A federal appeals court ordered a new trial on Thursday for former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, once a powerful Florida Democrat.
She had served just over two years of a five-year sentence for fraud and other crimes related to a purported charity for poor students that prosecutors said she had used as a personal slush fund.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the judge in Brown’s case violated her Sixth Amendment right to a unanimous jury verdict. The panel voted 7-4 to vacate Brown’s 2017 convictions and sentence.
The appeals court decided that the judge in Brown’s case abused his discretion by removing a juror who expressed, after deliberations had begun, that the Holy Spirit told him that Brown was not guilty on all charges. The juror repeatedly assured the judge that he was following the jury instructions and basing his decision on the evidence, but the judge concluded that the juror’s statements about receiving divine guidance were categorically disqualifying, court records said.
Brown, who in 1992 became one of the first three African Americans elected to Congress from Florida since Reconstruction, was convicted by a federal jury in May 2017 on 18 of the 22 charges against her. The charges included fraud and lying on her tax returns and congressional financial disclosures.
Brown reported to prison in January 2018 and was released in April 2020 after serving just two years of the five-year sentence. Her attorney had argued that she needed to be released to protect her from the coronavirus pandemic then spreading through the prison system.
Brown represented a Florida district that included Jacksonville during her nearly 25-year career.
Prosecutors said she siphoned money from the One Door for Education Foundation for personal use. They said the pattern of fraud by Brown and her top aide included using hundreds of thousands of dollars from the foundation for lavish parties, trips and shopping excursions.
Federal prosecutors said Brown, her chief of staff and One Door’s executive director used the charity to bring in more than $800,000 between 2012 and 2016, through donations and events including a high-profile golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass. The Virginia-based One Door gave out only one scholarship, for $1,200, to an unidentified person in Florida, according to court documents.
Appeals court: Ex-US Rep Brown should get new trial