Prosecutors portray Corrine Brown's alleged graft as broad, institutionalized

Corrine Brown's taxes were the center of testimony Tuesday morning and her former chief of staff is expect to testify later in the day.

Former Congresswoman Corrine Brown was dependent on tens of thousands of dollars in cash infusions to her bank account to remain financially solvent, prosecutors claimed.

An FBI agent testified late Tuesday that without frequent cash deposits, totaling almost $160 thousand over a 90 month span ending in January 2016, “she would have overdrawn her account” on a monthly basis.

Kimberly Henderson, an FBI agent who conducted a forensic analysis of Brown’s financial transactions, noted that the deposits stopped completely on Jan. 4, 2016, the day the case “went over,” --  a term for when federal agents began broadly interviewing people involved.

The financial anlylsis wrapped a day with few fireworks -- spectators were literally falling asleep in their seats -- but with testimony that proved quietly devastating.

Financial records revealed broad irregularities in Brown’s tax filings, as well as a steady cycle of cash flowing into Brown’s personal bank account from a variety of groups associated with Brown, including the fake charity One Door for Education.

Prosecutors worked to show that Brown’s alleged graft was broad, institutionalized – and had nothing to do with Ronnie Simmons, her former chief of staff. Brown’s legal defense rests on a claim that Simmons masterminded the financial fraud of which she is accused, funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars away from intended charitable purposes, and converting it to personal use.

Simmons himself was expected to take the stand late in the day, but prosecutor A. Tysen Duva pronounced that “doubtful” as of the 3 p.m. break. Simmons pleaded guilty in February and agreed to testify against Brown, a decision she said broke her heart.

Some of Brown’s closest allies did testify, however, including Carolyn Chatman, longtime friend and senior aide to Brown. In quiet but electrifying testimony Tuesday. Chatman discussed a series of letters claiming Brown made large charitable donations to a Jacksonville nonprofit. The letters were on letterhead of Community Rehabilitation Center, and signed by the agency’s CEO, Reginald Gaffney, a Jacksonville City Councilman.

Early versions of the letter thanked Brown for “donation your time valued at $10,000.” When Brown’s tax preparer noted, “Time is not deductible," the reference to time was replaced with a general list of items, “including but not limited to household goods, lawn equipment computers clothing, furniture and miscellaneous items.” The letter was replicated over numerous tax years, using identical verbiage, only the dates changing.

Also found in Brown's Jacksonville office was a piece of paper with a sentence allegedly from Edward Waters College thanking the congresswoman for a donation.

"Do you recall if the congresswoman gave this to you?" the prosecution asked. "I don't recall," Chatman answered.

Court began Tuesday with testimony from Dawn Wright, the accountant responsible for preparing the former congresswoman’s tax returns. Wright finished testimony she began Monday, detailing Brown’s claimed charitable contributions for the years 2011 to 2014.

In each of those years, Brown did not declare any cash income – a fact that appear to contradict testimony from several witnesses in recent days, who reported depositing tens of thousands of dollars in cash to Brown’s bank account.

Brown’s tax returns also reported annual cash contributions to charities as high as $30,000, about 20% to a third of her declared income. In many cases, she presented no documentation for her claimed contributions. Among those charities she routinely claimed to support, without documentation, were Clara White Mission, One Door for Education, Bethel Baptist Church, Community Rehabilitation Center, New Destiny Christian Center.

Asked why she filed the returns without documentation, Wright said that while CPAs prefer receipts, they are allowed to rely on verbal assurances from clients, since they themselves are not authoring or signing the returns. Over the years she filed Brown’s returns, Wright grew accustomed to not having the required paperwork.

“We were not starting not to get documentation as the years progressed,” Wright testified.

She added that she was comfortable relying on Brown’s verbal confirmation, however, because she was typically facing a looming deadline and needed to file the returns quickly. Asked if she trusted Brown, Wright said “yes.”

Wright’s email exchanges with Brown’s staff show she did try to obtain the proper paperwork, however. Wright sometimes made notes on Brown’s stated list of donations, showing which ones had receipts and which did not. In 2014, a list annotated with check marks was signed by Corrine Brown.

On cross examination, Brown’s attorney James Smith attempted to show Brown as a distracted and scattered client, comparing her to clients who show up on tax day with a shoebox pleading for help.

“[It was the] last day, taxes due – and you don’t even know if she showed up on time, right?” he asked.

Wright was followed by Eugene Ludwig, a Jacksonville financial advisor whose foundation donated to One Door for Education at Brown’s request, and an IRS auditor who testified that she audited Brown’s 2008 tax returns over problems with her charitable contribution claims.

The afternoon was dominated by testimony by FBI agent Kimberly Henderson, who helped build the forensic analysis of various bank accounts tied to Brown.

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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