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Judge Denies Corrine Brown’s Requests For New Trial, Acquittal

Rep. Corrine Brown via Flickr

Federal Judge Timothy Corrigan ruled Wednesday that former Congresswoman Corrine Brown is not entitled to a new trial and should not be acquitted of 18 counts of fraud.

Brown’s lawyer, James Smith, argued before the judge a week ago that his client did not receive a fair trial this year because of one juror’s dismissal. He further argued the prosecution did not sufficiently prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that Brown orchestrated a charity scheme that defrauded donors. Smith asked the judge to either acquit Brown or grant her a new trial.

In his rulings, Corrigan first rejected the idea that Brown deserves to have her conviction overturned.

“This case was tried from April 24 to May 8, 2017, with both sides getting a full opportunity to present their evidence and arguments,” Corrigan wrote. “Suffice it to say there was more than sufficient evidence to justify the jury’s verdict on each count of conviction.”

Likewise, the judge also denied Smith’s motion for a new trial, which was based on the assertion that a juror was improperly dismissed after telling another juror the Holy Spirit told him Brown was innocent.

“Dismissing a deliberating juror is not done cavalierly. Quite the opposite. I dismissed Juror No. 13 only after finding beyond a reasonable doubt that there was no substantial possibility he could base his decision on the Court’s instructions and the evidence adduced at trial,” Corrigan wrote.

Brown was convicted of 18 counts of mail, wire and tax fraud stemming from her involvement in a fake education charity, One Door for Education.

Smith told WJCT Wednesday his client is “distraught,” and he’s carefully reviewing the order to identify next steps as Brown faces her imminent sentencing hearing.

“There is the possibility of a motion for reconsideration. So, what we need to do is take a close look at the order that the judge handed down and see if there’s any basis for us to file a motion for reconsideration,” he said. “That is the most immediate option that’s available right now.”

Throughout the trial, witnesses ranging from high-powered donors to government investigators recounted how the 24-year Congressional veteran had personally solicited people to donate to the charity, which was supposed to provide scholarships to kids. The group awarded just two scholarships totaling $1,200.

More than $300,000 of the more than $800,000 One Door collected went to events honoring Brown, as well as personal spending on everything from shopping in Beverly Hills to a birthday cake for her daughter between 2012 and 2015. Using bank records, checks, letters, emails and hundreds of other documents, prosecutors made the case Brown also directed the deposit of close to $40,000 in charity funds into her account.

Smith argued she was unaware of the fraud, which was masterminded by her former Chief of Staff, Ronnie Simmons, and his ex-girlfriend Carly Wiley, who was One Door for Education’s founder and president.

Brown is set to be sentenced in Jacksonville federal court Nov. 16, with Simmons’ hearing set for a day earlier.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at  rbenk@wjct.org , 904-358-6319 or on Twitter on  @RyanMichaelBenk.

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Ryan Benk is originally from Miami, Florida and came to Tallahassee to attend Florida State University. He worked on Miami Dade College’s Arts and Literature Magazine- Miamibiance Magazine and has published poetry and a short film called “ The Writer.” He’s currently working as the Newsroom’s Researcher while finishing his Creative Writing Bachelor’s Degree at Florida State University. When he’s not tracking down news, Ryan likes watching films, writing fiction and poetry, and exploring Florida.