Two Jacksonville City Councilors, Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown, are suspended by the governor pending federal trial on 38 cumulative counts in a scheme to defraud that involved a conspiracy years in the making (allegedly), with shell companies, pass-through accounts, fake invoicing, and falsified banking information.
Look for political hacks in the Browns' seats soon ... and don't worry: Your tax dollars (or money borrowed from China or the oil sheiks) paid for it, natch.
It's interesting in retrospect how easy it was for Katrina Brown and her family to get start-up capital, and how few safeguards there were for the public investment.
A $2.62M Small Business Administration loan, though not enough to get the sauce plant going, was enough (allegedly) to help out with personal expenses of the co-conspirators.
And city money? Who can resist giving over $600,000 in incentives, in the height of a recession crippling the city's general fund, to people without manufacturing experience to start a sauce plant? Not those fiscal watchdogs in the St. James Building!
And certainly not now-lapsed Councilman Reggie Brown: He voted for the deal, years before the (alleged) pass-through companies were set up, and well before Katrina Brown was elected to council.
Having covered the council closely, and having covered the whole saga of the failed BBQ sauce plant for years, here are some thoughts.
In retrospect, it's surprising that media didn't see the business filings for "RB Packaging" and "A-Plus Training and Consultants." Both (alleged) dummy companies were created by Katrina Brown, with Reggie Brown on the paperwork.
We were all trolling SunBiz and, when trying to figure out the latest involving the other Katrina Brown shell companies (CoWealth, Basic Products, and KJB Specialties) attached to the sauce plant saga, should likely have noticed these other companies.
Questions would have been asked. Now the feds are asking them.
Also worth noting: Of the 19 on council, the two indicted are probably the biggest BS artists.
Katrina Brown has generally ranged from glib to evasive to prevaricating when working the press. This case is no different.
The councilwoman repeatedly refused to answer media questions about why her company took over $3 million in taxpayer money and didn't even seem to be trying to make a go of it. Brown likewise didn't talk much at her court appearance on Thursday, and why would she? Her affirmative case boils down to rank canards along the lines of "well, she was only 30 when she took out the loan" and "how could she have pissed $3 million down her leg, she's 37 and lives with her parents."
It bears mention that Katrina Brown (allegedly) was offered a plea deal 18 months ago ... right around the time the FBI raided her familial sauce plant, looking for and apparently finding evidence that there was not a sufficient operation to justify the investment. Even with that evidence staring her in the face, even in the context of what happened to Corrine Brown and Reggie Fullwood, she somehow believed the feds didn't have the drop on her.
Reggie Brown, meanwhile, has/had been on council for close to a decade, with bupkis to show for it except a stack of W2s and a slew of go-nowhere bills (my favorite is the proposed ban on backing into driveways, a tragicomic proposal that got lit up on a majority of local news outlets a few years back).
Perhaps the most ineffective two-term district councilman in history, Brown saw fit to parlay that into a state senate campaign against Minority Leader-Designate Audrey Gibson (even as he likely knew the feds were coming for him). Brown was liquid: He was retiring past due property taxes, and spending $3,200 of his own money on t-shirts and signs for his campaign.
Look for those t-shirts in a thrift store near you.
Brown was willing, even while facing indictment, to stay on council and run for senate simultaneously. His concern was his political visibility—the walking embodiment of that preening pol who will shiv citizens 10 out of 10 times for the luxury of giving yet another empty speech.
Now Katrina and Reggie Brown are done. With 38 counts, and a well-documented evidentiary trail, some should stick.
Each faces, theoretically, hundreds of years in prison and millions of dollars in restitution. But a plea deal seems inevitable: Cop to a couple of counts, get light prison time and house arrest.
Worth watching is who rolls on whom first, assuming the indictment isn't magically discredited.
Does Reggie Brown attempt to make the case that Katrina Brown misrepresented the business to him, fake invoices and all? Or does Katrina Brown, despite working this hustle (allegedly) since she was a mere child of 30 years old, somehow try to pin it on Reggie Brown?
Jacksonville politics: more shitshows than the Cracker Barrel bathroom after Sunday morning church.