Former Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown received a five-year prison sentence on Monday, Dec. 4, on 18 charges related to a charity she created and then defrauded.
While she could have gotten a longer sentence—the prosecution sought nine years—due to Brown’s age—she is 71—and her 25 years of serving the community and constituents, many expected that she would receive no jail time at all.
District Judge Timothy Corrigan, who presided over the case, mentioned in his lengthy sentencing order, that Brown’s abuse of power and betrayal of public trust made it impossible for him not to incarcerate her.
“Ms. Brown leveraged the authority of her office and the relationships she had cultivated to illegal purpose. In the process, she cast aside the very laws that she helped to enact. The rules, she decided, did not apply to her,” he wrote.
— Stephanie Brown (@SBrownReports) December 4, 2017
He also noted that Brown was defiant to the end, consistently claiming that she had broken no laws despite overwhelming evidence, including tax documents, and the statements of her co-conspirators.
“While Ms. Brown is of course free to maintain her innocence, because she stands before the Court at sentencing unrepentant, she cannot be accorded the same sentencing consideration as someone who accepts responsibility for her wrongful action, expresses remorse, and promises to make amends.”
Judge Corrigan noted that the prosecution wanted a harsher sentence because Brown was not only unrepentant but contemptuous of the Justice system.
One claim she made in particular, was so outrageous and so indicative of Brown’s attitude that Judge Corrigan felt compelled to mention it specifically. Still, he felt that his job was to pass sentence based on what transpired in the courtroom.
“The Court agrees that some of Ms. Brown’s comments–especially her reprehensible statement implying that the FBI might have been able to prevent the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando if it wasn’t preoccupied with investigating her–were beyond the pale. However, the Court chooses not to factor them into the determination of her sentence.”
Corrigan concluded, “A sentence of probation for a member of Congress convicted of 18 counts involving mail, wire, and tax fraud would not be sufficient.
“In the case of a public official who violates the public trust, there must be accountability.”
Brown’s attorney, James Smith, said Brown will be filing an appeal within the next two weeks.
“She hasn’t given up hope. She intends to continue to fight,” Smith said outside the federal courthouse. “This court does not have the last word considering the congresswoman’s fate.”
Four Years of Fraud for Personal Gain
Brown collected some $833,000 through the One Door for Education Foundation between 2012 and 2016. One Door was supposed to provide education opportunities for disadvantaged students, but during that time issued only two scholarships worth $1,200.
Prosecutors listed hundreds of thousands of dollars in foundation funds, which were spent on parties, personal travel, and shopping excursions.
Brown’s former chief of staff, Elias “Ronnie” Simmons, and One Door founder and executive director Carla Wiley, both pleaded guilty and testified against Brown. Simmons admitted to delivering foundation funds into Brown’s personal account but claimed he kept very little for himself. Wiley, Simmons’s former romantic partner, kept more than $100,000.
Simmons was sentenced to four years in prison, while Wiley received 21 months.
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Quarter Century of Public Service Ends in Disgrace
Brown, 71, ended a 25-year career in Congress in 2016, when she lost her primary after being indicted for mail and wire fraud and tax evasion. She was convicted in May 2017, on 18 of 22 counts.
Brown not only took money from the foundation to fund her own entertainment—she declared tax deductions for donations to the One Door Education Foundation she never made.
“It is incredibly disappointing that an elected official, who took an oath year after year to serve others, would exploit the needs of children and abuse the charitable hearts of constituents to advance her own personal and political agendas, and deliver them with virtually nothing,” said FBI Jacksonville Special Agent in Charge Charles P. Spencer, according to Jacksonville.com.
The foundation was originally created by Carla Wiley in honor of her mother. The foundation never received tax-exempt charity status—though Brown represented it as such. Apparently, the foundation was dormant until Wiley began dating Brown’s chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons.
Simmons had been with Brown since her start as a federal representative.
Simmons told Wiley that the representative needed a nonprofit to back a reception for Rep. Brown. Rep. Brown began soliciting donations for One Door, and in August 2012, Wiley turned over the foundation’s checkbook and bank card to Simmons, who made frequent withdrawals with Wiley’s approval.
Some of these withdrawals were delivered to Brown in cash, and some were deposited in Brown’s personal account.
Brown solicited donations by making claims that the foundation would be buying iPads for students, for example. Former CSX CEO Mike Ward donated $35,000 to One Door for that cause. No iPads were ever given to students.
Lifestyle ‘beyond their means’
District Judge Timothy Corrigan, who presided over the case, delivered a lengthy sentencing order in which he both praised Brown for her service and castigated her for her criminal actions and for her attitude.
“This was a crime born out of entitlement and greed committed to ensure a lifestyle that was beyond their means,” Corrigan said
“Just think of the good that could have been done with that money if it would have been used for its intended purpose.”
Instead of helping disadvantaged youth get educations, the money went towards lavish entertainment, like nearly $14,000 for Beyonce tickets and $15,000 for a suite at a Jaguars—Redskins football game, and various trips, such as to the Bahamas for Brown and her daughter, and to Beverly Hills to go shopping on Rodeo Drive.
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