Former Florida congresswoman sentenced to five years for fraud

Cheryl Sanders
December 4, 2017

Corrine Brown, a former Florida congresswoman from Jacksonville, was sentenced to five years in prison for fraud and other charges related to a fake charity she used to put money in her own pocket while serving in Washington. Numerous donors were led to believe that One Door was a properly registered 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, when, in fact, it was not.

Brown's chief of staff Ronnie Simmons was also involved in the case and pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy and corruption felonies: conspiracy to commit fraud and theft of government funds. Donors to the charity One Door for Education thought they were sending scholarships to poor children, but Brown took the money for herself.

Brown's attorney, James Smith, told the Times-Union his client would appeal the sentence. "It is a sad day for this community", Corrigan said.

First elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1993, Brown, a Democrat, served the Jacksonville area until 2017.

A federal jury convicted the 71-year-old Democrat in May on 18 of 22 charges she faced, including lying on taxes and congressional financial disclosures.

Simmons and Wiley pleaded guilty to their charges and testified against Brown on behalf of the Federal Bureau of Investigation during the trial last summer. Brown, 71, will also serve three years of supervised release, and will be required to pay $250 a month in restitution once she is released.

Brown was convicted in May of 18 charges, including conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, aiding and abetting mail fraud, aiding and abetting wire fraud, scheme to hide material facts, corrupt endeavor to obstruct and impede the due administration of internal revenue law, and filing false tax returns.

Federal prosecutors said the three used One Door to bring in more than $800,000 between 2012 and 2016, through donations and events including a high-profile golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass.

Brown has maintained her innocence by placing the blame on Simmons and Wiley. In another instance, Brown and a close relative used the proceeds of a $3,000 One Door check referencing "children summer camps" in the memo line for their personal benefit. Wiley, Corrigan said, shared the least amount.

"The public had a right to expect", Corrigan said, that Brown and Simmons would not "abuse their positions of public trust and responsibility ... this was a crime borne of entitlement and greed ... bad business". The Virginia-based One Door only gave out one scholarship for $1,200 to an unidentified person in Florida, according to court documents.

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