties to the anti-secrecy group and its founder, Julian Assange. Bannon said campaign officials tried to use Stone to get advanced word about hacked emails damaging to Trump's rival in the 2016 presidential election, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Rick Gates, who served as a campaign aide for Trump, told jurors Stone asked him in June 2016 for the contact information of Trump's son-in-law and then-senior campaign adviser, Jared Kushner. Stone wanted to 'debrief' him on developments about the hacked emails, Gates said. Stone has proclaimed his innocence and accused Mueller's team of targeting him because of his politics. He could face up to 20 years in prison if he's convicted. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Roger Stone was one of the key figures of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian election meddling, accused fo trying to contact WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential race, NBC News reported. Stone was found guilty of all charges he faced including making false statements to Congress and obstruction of justice. Stone's lawyers said that any misstatements their client made to lawmakers were unintentional, the Washington Post reported shortly after his arrest. Who is Roger Stone? Stone was born in 1952 and was raised in Lewisboro, New York. His mother was a newspaper writer and his father was a well digger. Stone started his conservative leanings when a neighbor gave him a book, “The Conscience of a Conservative,” written by Barry Goldwater. It was given to him before he turned 13. Shortly after, he started working on the mayoral campaign for William F. Buckley Jr. in New York on weekends in 1965, The New Yorker uncovered in an article published in 2008.  He attended George Washington University but didn’t graduate because he got into politics, working with Republican candidates for more than 40 years, according to The New Yorker. >> Read more trending news  He was only 19 when Watergate happened, and he, under the name Jason Rainier, made contributions to Pete McCloskey, who was challenging President Richard Nixon for the Republican nomination. Stone, as Rainier, made the contributions through the Young Socialist Alliance and then released the receipt to a newspaper to show that McCloskey was a left-wing candidate, according to The New Yorker. Stone also hired another person to work in  George McGovern’s Democratic presidential campaign. Both events were uncovered during the Watergate hearings in 1973. He lost a job on the staff of Republican Bob Dole because of the hearings and started the National Conservative Political Action Committee, which backed Republicans Chuck Grassley in Iowa and Dan Quayle in Indiana. Stone also worked twice on the Republican presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan -- once in 1976, when Reagan didn’t win, and again in 1980, when he did -- then as political director for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, The New Yorker reported. After Reagan took office, Stone stayed in the private sector, creating a political consulting and lobbying firm that went under different names, including Black, Manafort, Stone & Atwater.  The firm worked for corporations like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. to lobby former co-workers in the Reagan campaign who held jobs in the administration. It also served clients like Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, The New Yorker found. Focusing more on political campaigns as a solo entity instead of lobbying as part of a group, Stone worked as a senior consultant for the successful campaign of George H.W. Bush and worked three campaigns for Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter. He also ran unsuccessful campaigns for Dole’s 1996 quest for president. He was brought in when the 2000 presidential recount started in Florida. He played the political game on radio stations in southern Florida, saying that the recount was Al Gore’s left-wing power grab, The New Yorker reported. His efforts, along with other Republican assets, empowered George W. Bush’s Republican supporters to protest the second recount. Stone wanted, and got, the recount in Miami shut down in what became the “Brooks Brothers riot,” The Washington Post and The New Yorker reported. Stone also worked on  the younger Bush’s re-election campaign. It is believed documents obtained by CBS News that showed that Bush got out of military service for Vietnam were actually fake and that Stone was the person who created the documents, The New Yorker reported. Stone was one of President Donald Trump’s panel of long-time advisors, The Washington Post reported. He was connected to Trump when the now-president floated the idea of running in 2000.  Then, Trump said, “Roger is a stone-cold loser,” who “always takes credit for things he never did,” according to The New Yorker. Despite the harsh words then-private sector member Trump had for Stone, he used Stone for his campaign not once, but twice, teaming up in 2011 when Trump toyed with, but eventually decided against a presidential run. They went their different ways in August 2015, the Times reported.  But who pulled the plug on Stone’s tenure on the Trump campaign? Stone said he resigned and Trump’s campaign officials said he had been fired, The New York Times reported. Trump said of the firing, “I hardly ever spoke to the guy; he was just there. He played no role of any kind,” the Times reported in 2015. But Stone was listed on Federal Election Commission filings as being on the campaign payroll and he used Twitter to defend Trump during the campaign, according to the Times. What is his connection to Trump? Stone has been scrutinized for having ties to WikiLeaks by using an associate as an intermediary between himself and people associated with WikiLeaks, CNN reported. Stone spoke about having “back channel communications” with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, during the campaign. Stone later said the “back channel” was really a New York radio host, Randy Credico, who allegedly shared only information gleaned from interviews with Assange, CNN reported. Stone also predicted releases of information by WikiLeaks in the final days of the campaign between Trump and his Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton, CNN reported.  Stone said in a column for Breitbart, the website run by former Trump campaign adviser Steve Bannon, that it wasn’t the Russians who hacked the servers containing the emails leaked by WikiLeaks, but it was actually a hacker who went by the name Guccifer 2.0.  >>Read: Russian hackers indicted: Who is Guccifer 2.0? Here are 15 things to know Despite Stone’s assertions in the column, some have linked Guccifer 2.0 to Russian web services, Foreign Policy reported.  In July 2016, the Times reported that intelligence agencies had “high confidence” that the Russian government was behind the email leaks and that Guccifer 2.0 was in reality an agent of the Russian military intelligence service, or GRU. Mueller’s team is investigating whether there were other connections between Stone and WikiLeaks. That connection could come in the form of Jerome Corsi, another associate of Stone’s who said this week that he expects to be indicted by Mueller for “giving false information to the special counsel or to one of the other grand jury,” CNN reported. If Corsi’s prediction comes true, he could face charges from perjury to making false claims and even obstruction of justice, all related to false statements he made about his alleged connection between WikiLeaks and Stone, CNN reported. Stone, however, said he was truthful in previous testimony before a congressional panel. >>Read: 12 Russians indicted: Here’s what the DOJ says happened “My attorneys have fully reviewed all my written communications with Dr. Corsi,” Stone wrote in a statement to CNN. “When those aren’t viewed out of context they prove everything I have said under oath regarding my interaction with Dr. Corsi is true.” Stone went on to write, “I stand by my statement to the House Intelligence Committee and can prove it is truthful if need be. I have passed two polygraph tests administered and analyzed by two of the nation's leading experts to prove I have (been) truthful.” >>Read: 12 Russians indicted: Military officials accused of hacking DNC, stealing voter info Corsi said Stone warned that there would be trouble for Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta after Corsi published an article for InfoWars. After Stone’s statement, WikiLeaks released thousands of hacked emails from Podesta, CNN reported.  >>Read: WikiLeaks emails: FBI investigates, Podesta claims he was targeted by Russian hackers Stone tweeted “it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel” six weeks before WikiLeaks published the emails, The Washington Post reported. >>Read: Julian Assange: WikiLeaks source was 'not the Russian government' Stone said he did not tell Trump that WikiLeaks was going to release the hacked emails and denied working with Russia, CNN reported. But Stone did say in a recent opinion piece for The Daily Caller, that he emailed Bannon during the campaign, CNN reported. Stone, in the column, clarified that the information he shared with Bannon was publicly available. Stone said the statements he made during the campaign were exaggerations or tips only and that he didn’t know details of WikiLeaks’ plans before the document drops, the Post reported.
  • An Arkansas paramedic is charged with felony theft after authorities allege she cut a 1.7-carat diamond ring off a dead patient’s finger last month and pawned it for $45. Lisa Darlene Glaze, 50, of Hot Springs Village, is charged with theft by receiving and misdemeanor transfer of stolen property to a pawn shop, according to Garland County court records. Arrested Monday, she has since been released on $4,500 bond. >> Read more trending news  The Sentinel-Record in Hot Springs reported that Glaze, a paramedic at CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs, was one of the paramedics who attended to Gloria Farrar Robinson on Oct. 16 when the 72-year-old Whie Hall woman suffered a medical emergency. A probable cause affidavit obtained by the newspaper stated Robinson was taken to CHI St. Vincent, where she later died. After Robinson died, her personal effects were given to her husband, identified in her obituary as Leonard Robinson, and her sister, Alesia Massey. Massey asked Glaze about three of Robinson’s rings that were missing. Glaze “did not answer her and walked away,” according to the affidavit. Robinson’s husband and sister went to Fuller Hale South Funeral Home in Pine Bluff two days later to make funeral arrangements, at which time they were given a bag with two of the missing rings, the Sentinel-Record reported. A 1.7-carat diamond, gold solitaire ring was still missing. The ring, which was adorned with a marquise-cut diamond, had been cut off Robinson’s finger, according to the affidavit. On Oct. 24, eight days after Robinson died, Glaze went to Hot Springs Classic Guns and Loan with a marquise-cut, solitaire diamond ring with a gold band. She sold the ring, which the pawnshop worker noted had a cut in the band, for $45, the court documents allege. Glaze used her driver’s license for identification during the transaction, the Sentinel-Record reported. Five days after the sale, a Montgomery County investigator went to the pawnshop and took photos of the ring, sending the images to Robinson’s husband and sister. Both identified the ring as belonging to the deceased woman, the affidavit said. The pawnshop employee who bought the ring identified Glaze in a photo as the woman who sold the piece of jewelry, the Sentinel-Record reported. Massey, Robinson’s sister, retrieved the ring from the pawnshop and had it appraised. The ring was determined to be worth nearly $8,000. Robinson’s son, Ben Ellis, castigated Glaze in a Facebook post Wednesday, calling her an expletive before questioning her care of his dying mother. “You stole my mother’s rings off her hands after she died?” Ellis wrote. “Did you let my mother die so you could steal her jewelry?” A woman named Diane McAlister offered Ellis her condolences. “Gloria was a wonderful, hardworking person. She respected everyone,” McAlister wrote. “I hope this person is prosecuted to the highest degree.” According to her obituary, Robinson worked as a payroll officer at Southeast Arkansas College for more than 20 years. Glaze has been placed on administrative leave with pay by the hospital, which issued a statement to the Sentinel-Record about the case. “CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs places a priority on the safety and well-being of our patients and our healing ministry is committed to their security while in our care,” the statement read. The hospital is continuing to cooperate with the investigation, officials said. If convicted, Glaze faces up to 10 years in prison on the felony theft charge and up to a year in county jail for the charge of selling stolen property to the pawnshop, the newspaper said.
  • No students were injured a school bus crash in front of Merrill Road Elementary School.  Five students were on the bus, which was headed to Terry Parker High School.   Jacksonville Fire and Rescue reports there were no transports from the scene.  The crash happened just before 7 am.   A second crash happened on the JTB westbound ramp to I-295 south and involved a bus that was headed to Atlantic Coast High School just before 7AM. The Duval County School District says it was working to learn the number of students that may have been on the bus. According to the crash report from FHP, the bus and another car were getting on to the ramp to I-295 South when the bus stopped on the ramp and the car didn't in time and hit the back of the bus. Troopers say one student on the bus was taken to the hospital with minor injuries. 
  • The Navy is investigating the cause of a fire on USS Iwo Jima at Naval Station Mayport.  The fire started in a cargo hold just before Midnight. The ship’s crew, as well as Sailors from USS The Sullivans, federal firefighters, and the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department responded.  The fire was extinguished by 4:35 am, according to Mayport Naval Station public affairs.  In all 11 Iwo Jima Sailors reported minor injuries, reported as heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation. They were treated at the scene and released. Iwo Jima was completing a maintenance availability and did not have any weapons or munitions aboard. Mayport says there was no damage to any adjacent ships or to any of the infrastructure where the ship was at on the base.

The Latest News Videos