PerspectivesA.G. Gancarski Jacksonville Today Contributor
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Corrine Brown is pictured walking into a Oct. 2020 court appearance. | News4Jax

OPINION | Stop prosecuting Corrine Brown

Published on October 31, 2021 at 8:56 pm

Former Congresswoman Corrine Brown, who long represented part of the Jacksonville area until 2017, is set to stand trial for the second time in the courthouse she has often said she built.

And that is a gross injustice.

Brown has a status of counsel meeting slated for Nov. 10. This in theory is a prelude to a sequel trial in which Brown will again be tried for a stack of felony counts for her scammy One Door for Education charity. 

Recall that she has already been convicted, but that conviction was vacated, because the trial judge flexed on a juror who said God told him Brown was innocent. Discharging that juror, however expeditious it was to move the trial toward a verdict at the time, turned out to be a dumb procedural move. 

But God forbid the feds take their L and move on. Not when there’s a woman pushing 80 to persecute until her last sentient breath is drawn. 

Also from columnist A.G. Gancarski: “2023 mayoral hopefuls flex fundraising muscles”

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The meat of the charges: Brown raised money for her charity and then allegedly spent on personal expenses (multiple homes, multiple hangers on). She’d allegedly skim off the top for what is, in the end, ephemeral and meaningless, like a luxury box at a Beyonce show. And there allegedly was walking-around money, cash to balance books often troubled by having to juggle the complications of the life of a Congresswoman who’d never bothered to make a fortune in the private sector.

Her donors for whom we are crying a new well of crocodile tears? Well, they were richer than you or me. They write the songs that make the whole world sing, or at least the political process.

These were the kind of people who might be inclined to give money to Corrine Brown but who didn’t want it in campaign finance records. 

Of course, they said on the stand back in 2017 that they thought the money would be going to charity. But what else would they say? 

The leading questions from the friendly federal prosecutor all went that way in the first trial, and Brown’s lawyer stumbled to impeach their credibility against a backdrop of a pattern of transactions and anecdotes that saw everyone in her inner circle but her daughter turn on her by the end. It was an unfair fight.

Last week in Jacksonville Today, I talked about political financing in the Jacksonville mayoral race and the concept of soft money. That’s all, in the end, these donations to Brown were, no real difference from the $10,000 check a corporation writes to a candidate’s primary political committee, money that may find itself filtered and recirculated through a series of passthrough accounts. Do we really believe that the big-dollar donors who gave to Corrine Brown cared about rounding error level money? 

And if so, so what? There is a price of admission in big time politics, and it is measured in hundreds of thousands of dollars, real deal currency. People bemoan the focus on campaign finance, but the reality is that marketing is what drives the campaigns and candidates. 

But when you are like Corrine Brown, going year after year without a serious challenge, well, you diversify your donor pitches. The presumption was she lived large off it. Yeah, it all sounded lurid at the time, and all the media chased her from the courthouse door to the waiting car, and for what? What justice has been served by any of this?

Brown needs $42,000 back from the government, forfeited funds that the government claims have already gone out the door for restitution. This is an artifice of accounting every bit as transparent as the fraud Brown allegedly committed. But federal prosecutors have the power. 

In an era with a leviathan government, if you are scrimping and saving to get a competent lawyer as Brown has for half a decade in her dotage, you have no leverage at all.

She has been through the wringer. She all but broke down for good in the courtroom, mounting her doomed passion play of a defense. She has been to Federal Correctional Institution Coleman, a pit of despair in our mass incarceration industry, just one of many numbers that add up to the most jailed society in the world. And now her mother is dead. 

And we are somehow to believe, after all this karmic punishment, that there is still more just vengeance for the government to visit upon her in her remaining days on this mortal coil?

The feds need to drop this case. Corrine Brown has been divested of standing in ways few of us can imagine, a ritual political destruction that has only been to the detriment of our common history. Was she a grifter? In the end, it does not matter. 

The grift is much bigger than her. And the people who were bilked have gotten paid in various other ways and can’t be made whole, because they are better off, again, than most everyone reading this. They are the kind of folks who hire and fire people like us. 

It pays to have legacy wealth, a government pension, a contractor gig or some other vouchsafe. Corrine Brown did not have those protections. She lived by the rules of the game as it was really played. And her history is part of this larger fabric of this region. 

The court has wide discretion. Former state Rep. Reggie Fullwood used campaign funds for expenses, and while it was the end of his political career, his criminal penalty was much lower than what the charges suggested. Corrine Brown won’t demonstrate any such penitence. But why do we need her to? 

We’ve seen enough of the played-out synthetic outrage. Drop it now, feds.

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

A.G. Gancarski's columns were a staple in Folio Weekly for nearly two decades, and he has been the Northeast Florida correspondent for Florida Politics since 2014. He writes about the intersection of state and local politics and policy.

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

A.G. Gancarski's columns were a staple in Folio Weekly for nearly two decades, and he has been the Northeast Florida correspondent for Florida Politics since 2014. He writes about the intersection of state and local politics and policy.

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