JACKSONVILLE, Fla.- “Fear.” That, Carla Wiley told jurors, is why she initially lied to investigators probing her fake charity, One Door for Education.
“I felt if I lied and got them to leave the office, that it was all going to go away.”
It did not, and Monday’s testimony was the culmination of Wiley’s nearly two years of cooperation with federal prosecutors in their case against former Congresswoman Corrine Brown.
Wiley was the founder of "One Door for Education", an allegedly bogus charity that federal prosecutors say was used to funnel $800,000 to the former Congresswoman and her chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons
Wiley testified that she committed a large scale, years-long fraud, along with Brown and Simmons. She told jurors she agreed to re-start a nonprofit she’d opened in her mother’s honor, after Simmons – her then boyfriend – said he needed a charity to host an event for the Congresswoman.
The fraud fell apart, she told jurors, in early 2015, when she was part of a 4-way phone call with Brown, Simmons and Brown’s daughter Shantrel. According to Wiley, the other three had already been contacted by the FBI and told her to expect a visit. Wiley says she was told to get the agent’s business card, and not to speak. The following day, two agents showed up at her Virginia office and questioned her for 2 hours. “It seemed like forever.”
Wiley says Brown and the others, had planned to try to “get together” later that week to discuss matters, but that never happened. Instead, Wiley got a lawyer and contacted the FBI, beginning a cooperative relationship that prosecutors have built their case around.
Wiley testified that she didn’t know most of the donors to the fund, but that Simmons routinely contacted her to check the One Door account balance. It accrued in the “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” All but a thousand, she testified, was used for reasons other than scholarships.
Who's who? A look at the main players at the Corrine Brown trial
Corrine Brown’s friend and former employee Voncier Alexander took the stand late Monday morning and testified about a series of financial transactions she managed. Though the transactions had different amounts, dates, and check memos, they followed a pattern – checks from with One Door, deposited into Alexander’s business account, followed by cash withdrawals in similar amounts, and deposits into Brown’s bank account.
Alexander said the deposits were “reimbursements” for expenses incurred by Brown, but testified she almost never saw any proof of those expenditures. She said she would notify Brown aid Ronnie Simmons that documentation was needed, but saw it “very rarely."
#CorrineBrown: Von Alexander, longtime Brown associate, worked as a sort of cash carrier in One Door scheme she told jury.— Clark Fouraker (@clarkfouraker) May 1, 2017
Alexander did not question the transactions. “Congresswoman told me that’s money she put out, and she would always want her money back.” Asked if she ever said no when Brown told her to make a deposit, Alexander chuckled and said no. “It was a directive.”
“I was not in a position to say no,” a longtime Jacksonville staffer for Brown told the federal court after being asked why she continued depositing checks into the congresswoman’s account from a charity called One Door For Education for several years.
Several donors testified they’d donated thousands of dollars to One Door For Education, the bogus charity at the center of Brown’s trial, prior to the lunch break. Ed Burr, a Jacksonville developer, and Kent Stermon, CEO of a military logistics company, both told the court they trusted the congresswoman and believed the money they donated was going to an education charity.
Court began Monday morning with testimony by John Burr, a Jacksonville developer and chair of numerous civic boards, including the JTA, JEA, and the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce. He testified that he donated $5,000 to help sponsor a 2013 golf tournament to benefit One Door for Education.
Prosecutors also questioned Ed David Stermon, CEO of Total Military Management, a military logistics company, who described donating $5,000 to sponsor the golf tournament, and another $5,000 at the event in order win a competitive auction for a private dinner with Brown. Stermon testified the dinner was held at Ruth’s Chris steakhouse, and attended by his partner, Matt O’Connell, as well as lobbyist Marty Fiorentino and his wife, WJXT anchor Mary Baer. At the end of the meal, Stermon testified, Brown made an additional request of him and his business partner for money for her legal defense fund.
“Frankly we were both somewhat offended,” Stermon testified, noting they had already given plenty. They both explained they had an early flight the next day and begged off.
“My business partner ended the meal almost literally right that second. I stayed another 10 minutes.”
The end of testimony Monday saw Brown's tax preparer, Dawn Wright, detail the former congresswoman's IRS forms from 2008 - 2011. The prosecution will get through 2012 - 2014 at the beginning of the trial day Tuesday.
Wright walked the jury through several tax years where Brown purported to give tens of thousands in charitable contributions to Edward Waters College, the Community Rehabilitation Center and several church organizations.
Overwhelming bulk of final hour and half of testimony walking through Brown's tax filings for 2008 - 2011. Extremely tedious testimony...— Jacob Rodriguez (@jd_rodriguez9) May 1, 2017
Brown would often file at the last possible moment and get thousands back each year from the IRS despite her six-figure congressional salary and Florida pension.
Around 40 minutes of direct testimony is expected Tuesday prior to cross-examination. Another federal investigator is expected to take the stand tomorrow for several hours.
If the prosecution can get to him, Simmons will take the stand at the end of the day Monday.
BIG THING: Ronnie Simmons, Brown's chief of staff, expected to take the stand at the end of the day Tuesday. He pleaded guilty to charges...— Jacob Rodriguez (@jd_rodriguez9) May 1, 2017