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Corrine Brown, Representing Northeast Florida in Congress for 23 Years, Indicted Over Sham Charity

| July 9, 2016

corrinne brown indictment

Who, me? (Jaxport)

Longtime Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown was indicted Friday on charges that she and a top aide used a sham education charity to pay for personal expenses and luxurious events, allegations that pose the most serious challenge yet to her 23-year congressional career.

Brown and Elias “Ronnie” Simmons, her chief of staff, pleaded not guilty to all 24 counts in the indictment, 22 of which deal with Brown. Federal prosecutors say the two worked with Carla Wiley, a Virginia woman who reached a plea deal with the government in March, to set up “One Door for Education” and use it “as a personal slush fund,” in the words of Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell.

Brown is charged with conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, concealing income on financial disclosures that members of Congress are required to file, and four counts of violating tax laws.

“Congresswoman Brown and her chief of staff are alleged to have used the congresswoman’s official position to solicit over $800,000 in donations to a supposed charitable organization, only to use that organization as a personal slush fund,” Caldwell said in a prepared statement announcing the indictment. “Corruption erodes the public’s trust in our entire system of representative government.”

But Brown, a pugnacious congresswoman known for fiercely defending her district and her legacy, insisted to reporters Friday that she is innocent. The congresswoman, who has built her identity around constituent service, said she would “let the work I’ve done speak for me.”

“My heart is just really heavy,” she said. “This has been a very difficult time for me, my family, my constituents. But I’m looking forward to a speedy day in court to vindicate myself. … We’ve got the rest of the story. So I’m looking forward to presenting the rest of the story.”

In a sign of the fallout from the indictment, U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi announced Friday that Brown had stepped aside from a high-ranking post on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, in line with caucus rules.

“For more than two decades, Congresswoman Brown has served her constituents in Florida with passion and energy. She has been a champion for America’s veterans,” Pelosi said. “The charges against Congresswoman Corrine Brown in the indictment today are deeply saddening.”

Speculation about a grand jury investigation into One Door for Education, and the implications for Brown’s political future, has churned through the political gossip mill for months. All the while, she has fought a pitched battle against the redrawing of her district under a voter-approved ban on political gerrymandering and framed the dual battles as part of an orchestrated campaign to drive her from office.

Brown, 69, is facing what could be her toughest re-election battle in years. Her district, drawn in 1992 to give African-American voters in North and Central Florida a chance to elect a candidate of their choice, has traditionally run north-south, with the most recent version winding from Jacksonville to Orlando. But following the ban on gerrymandering, courts ordered the seat to be reoriented. It now cuts across the northern part of the state, going from Jacksonville in the east to Gadsden County in the west, traveling through Tallahassee along the way.

One of her attorneys lacerated the federal government Friday for not agreeing to push back the arraignment to accommodate Brown’s congressional schedule — she missed several votes Friday — and for leaks from the criminal investigation. Brown’s indictment was widely reported Thursday, even though her attorneys didn’t see the charges until the congresswoman turned herself in Friday.

“Congresswoman Brown is the subject of an indictment today, but in reality, she has endured a one-sided inquisition in the court of public opinion for over one year. … The manner in which the government has handled these proceedings leads to the inescapable conclusion that it desires to improperly influence the upcoming election and undermine the legislative process,” attorney Betsy White said.

According to the indictment, Brown and Simmons worked with Wiley to raise more than $800,000 for One Door — which was falsely portrayed as a 501(c)(3) non-profit — and then used an array of financial transfers to funnel the money to themselves and one of Brown’s relatives.

In addition to car repairs, flights and other expenses, prosecutors say the money was used to pay for a golf tournament in Ponte Vedra Beach in Brown’s honor and luxury boxes at a Beyonce concert and at an NFL game in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, the organization only gave out $1,200 in scholarships, its supposed purpose.

Even before the indictment, Brown faced a serious challenge in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary from former state Sen. Al Lawson of Tallahassee. Lawson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. In a post to his Facebook page Thursday, as word of the indictment began to circulate, Lawson called the situation “unfortunate” but said he was focused on the campaign.

“I promise all the voters of the 5th Congressional District I intend to carry the torch of equality, decency and honesty to Congress and to make everyone proud,” Lawson wrote.

A recent poll by the Public Opinion Research Laboratory at the University of North Florida, based in Jacksonville, showed Brown with a three-point lead over Lawson, 30 percent to 27 percent, with 4 percent going to little-known LaShonda Holloway. The incumbent’s lead was well within the poll’s margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.

Brown held a resounding lead in the portion of the district located in Duval County, where the incumbent drew 52 percent of the vote, but she trailed Lawson by double digits in the rest of the district.

Mike Binder, faculty director of the poll, said Friday that voters in the western parts of the district had mostly been introduced to Brown through the fight against the redistricting plan, followed by the criminal charges.

“The voters have seen that side or her, and now they’re seeing this side of her, which I can’t imagine is going to be good for likely voters,” he said.

Binder also noted that Brown has to deal with the criminal charges, which could lead to up to 357 years in prison and $4.8 million in fines, though the maximum sentences are rarely given to first-time offenders as a practical matter.

“From a candidate perspective, how focused are you on campaigning when you’re staring at indictments and a potential of 300 years in jail?” Binder asked.

–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida

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32 Responses for “Corrine Brown, Representing Northeast Florida in Congress for 23 Years, Indicted Over Sham Charity”

  1. Fredrick says:

    “a pugnacious congresswoman known for fiercely defending her district and her legacy”……. this is her legacy. Is anyone really surprised?

  2. Veteran says:

    One of the worst congress people. Hope she enjoys her jail time.

  3. Oh WOW says:

    Somebody that wasn’t getting part of the legacy snitched on her. Another one bites the dust.

  4. Bc. says:

    What else is new just another crook in the pollictal government people it’s time to vote out the career thiefs that we keep in office year after year. Wake up America get rid of them what is wrong with the American voter eight years is enough in office we don’t need to keep a person in office term after term. They get elected to office and by the time they are done they leave office rich with the bribes and kick backs that they get its just awful. Vote them all out, time to clean house this November start from the top down. Make America great again. Not endorsing trump. But we need to make this country great again no mater who is in office

  5. Jerry says:

    This “thief” has been scamming Jacksonville her entire career . I hope they put her away for her remaining living years !!!!!

  6. Mark says:

    So this is why my VA is so messed up.

  7. Jim Bob says:

    Are you suggesting she was indicted for zealous representation? Naw, for stealing.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Mouth of the South!

  9. Trapper says:

    Look at her district, it has the most amazing Jerry-mandering ever invented. Its been challenged and rearranged several times along very questionable lines. I certainly hope justice is done here.

  10. mafungo says:

    If ever I was acused of wrong doings the last person I would want standing up for me is Nancy Pelosi.It would be like loading a garbage truck onto a sinking ship.

  11. Brian says:

    Will she get to wear her Carrot-top wig for her mugshot? Will she be able to have Bono’s barbeque delivered to her prison cell? Hopefully, this marks the end of her picture being in the news every week – she has been scaring my children for years.

  12. Retiredlawenforcement says:

    Wait a minute a another Democratic politician who for years complained about the inequities of society, substandard education and lack of funding for minorities indicted for RIPPING OFF the charities that were set up to help the same oppressed people? IM SHOCKED ! Don’t worry just give Billy C a call and I’m sure he can chase down Lorreta Lynch’s plane again for another little talk about “GRANDKIDS AND GOLF” ;)

  13. footballen says:

    I can’t believe it took this long. But then again politicians get away with a million times more than the average Joe just look at Flagler County.

  14. Tired of it says:

    Just another crooked politician. Put her A$$ in jail where she belongs.

  15. Realist says:

    A militant agitator who cannot speak properly. Not the least bit surprised. Florida can do much better.

  16. Cyd Weeks says:

    I just would like to thank you for posting this… I didn’t see it anywhere else. :)

  17. Rich Mikola says:

    Typical politician. Name me one politician who left office poorer than when they entered ‘public service’. It’s always about the money!

  18. daveT says:

    Put here in jail, but will there be another double standard like Hillary and she will get a slap on the hand ? we shall see.

  19. The Geode says:

    I am truly shocked that everybody made this story about “crooked-politicians” and NOT about “race”. Given how these stories usually go, I am pleasantly surprised. KUDOS!

  20. anonymous says:

    It doesn’t surprise me in the least.

  21. HilLIARy says:

    “Go gata!”

  22. footballen says:

    She is a democrat so there will be no punishment.

  23. BlueJammer says:

    If she had only deleted her email like the super duper smart politicians do!

  24. David S says:

    Does this suprise anyone.

  25. Donald Trump's Tiny Fingers says:

    Gee, it’s almost like the federal government is willing to prosecute a sitting politician when there’s actual evidence of a crime. And a democrat too, with a sitting Democratic president. Hmmm. Gee, I wonder why Hillary wasn’t indicted. Maybe because there isn’t any evidence of a crime?

  26. ray brilli says:

    a corrupt politician for years

  27. Retiredlawenforcement says:

    Let’s see how long it will be before she claims she’s being prosecuted because she’ s BLACK.

  28. Donald Trump's Tiny Fingers says:

    Well tbh if she was a cop instead of a politician they’d convene a grand jury, the prosecutor would defend her actions and lead the jury, and she’d get away with it

  29. Shell says:

    The woman is so crooked she has to have help screwing her pants on every morning.

  30. daveT says:

    So now she brings up the race card.July 12, 2016 4:54 pm
    Orlando Sentinel

    “” Brown is claiming she’s a victim of racism. “”

    “The Justice Department — which happens to be run by a black attorney general who answers to a black president — targets shady politicians, not black ones.”

    Jul 11, 2016 – 6:39 PM WFTV ABC

    “”Brown likened her situation to the recent police shooting deaths of two black men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and St. Paul, Minnesota, and the deaths of five Dallas police officers during a protest march Thursday night.

    “Last week was very rough,” Brown wrote. “Two black men were needlessly gunned down by police; five Dallas police officers were slain by a demented man; and on Friday I had to appear in federal court.”

    So I guess what Investigators say, donated money was deposited into Rep. Brown’s daughter’s account just happened to get there all by itself.

  31. A little Common Sense please says:

    Gerrymandering at its worst. Nothing about this woman or “invented” district is honest. Talk about Racism-Wow!

  32. CLS says:

    She’s a BIG Hillary supporter too -and Hillary is doing the same thing with her Clinton Foundation ‘charity’ which is NOT a charity, and is not RUN like a charity, but soley for Clintons’ own profits.

    It is my fervent hope that Bernie’s delegates will bring a contested convention. Bernie is the ONLY one who can defeat Trump.

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