Government rests its case against former congresswoman Corrine Brown

Prosecution rests, Corrine Brown to testify for defense

The government finished with their final witness just before the morning break Thursday around 10:40. It caps a little over a week of testimony for the government making their case against former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown. She’s charged with 22 counts of a 24-count indictment alleging wire, mail and tax fraud.

The defendant herself is expected to testify sometime Thursday afternoon.

IRS criminal investigator Shawn Batsch capped off the testimony, walking through Brown’s alleged charitable contributions that’s been a focus of the trial this week. Batsch looked at her charitable giving from 2008 to 2014. Several times Batsch was asked if, in reviewing all her finances, he could find any proof of some donations. He said he couldn’t.

Representatives from Bethel Baptist and New Destiny Christian Church in Jacksonville were also called to the stand earlier Thursday morning to testify she inflated her charitable giving to them on her tax return. She inflated the amount she gave by the thousands for several tax years earlier in the decade, according to the witnesses.

On Wednesday, high-ranking staff of Edward Waters College, including president Nathaniel Glover, testified they’d signed off on thousands in charitable donations with significant apprehension. It also came out from staffers during testimony that the furniture donation she claimed on her 2008, 2009 and 2010 tax returns was instead donated years earlier – not in the tax years she claimed it.

Brown’s donations to the Community Rehabilitation Center were again brought up in testimony, including several letters alleging different donations with the exact same date of Aug. 17, 2011 at the top. The CRC is a nonprofit based out of Jacksonville run by city councilman and close friend to Brown Reginald Gaffney.

One of the letters with the same date has a blank line listed near the top. That letter was in Brown’s office – not at the CRC. One of the letters with the same date thanked the congresswoman for a time donation valued at $10,00, which is not tax deductible. One of the letters with the same date thanked the congresswoman for a donation of $10,000, which is tax deductible.

Batsch told the court he couldn’t find any evidence in Brown’s accounts for a 2014 $10,000 donation to the CRC she claimed on her tax return. 

Brown also received $141,905 in cash deposits from 2009 to 2014 and didn’t claim a cent of that money on her tax returns, Batsch said. A good chunk of that money came from One Door For Education deposits.

One Door was a bogus charity Brown helped raise $830,000 from 2012 – 2015 and is accused of using a massive chunk of that money as her personal slush fund. One Door president Carla Wiley and Brown’s former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons were also charged because of their alleged actions with the fund. Both have pleaded guilty to various charged and testified against the congresswoman.

Not all cash deposits could be accounted for, Batsch said. Besides One Door, any funds came from the Friends of Corrine Brown campaign account, the Alexander Agency – a public relations firm used by Brown – and the CRC and its affiliated agencies.

Batsch finished his direct testimony by telling the court if she hadn’t had so much money deposited into her account, she’d have a negative balance by the thousands almost every month. He said she shopped frequently at high-end stores.

James Smith, Brown’s attorney, tried to poke holes in Batsch’s phrase accusing Brown of ‘a lot of shopping.’ Batsch told the court he’d looked at many, many bank statements in his 16 years of being an IRS criminal investigation and that Brown shopped more than the vast majority.

Batsch was asked if he made any assumptions, but insisted he looked at reported figures on her tax returns and her bank account – “there are no assumptions there,” he said.

The defense also asked if he knew if anyone else was using the congresswoman’s bank card.

“There’s no evidence of that,” he said.

“Is that anyone way of saying ‘I don’t know?’” Smith persisted.

“Okay, I don’t know,” Batsch said.

Smith also went back to Batsch’s chart showing cash deposits into her account. He asked why there was no column explaining who made the deposits. Batsch said it didn’t matter – those deposits received by the congresswoman and thus should have been declared on her taxes as income.

Gifts or loans would not be included as income, however, Batsch said at Smith’s questioning.

“It doesn’t matter who’s putting money into her account,” he said, “if she’s using it, it’s income.”

“Unless it’s exempt,” Smith corrected.

“Unless it’s exempt,” Batsch agreed.

Upon redirect questioning, Assistant U.S. Attorney A. Tysen Duva asked if Brown could have afforded all her shopping without the deposits.

“It’s not a continuous line of credit,” Batsch said of her bank account.

Duva also asked if Batsch had ever seen people give thousands in loans to people without a contract or something indicating someone would pay it back.

He hadn’t.

There was a brief pause in testimony as the lawyers for both sides argued over admitting government’s exhibit 1XXX – a legend for Brown’s indictment explaining all the names and references. The indictment includes references to people like ‘Person A’ – which, according to the legend is a longtime Brown staffer Voncier Alexander. The judge told the jury he was allowing it into evidence to help them with their deliberation.

The government rested their case at 11:26 a.m. after seven days of testimony.

Earlier in the day, the lawyers for the defense and prosecution met with Judge Timothy Corrigan prior to court starting. Brown’s attorney cut down the defense’s witness list substantially and said the defense may rest by the end of Thursday.

Two witnesses will take the stand prior to Brown, Smith told the court, who'll speak after lunch. 

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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