FIGHTIN' WORDS

GRIME & Punishment

The parallel narratives of Reggie Fullwood and Corrine Brown

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Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously said, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want.”

This Rumsfeldian wisdom was issued toward the end of his tenure, when it was clear the “light-force strategy” that was supposed to bring democracy to Iraq instantaneously didn’t quite pan out. Rumsfeld knew even before the war began that America lacked the ability to project its will globally in the way that it wanted.

Gamely, he persisted. Inevitably, he failed.

I think of Rumsfeld a lot — like everyone else, I have my fantasies. Outside those reveries, however, he came to mind this week when I was camped out at the federal courthouse, covering proceedings in two court cases.

Both of them involved high-profile Democrats who were indicted last year for financial fraud. Both of them were going to war with the “armies they had,” not the armies they wanted. Improbably, one managed to escape prison. I’m not betting against the second one.
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Tuesday’s hearing was Reggie Fullwood’s time to shine.

Fullwood was indicted last year on Tax Day — for four counts, ironically enough, of failure to file federal tax returns, and 10 counts of wire fraud. Those charges would’ve added up to 204 years in the hoosegow if he’d been convicted of all and received the maximum sentence.

Fullwood had moved money from his campaign finance account to his personal account, facilitating the purchase of sundries: televisions, booze and jewelry were among the things Tallahassee lobbies and local well-wishers financed. The crime became federal solely because of the wire transfer, which involved routing between two banks using an out-of-state server, which was part of the defense’s argument that these crimes really were state-level first-degree misdemeanors.

Fullwood pleaded out late last year to one count of wire fraud and one count of failure to file. It became clear soon thereafter that he would, for all intents and purposes, avoid being thrown under the prison.

While he theoretically still could’ve gotten a 21-year stretch (20 years for wire fraud, and a year for failure to file his tax return), in practical terms that wasn’t happening.

Fullwood’s hearing Tuesday was predicated on the emotional appeal.

The court had to recess as he began sobbing during his testimony, while thanking family and friends for supporting him. Though his estranged wife was not in the house, his father-in-law showed to attest to Fullwood’s character.

The judge bought the act. Much was said about what Fullwood had overcome to get to where he’d gotten and, in the end, his infractions were downplayed.

Fullwood starts his 180 days of house arrest on March 7. So his punishment boils down to be stuck at home watching Major League Baseball.
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The Corrine Brown experience, meanwhile, was a two-part production.

On Wednesday, her former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons pleaded out to two of the 20-plus counts he was charged with in the One Door for Education case.

The One Door scheme involved a dummy charity set up to help poor kids with education. It collected $800,000, disbursing $1,200 of that for the charity’s state purpose. The rest went to “educational pursuits” like trips to Los Angeles, skyboxes at Beyoncé shows, and walking-around money for Brown and Simmons.

Simmons faces a 30-year stretch and $1.781M in fines and restitution. But don’t cry for him. His sentencing is delayed, as is that of One Door’s head Carla Wiley, while they help the Feds with their case against their former patron.

On Thursday, Brown was in the courthouse, with Martin Luther King III on hand for support.

Brown, said her lawyer, has a “firm intent” to go to trial, even though her argument that she and Simmons were bamboozled by Wiley was undercut when her co-defendant copped a plea.

Brown tried to get a 60-day delay from the late-April start to the trial, but was rebuffed by the prosecution’s argument that three months is enough to prepare for the trial.

It was only a matter of time before Simmons joined Wiley in rolling on the congresswoman. As soon as Corrine stopped delivering for them, they served her up on a platter to the Feds.

When Brown took questions after the hearing, despite not being able to keep her wig straight, despite the narrative undergirding her defense being eroded like beachfront during a storm, she still held fast to the emotional appeal. When asked how she felt about her alleged co-conspirator’s betrayal, Brown asked what the sign language was for a broken heart.

It’s easy to predict what will happen to Simmons, and likely to Brown. High-profile defendants like them get to skate on charges, with “lessons learned” as the justification, as well as “having lost so much already.”

Maximum sentences are for the poor bastards like you and me, grist for the mill that is this country’s sad pastiche of a legal system, as it lurches closer to the Third World with each passing news cycle.

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