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Judge Hears Arguments For Giving Corrine Brown New Trial, Dismissing Fraud Convictions

Ryan Benk
From left to right: Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown, former congresswoman Corrine Brown and the Rev. Jesse Jackson

A federal judge is weighing whether former North Florida Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown should be acquitted of corruption charges — or get a new trial— four monthsafter she was found guilty.

Brown was convicted of 18 counts of mail, wire and tax fraud stemming from her involvement in a fake education charity.

Judge Timothy Corrigan heard arguments Monday on two motions — one to dismiss the case against Brown altogether and another for a new trial.

Orlando attorney James Smith, representing Brown, told the judge the government used circumstantial evidence that did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt his client knowingly defrauded donors to One Door for Education. He concurrently argued a juror was improperly dismissed from the case after saying the Holy Spirit said Brown was innocent.

Outside the federal courthouse in Jacksonville, Smith said he’s glad Corrigan did not immediately rule on the motions.

“That shows that he’s going to take time and consider the briefs and the arguments that were made,” he said. “Let me just say this: Regardless of whether you’re a supporter or not a supporter of Congresswoman Brown, I think everyone can agree that she should have a fair trial.”

This is the second time Smith has asked for an acquittal — he was denied once during trial.

Brown, who was escorted to court by a number of local black leaders in May, was joined Monday by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Jackson said he’s a long-time friend of Brown’s and came to Jacksonville to support someone who “never stopped serving” her constituents.

“I come as a friend, not as a lawyer,” he said. “(Brown) was an inspiration to other congresspeople.”

The government’s case against Brown was based on thousands of documents, pictures and witness statements that prosecutors said showed her direct involvement with fraud.

Throughout the trial, Brown’s defense rested on the theory her former chief of staff Elias “Ronnie” Simmons masterminded in the plot to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars with the help of his then girlfriend — and One Door’s founder — Carla Wiley.

Witnesses recounted how Brown personally solicited them to donate to the charity for a number of different causes, including a program to buy computers for kids, a foreign exchange trip to China and scholarships for students. But investigators could only find evidence that the charity distributed just two scholarships between 2012 and 2015. Meanwhile, more than $300,000 of the charity’s budget was spent on lavish events and fundraisers honoring the former congresswoman.

There’s no deadline for when the judge must rule on the motions.

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

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.