PHILADELPHIA Defense lawyers in the Dorothy June Brown charter school fraud trial told jurors Wednesday that the prosecution's case was so flawed and full of holes that there was enough reasonable doubt to acquit her and her codefendants of all charges.
Attorney William M. McSwain said federal prosecutors were so obsessed with how much money Brown made that they had to "make up a criminal scheme."
"This case is about the federal government believing that Dr. Brown got paid too much money," McSwain said as defense attorneys presented closing remarks. "This is a case about the money she got paid. This is not about any crimes."
Brown is charged with defrauding four charter schools that she founded of $6.7 million and then participating in a scheme with two former administrators to cover it up.
The government's evidence showed that during two years alone, Brown collected $4.27 million from the schools: $1.6 million in 2007-08 and $2.67 million the next year.
"The government wants you to see these numbers and stop thinking . . . and prejudice you against Dr. Brown," McSwain said.
Brown made a lot of money from the charters, but that, he said, was no crime. The schools had achieved such spectacular academic results, he said, that Brown earned the money.
"The federal government does not get to decide what Dr. Brown gets paid," he said, adding that the charters' boards had that power.
In the government's rebuttal, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joan E. Burnes dismissed the defense's arguments.
The case, Burnes said, was about fabricated contracts with forged signatures that no charter boards had approved and that benefited Brown alone.
"You're the jury, and you get to use your common sense," Burnes said. "Keep your eyes on the ball. The signatures are forged, and the contracts benefited one person."
She said the only reasonable conclusion that jurors could draw from the evidence presented over 15 days was that Brown and her two codefendants were guilty on all counts.
McSwain agreed that there had been lapses in record-keeping, but said Brown's staff had worked in "good faith" to document actions after some minutes were lost, he said.
"If you find that defendants acted in good faith," he said, "that is a complete defense."
McSwain said prosecutors had presented several former board members who testified that they had not voted at meetings, or approved contracts, or made comments attributed to them in minutes. But the government, he said, failed to call every member mentioned in the minutes, leaving the jurors with reasonable doubt.
"The government has failed to meet its burden right there," he said. And if no fraud had been committed, neither Brown nor her codefendants could be found guilty of obstruction or conspiring to obstruct justice.
The jury is scheduled to begin deliberations Thursday after U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick instructs it on the law.