Who was holding the purse strings?
That’s the main question the attorneys involved in former Congresswoman Corrine Brown’s federal fraud trial tried to answer for the jury on Thursday.
FBI Special Agent Vanessa Stelly testified that so-called charity One Door for Education spent extravagant amounts on events for Corrine Brown, but gave only two scholarships.
After about three hours of Stelly going through financial documents showing lavish spending, Brown’s defense attorney argued that the former Congresswoman had no control over how that money was spent.
Stelly testified that One Door for Education gave out only $10,000 in scholarships.
Compare that to how much Stelly testified the so-called charity spent on events for Brown: $330,000 on nine events between 2012 and 2015.
One reception that One Door hosted for Brown at a Washington, D.C. hotel featured a $750 birthday cake for her daughter Shantrel Brown.
That party also featured a $10 drink called “The Queen Corrine” -- a strawberry bellini with a sugar rim, if you’re curious.
The prosecution repeatedly pointed out that at each of these events, no scholarships were given out by One Door for Education and no needy students attended.
But during cross-examination, Corrine Brown’s attorney James Smith got Stelly to admit she did not know if either of the two students who got scholarships from One Door actually attended any events.
Smith also got Stelly to confirm that she found no evidence that Corrine Brown had opened any One Door bank accounts or had One Door checkbooks or debit cards.
Several high-profile donors also took the witness stand on Thursday.
“I’m very involved in helping students in the city,” former CSX CEO Michael Ward told Action News Jax after his testimony.
Ward said he donated $35,000 to One Door for Education "because I thought it was good for students."
Witness Tandy Bondi ducked into a nearby building when Action News Jax tried to ask her questions, but on the witness stand, Bondi testified about a $25,000 check from a cruise industry PAC she's involved with to One Door for Education.
At the time, she worked at a cruise industry lobbying firm in D.C. with Shantrel Brown.
Political strategist Susie Wiles, who was the Florida senior strategist for President Donald Trump’s campaign, testified on Thursday that Brown approached her in 2015 about setting up a fundraiser.
An exhibit shown in court revealed Corrine Brown’s Congressional office staffer Von Alexander texted Wiles to make the check out to One Door for Education.
Smith asked Wiles to confirm that Brown never personally mentioned One Door for Education to Wiles.
Donors Husein Cumber, Gasper Lazzara and Bob Picerne also testified on Thursday.
The jury could hear from as many as 11 new witnesses on Friday, including Jessica Wynne, Ingrid Burch, John Baker, Steve Pajcic, Jack Hanania, Stephen Bittell, Richard Lipsky, Brad Mims, Tasha Cole, Don Miller and Marva Brown Johnson.
Cox Media Group