Prosecution in Corrine Brown corruption trial suggests she inflated charitable givings

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.

A longtime former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown staffer spent the latter part of the morning during witness testimony explaining how she would compile the congresswoman's tax information and prepare it for the IRS.

Carolyn Chatman worked for Brown from 1993-2000 in D.C. and from 2003-2017 in Jacksonville. During the three years she didn't work for the congresswoman, she worked for the IRS.

While staffing Brown's Jacksonville office, Chatman was in charge of preparing the congresswoman's taxes. She would also run errands and handled the responsibilities of the Jacksonville office.

Brown is sitting through her fourth day of testimony in her corruption trial. She's charged with 22 counts of a 24-count indictment alleging mail, wire and tax fraud. The testimony Tuesday moved from the mail and wire fraud charges into the tax fraud.

Dawn Wright, the congresswoman's tax preparer from 2008-2014, testified Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning. She said the congresswoman would often be late filing her taxes and rarely --  if ever  -- provided a receipt for a charitable contribution.

Each year, Brown received thousands of dollars in refunds from the IRS.

Chatman told the court about a list generated by Brown's office, and signed off on by the congresswoman, showing listed charitable contributions to Bethel Baptist in Jacksonville upwards of $7,000.

According to church records brought up in court by the prosecution, she gave a little less than $4,400.

The prosecution also brought five nearly identical letters - two which were sent to the CPA preparing the congresswoman's taxes - to Chatman's attention.

The date is the same on several letters - August 17, 2011. Chatman testifies that she doesn't remember where she got letters.

All five letters have different explanations for an alleged $10,000 donation to CRC. First letter (rejected by CPA) claimed a time donation; a second letter (accepted) claimed furniture, clothes and other items.

The third letter also mentions time contribution. The fourth letter doesn't have a signature. The fifth letter has a blank version without any money written on it.

All were purported to be signed by Reggie Gaffney, the executive director of CRC and a current Jacksonville city councilman.

When asked why she had unsigned letter from Gaffney in the congresswoman's congressional office in Jacksonville, she told the court she didn't know.

"Do you know why you have a blank version in your files?" the prosecution asked.

"I don't know," Chatman said.

"Anyone ask you to write letters from CRC?"

"No," she said.

Chatman also explained that she was told not to file an amended tax return with the IRS by the congresswoman. She provided no reason, but the prosecution pointed to the $2,100 she would have had to pay back to the IRS if she filed it.

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.

READ | First half of tax preparer's testimony; One Door For Education President Carla Wiley testimony

READ | Second half of tax preparer's testimony; more information about Brown's ties to fake charity One Door

Brown's defense attorney James Smith brought up Ronnie Simmons to Chatman, suggesting if she thought perhaps Simmons could have forged Brown's signature on documents. 

While the internal list of charitable contributions showing a near $3,000 discrepancy between what the former congresswoman wasn't brought up directly, Smith worked to make it seem as though Simmons could have forged Brown's signature if he wanted.

That has been the tact of the defense through six days of testimony and was laid out in Smith's opening statement; Brown was focused on helping her constituents - Simmons was using her to enrich himself. 

Simmons was charged along with Brown in a July 2016 indictment, but pleaded guilty eight months later to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and agreed to testify against her former boss.

The prosecution then called Tracy Lane, who's worked for the IRS for the last 35 years. She had to audit Brown's 2008 tax return. Lane said the issues at the core of the audit were charitable contributions and business expenses.

Assistant U.S. Attorney A. Tysen Duva asked Lane about the former congresswoman's charitable contributions: for the 2008 tax year Brown reported she gave $2,505 to Bethel Baptist. Church records Lane read match that figure.

Court was adjourned for lunch until 1:30 p.m. where Kimberly Henderson of the FBI is expected to testify for several hours. If there is time, the prosecution intends to call Simmons to the stand as well.

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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