Jacksonville, Fl. - Prosecutors are building a money trail of deposits, withdrawals, and lavish spending allegedly benefiting former Congresswoman Corrine Brown and a few others, through the testimony of an FBI Special Agent.
But Brown’s defense says, at no time, did she have control of the account in question.
Deputy Chief of the Department of Justice Public Integrity Section Criminal Division Eric Olshan’s questioning of FBI Special Agent Vanessa Stelly spanned two days of Brown’s federal fraud trial. Stelly was assigned to this investigation as part of her work in the white collar crime division. She told the court she had worked through bank and business records for Brown, as well as the alleged “sham” charity One Door For Education, which Brown and a few others are accused of funneling money through.
Stelly confirmed that at no time was One Door registered in either Florida or Virginia- where it was incorporated as a business- to solicit charitable donations as a 501(c)(3) organization. One Door’s President, Carla Wiley, opened a bank account for the organization in 2011, but it closed about a year later because of a negative balance. Wiley opened another account with a $250 initial deposit, and there was no activity until August 2012, when Stelly says there was a $25,000 check deposited by a Political Action Committee based in Virginia. That PAC is backed by a lobbying firm where Brown’s daughter, Shantrel Brown, works. Corrine and Shantrel Brown share a home in Virginia.
One of the points that prosecutors are trying to hammer in is that there was a habit of using One Door donations for the personal expenses of Brown and a few others. To do that, Olshan first walked Stelly through repeated instances where bank records show hundreds of dollars at a time being taken from the One Door account at an ATM near the Laurel, MD home of Brown’s Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons, with a like sum soon after deposited in one of Brown’s accounts- also in Laurel. Prosecutors further showed a surveillance photo of Simmons making at least one withdrawal and deposit. Prosecutors alleged Simmons would sometimes withdraw the cash and give it directly to Brown, and there was a surveillance photo of Brown herself making one deposit.
Brown’s attorney, James Smith III, jumped on the charted expenses though, pointing out with Stelly that only about $3,000 of the roughly $26,000 One Door Funds allegedly deposited in to Brown’s account are suspected to have been deposited by her, with the majority done by Simmons. As he works to show Simmons betrayed Brown’s trust, Smith guided Stelly through cross examination, where she confirmed Brown did not have access to the One Door account, did not have the debit card, and was not formally affiliated with the governance or running of the organization.
Another focus of the prosecution is a trip by Brown and her daughter to the Bahamas, and later Los Angeles. A July 2013 check for $3,000 from the One Door account made out to a specific Bank of America bank account said in the memo line that it was for children’s summer camps. Stelly says bank records show $3,000 being deposited around the same time in to Shantrel Brown’s bank account, and $1,000 being transferred from Shantrel Brown’s account to that of her mother. At the same time, Stelly says bank records show several cash withdrawals from One Door’s account in Simmons’ city of residence amounting to $3,000, the same sum which was then deposited in to Brown’s account as well. This all happened as Brown and her daughter first spent time at a resort in the Bahamas and then traveled to the Los Angeles-area, where they did a significant amount of shopping, according to Stelly’s analysis.
When Stelly’s testimony resumed Thursday, the focus turned to more than $330,000 in One Door funds that the US Attorney’s Office says funded events hosted by Brown or in Brown’s honor which didn’t actually result in any kind of scholarship fundraising.
There were several events Stelly says were represented as being paid for by another group, like Friends of Corrine Brown, but actually had at least some One Door dollars. Still other events were largely entirely funded by One Door, but prosecutors allege that’s not what the donations were intended for. They pulled out fliers for the events, which generally listed One Door as a sponsor or gave more detailed explanation of the organization. Smith questioned whether there were any documents that had been introduced as evidence which specifically said donations would only be going toward education scholarships, though, and Stelly said there were none. Smith further questioned whether Stelly could be sure there were no scholarships or opportunities created as a result of the networking done at these events. Stelly could only confirm One Door had not given out scholarships at the events or raised money for scholarships they would distribute. Olshan added that it was not Stelly’s job to investigate other charity and scholarship organizations.
GALLERY: One Door For Education’s website
A substantial amount of time was also spent on the Congresswoman Corrine Brown Invitational Golf Tournament which was advertised as sponsored by One Door to benefit a scholarship fund and other community non-profits. Stelly says $55,594.55 in One Door funds were used to put on the event. Among the expenses charged to One Door, though, are hotel nights for Brown in the days leading up to the event- at a hotel about five miles from her Jacksonville home- and several nights for her and a few others at a hotel near the golf tournament- about 25 miles from her home. The hotel nights alone added to a little more than $1,400.
Prosecutors also took the time to look at the charitable giving One Door touted on its website. In all, over about two years, Stelly says she found just $10,408 she identified as “possible charitable contributions”, which includes everything from $30 to the Town of Eatonville to $1,500 for the Jacksonville Men Who Cook Fundraiser.
WOKV is inside of the federal courthouse as the testimony in this trial continues. Check back frequently at wokv.com.