Two Former Jacksonville City Council Members Convicted Of Fraud And Money Laundering
Jacksonville, Florida – A federal jury today found Katrina Brown (39, Jacksonville) and Reginald Brown (57, Jacksonville) guilty of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, aiding and abetting mail and wire fraud, and aiding and abetting money laundering. The jury also found Katrina Brown guilty of attempted bank fraud and making false statements to a federally insured financial institution, and Reginald Brown guilty of failure to file an income tax return with the Internal Revenue Service for tax year 2014. Each bank fraud or false statement offense carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in federal prison. Each conspiracy and aiding and abetting mail and wire fraud charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment. The money laundering offense carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison, and the income tax charge carries a penalty of up to a year in prison.
Sentencings are scheduled for January 27, 2020. At sentencing, the United States intends to seek forfeiture from the defendants of at least $754,613.10, which is alleged to be traceable to the offenses.
According to the evidence presented at trial, in late 2013, Katrina Brown was the principal for two businesses (Basic Products, LLC and CoWealth, LLC), which in 2011 obtained a loan in the amount of $2,652,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), and a loan of $380,000, and a grant of approximately $260,000 from the City of Jacksonville (COJ), to fund a small business that specialized in the manufacturing, bottling, and selling of barbecue sauce. As a member of the Jacksonville City Council, Reginald Brown was knowledgeable of City Ordinance 2011-290-E, which authorized the COJ loan and grant – proceeds of which he and Katrina Brown would later obtain by fraud.
Katrina Brown’s family had been in the barbecue business in Jacksonville for many years. The $3.2 million in financing was intended to fund an expansion of Basic Products and help create permanent manufacturing jobs in Northwest Jacksonville. Each time Katrina Brown sought money for Basic Products from BizCapital, the SBA-approved lender, she submitted a Loan Reimbursement Form that included the purported business expenses for which Basic Products sought reimbursement.
In late 2013, when the barbecue business was not meeting financial projections, Katrina Brown assisted Jacksonville City Councilman Reginald Brown in incorporating two businesses (A Plus Training and Consultants, LLC and RB Packaging, LLC) with the Florida Division of Corporations. A Plus Training and RB Packaging, however, never performed any legitimate business. Instead of properly notifying BizCapital that Basic Products was in financial distress, Katrina Brown worked with Reginald Brown to submit fake invoices from A Plus Training and RB Packaging to the SBA lender, BizCapital, claiming that the businesses performed work for Basic Products, when they businesses did not.
BizCapital sent checks, at times larger than $60,000, to RB Packaging and A Plus Training, which, on paper, were headquartered at Reginald Brown’s home and his mother’s home, respectively. Reginald Brown deposited those checks into the bank accounts for A Plus Training and RB Packaging, then withdrew a significant portion of the money and provided it to Katrina Brown, who either kept the cash or laundered the money by depositing it back into the Basic Products bank account so that she could control the funds. During this time, from late 2013 to early 2015, Reginald Brown, A Plus Training, and RB Packaging served as a conduit to receive $264,419.04 in proceeds from the SBA loan and the COJ grant, then funneled at least $166,500 back to Basic Products. Reginald Brown kept money not provided to Katrina Brown, despite performing no legitimate work or services for Basic Products, and used the majority of the money for personal expenses. Reginald Brown never filed a tax return for tax year 2014, the period of these primary occurrences, and failed to disclose to the IRS that he had received tens of thousands of dollars from the SBA.
In December 2014, BizCapital sent all loan draw information to the City of Jacksonville, which included the numerous fraudulent A Plus Training and RB Packaging invoices. The loan draw information, including the fraudulently induced payments to A Plus Training and RB Packaging, was relied upon by the COJ before it wired $210,549.99 in taxpayer-funded grant money to BizCapital for the intended use of Basic Products. Before the money was sent to BizCapital, neither Katrina Brown nor Reginald Brown informed BizCapital or the city that Basic Products had fraudulently obtained loan payments to Reginald Brown’s shell companies (A Plus Training and RB Packaging).
After BizCapital informed Katrina Brown that the SBA loan was in default status in January 2015, she then attempted to obtain two bank loans in 2015 and 2016 by submitting doctored and false bank statements to loan brokers, seeking loans from WebBank to infuse cash into her and her family’s businesses. Instead of providing the actual bank statements of the businesses, Katrina Brown falsified the businesses’ bank statements in an attempt to make it appear to the lender that the businesses were credit worthy, when in fact they were not.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Tysen Duva and Michael J. Coolican.