JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The decision as to whether or not former Florida congresswoman Corrine Brown will receive an acquittal or a new trial in her federal fraud case has not been made.
U.S. judge Timothy Corrigan announced in federal court on Monday that he is taking "serious matters into serious consideration" after Brown's defense team and federal prosecutors argued over Brown's motions.
Both motions were filed back in June, one month after a 12-member jury found Brown guilty of 18 out of 22 felony counts, which included conspiring to commit mail and wire fraud, lying on financial disclosure forms, impeding IRS tax laws and filing false tax returns.
The jury found her guilty of using a bogus charity, One Door for Education, as a personal slush fund to enrich herself, her family, her former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons and the president of One Door, Carla Wiley. They also found her guilty of lying on her tax forms.
MOTION FOR ACQUITTAL
In her motion for acquittal, Brown's defense attorney, James W. Smith III repeatedly stressed that the testimonies of Simmons and Wiley admit their guilt in the case, but never faulted Brown for any wrongdoing.
"The charges in this case should have been for Simmons and Wiley," Smith said. "Did they steal? Absolutely."
Smith said that despite evidence, witnesses and documents, the government failed to prove in court that Brown showed any criminal intent to commit fraud. Instead, he said Brown was a victim of "guilt by association" when it came to One Door.
"She was a spokesperson and helped with events," Smith said. "[It] was a charity she worked with. She did not create One Door... It was not her charity."
Smith also said Brown was upfront with donors about how the funds raised through One Door would be used to help sponsor events held by the charity. He said she didn't misrepresent their intentions and didn't say the funds would solely be used to help fund scholarships for students.
During the trial, federal prosecutors revealed that One Door only gave about $1,200 for student scholarships out of more than $833,000 raised. They also revealed documents where she used funds to attend events such as President Obama's inauguration, attending Beyonce concerts, as well as going to Jacksonville Jaguar football games.
Prosecutors said donor testimony revealed how they were clueless that Brown was profiting from the organization, which they also said was a misrepresentation in itself.
"Referring to it as a charity was a misrepresentation," prosecutors said. "Barely any funds were used for charity."
Prosecutors also questioned that if Brown wasn't a founder of One Door, why would she possess blank checks, as supported by Simmons' testimony.
"What more direct evidence of criminal intent can there be?" they asked.
Brown's attorney concedes that One Door For Education was poorly run charity but says that doesn't constitute criminal intent.— Clark Fouraker (@clarkfouraker) August 7, 2017
Brown was also found guilty of lying on her tax forms. Her defense team argued that there was no evidence that supported that the signatures belonged to Brown, or that Brown was the one who dealt or submitted her taxes; that it could have been one of her staff members.
In their written rebuttal, prosecutors said:
"[Brown's] motion overlooks... fails to acknowledge that... she directed [Simmons] to give her ccash that she raised for One Door... ignores compelling evidence that she knowingly and intentionally lied on her [tax returns]."
MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL
Brown also filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that Judge Corrigan didn't make a proper basis when it came to removing a juror from the deliberation process.
During deliberations, Juror No. 13 reportedly made comments about how the Holy Spirit told him that Brown was innocent. Corrigan dismissed Juror No. 13, stating the Holy Spirit was "an external force" in his decision making.
Prosecutors said Judge Corrigan made the right call because the juror didn't base his decision on the evidence and facts presented in the case as required by law, something Brown's defense didn't agree with.
"At no point did he say that he would disregard the law," Smith countered. "He did at some point say that he was receiving guidance from the Holy Spirit, but didn't say he was basing his sole decision on that."
For retrial - Brown's team says Juror #13 should not have been excused because he said he could and would follow courts instructions.— Clark Fouraker (@clarkfouraker) August 7, 2017
As a result, Smith argued Brown was denied a fair trial the moment the juror was dismissed.
"What if the situation was reversed?" prosecutors asked. "That the defendant was guilty on all counts?... We wouldn't want that happening either... That is not something that the court should sanction."
Smith countered saying that if that were the case, then Juror No. 13 should have never been placed because the law states that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
"This motion presents me an opportunity to determine if I did the right thing or not," Corrigan said after he heard both arguments for a new trial.
After arguments, Corrigan revealed that he will release his decision in a written document, but did not reveal when that would be.
If he denies both motions, he said Brown will be sentenced.
Judge hears arguments on Corrine Brown motions to acquittal and retrial. Takes under advisement and says will make decision in coming days.— Clark Fouraker (@clarkfouraker) August 7, 2017