Brown Trial: Funds From Former Congresswoman's Account Leads To Other Jacksonville Non-profit

May 2, 2017

Credit U.S. House of Representatives

Former Congresswoman Corrine Brown’s suspicious financial activity began years before investigators started looking into her connection to sham charity One Door for Education, according to testimony by FBI Forensic Accountant Amy Henderson Tuesday.

She told the court she reviewed thousands of pages of documents from as far back as 2010.

Henderson said she began with financial transactions between Brown, her close associates, One Door for Education and its president Carla Wiley.

But as she started pulling on that thread, she noticed thousands of dollars of transfers involving other nonprofits, including Community Rehabilitation Center, owned by Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney.

Several times, Henderson said, money made it from Gaffney’s business account to Lapool Training and Education, which is owned by CRC Operations Director Stanley Twiggs. It then moved to Brown’s personal bank account — sometimes with just a minutes between withdrawals and deposits.

In one instance, Gaffney endorsed a check for $4,000 from his separate company,  the for-profit company Community Rehabilitation Center Transportation. That money then made it to Brown’s personal account in 20 minutes. No charges have been filed against Gaffney.

Henderson also told the court she did not find evidence Brown’s chief of staff Ronnie Simmons was involved in the transactions. That counters the narrative of Brown’s defense, which is trying to paint of her being naive to Simmons’ illegal activity.

Simmons already pleaded guilty to some fraud charges while others were dropped in exchange for testifying against his former boss. He’s expected to take the stand Wednesday.

Witnesses that preceded Henderson Tuesday focused on tax evasion charges relating to the former congresswoman’s fudging of numbers relating to charitable giving.

Brown faces tax charges in addition to about 20 counts of fraud related to One Door.

An accountant with Portnoy CPA Dawn Wright helped Brown file her income taxes from 2012 to 2014.

She described how much of Brown’s documentation for charitable giving was incomplete and how she always filed her taxes late.

The former Congresswoman did not provide receipts for many of her donations, including a $7,000 contribution to sham charity One Door for Education.

Defense attorney James Smith pushed back by questioning why Wright never had Brown sign her tax returns in person or why she included tax write-offs without receipts, calling into question whether brown knew her records were incomplete. But Wright told Smith receipts aren’t required for preparing someone’s taxes, as the preparers aren’t the ones signing documents or auditing a taxpayer.

As News4Jax reports, Carolyn Chatman, an old friend and staff member of Brown, was also on the stand Tuesday and talked about how she helped with information to prepare Brown's taxes, including gathering some questionable receipts.

Among Chatman’s records, investigators found three different versions of the same receipt from Gaffney’s Community Rehabilitation Center. One was missing a dollar amount, another referenced giving “time” instead of cash and another mentioned Brown donating gifts of computers and furniture totaling $11,000.

That money was never really sent to CRC and Chatman admitted to prosecutors she wrote those form letters to send to Brown’s tax preparer.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at rbenk@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk.