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Several donors to a so-called “bogus charity” connected to former Congresswoman Corrine Brown testified on Friday that they had no idea their contributions were being spent on lavish trips and events.
Friday was Day 3 of witness testimony in Brown’s federal fraud trial related to One Door for Education.
Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel testified that he thought he was paying to transport people to a charity fundraiser, after Brown asked him to.
Instead, Bittel’s private jet flew to a luxury skybox at a football game. Bittel paid more than $11,000 for that flight.
Brown’s defense attorney James Smith pointed out the emails finalizing the plane trip were written by her chief of staff Ronnie Simmons, not his client.
Witness Jack Hanania, CEO of Hanania Automotive Group in Orange Park, said he was invited to that football game after giving a $7,000 donation to One Door.
Bittel testified that his business had previously donated twice to One Door for Education -- a total of $15,000 -- after Brown asked him to.
Bittel testified that Brown told him the money would help pay for seniors to attend President Barack Obama’s second inauguration and a laptop drive for underprivileged students.
Bittel said he made the donations because he trusted Brown.
After he left the courthouse, Action News Jax asked Bittel if he still trusts her.
“Corrine’s been a hard-working public servant for this community and her district for a long time,” said Bittel. “This is a disappointing circumstance.”
Action News Jax asked Bittel what this trial shows the public about the nature of money in politics.
“Transactional money is a challenge, and altruistic money is an investment in our future,” said Bittel.
When Action News Jax asked Bittel what Brown has told him about the 22 federal charges against her, he responded, “I’ve never discussed it with her.”
Former state legislator and Jacksonville attorney Steve Pajcic also testified on Friday about his donation to One Door for Education.
Pajcic testified that Brown asked him to donate to One Door after he told her he wouldn’t donate to her campaign.
“It’s a civic duty to respond to requests like this, whether it’s jury service or testifying; happy to do that,” said Pajcic after he left the courthouse.
Pajcic also testified about his donation before a grand jury on March 9, 2016.
“You know, you always want it to work out well when you make charitable contributions. And if it doesn't, it is concerning,” Pajcic told Action News Jax at the time.
Brown was indicted four months later.
On Friday, Pajcic testified he was having lunch at an upscale business club when Brown approached him about donating.
The River Club is at the top of Jacksonville’s Wells Fargo building.
Pajcic testified that Brown asked him to donate to her campaign and to “Get Out the Vote” efforts. He said he turned her down because he thought she’d win anyway.
Pajcic testified Brown then asked him to donate $10,000 to One Door for Education. Pajcic said he donated $15,000 to One Door instead.
Pajcic testified he regularly donates millions for local students, so he did not think much of it.
“This was not a major event to me. We give lots of contributions,” Pajcic testified.
Bob Miller also took the witness stand on Friday.
Miller testified that his close relationship with Brown deteriorated two years ago because he felt she was taking advantage of his boss’s generosity.
Miller’s boss, Orlando real estate developer Bob Picerne, donated about $90,000 over three years to One Door for Education.
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