Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown was found guilty on Thursday of taking money from a charity that was created to provide scholarships to poor students. Federal prosecutors showed that Brown, 70, and her top aide diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars from the One Door for Education Foundation for lavish parties, travel, and shopping. Brown was convicted of 18 of the 22 charges against her, including lying on her tax returns and on her congressional financial disclosure forms.
In a federal court in Jacksonville, Brown betrayed no visible reaction as the judge read each verdict. When Brown left the courthouse while holding the arms of a companion, a few supporters cried out "We love you, Corrine!" and "Keep the faith!" Brown went silently to an awaiting car. 
In a statement that was released after the guilty verdict was read, Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco declared, “Former Congresswoman Corrine Brown violated the public trust, the honor of her position, and the integrity of the American system of government when she abused one of the most powerful positions in the nation for her own personal gain.” Since 1993, Blanco had represented a congressional district that includes Jacksonville.
Ever since her indictment in 2016, Brown remained defiant. She said that she and other black Americans elected to office had been “persecuted” by the government. Brown pleaded not guilty to all of the charges, including the fraud, but lost re-election last fall after the indictment.
Prosecutors relied on the testimony of Elias “Ronnie” Simmons, Brown's former chief of staff, and One Door For Education Foundation President Carla Wiley. Both pleaded guilty after receiving federal indictments for misuse of the charity's funds, and testified against Brown.
According to federal prosecutors, Brown and her associates used One Door to garner more than $800,000 between 2012 and 2016. Their activities included a high-profile golf tournament at TPC at Sawgrass -- a PGA championship golf course. The indictment said that One Door only gave out one scholarship for $1,200 to an unidentified person in Florida.
Simmons said Brown told him on dozens of occasions to take out of One Door's account the maximum $800 from an ATM near his home and then deposit hundreds of it in Brown's personal account, while keeping some for himself.
Testifying in her own defense, Brown said she had no idea about money going out the back door of One Door's money, blaming theft on Simmons. Brown said she should have paid more attention to her personal and professional finances. Attorney James Smith, who defended Brown, said he will seek a re-trial. 
While the judge has not announced a date for Brown's sentencing, the former politician may see many years in prison. 
In 1992, Brown was one of the first three black Americans elected to the U.S. Congress from Florida since the late 1800s. Designed to increase representation of black people, Brown’s district stretched from Jacksonville to Orlando and Orange County, as well as Eatonville and Pine Hills. She managed to get millions of dollars of federal projects and funds for her district, amounting to $377 million in earmark request in 2010. Serving on the House railroads committee, she also brought federal transportation money to her district.  
Brown served in the House of Representatives for 24 years until a 2016 redistricting shifted her district from Orlando to Tallahassee. She compared the move to “slavery” for dividing blacks’ voting power, and filed lawsuits to rescind the redistricting. He lost those bids, and lost in the Democratic primary to Al Lawson of Tallahassee, who now represents the district in Washington D.C.
Here follows the official statement from the U.S. Department of Justice:
Former U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown Guilty of Fraud Scheme Involving Bogus Non-Profit Scholarship Entity
Former U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown was convicted by a federal jury in Jacksonville, Florida, today for her role in a conspiracy and fraud scheme involving a fraudulent scholarship charity.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow of the Middle District of Florida, Special Agent in Charge Charles P. Spencer of the FBI’s Jacksonville, Florida, Division and Chief Richard Weber of the of Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) made the announcement.
“Former Congresswoman Corrine Brown violated the public trust, the honor of her position, and the integrity of the American system of government when she abused one of the most powerful positions in the nation for her own personal gain. She shamefully deprived needy children of hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have helped with their education and improved their opportunities for advancement, and she lied to the IRS and the American public about secret cash deposits into her personal bank accounts,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Blanco. “The Department of Justice is committed to fighting corruption and fraud wherever we find it, at all levels of government, regardless of their power and influence.”
“Former Congresswoman Brown chose greed and personal gain over the sacred trust given to her by the community that she served for many years,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Muldrow. “These guilty verdicts underscore our Office's resolve in holding public officials at all levels of government accountable for their actions. In this case, former Congresswoman Brown stole money that was donated on the false promise of helping further the educational goals of underprivileged children.”
“Former Congresswoman Brown took an oath year after year to serve others, but instead she exploited the needs of children and deceived her constituents to advance her own personal and political agendas,” said Special Agent in Charge Spencer. “Corrupt public officials undermine the integrity of our government and violate the public’s trust, and that is why investigating public corruption remains the FBI’s top criminal priority. I am proud of our special agents, analysts and support personnel who spent countless hours following the money trail in this case, and thank our law enforcement partners at the IRS-CI and U.S. Attorney’s Office for their efforts to hold Brown and her associates accountable for their inexcusable actions.”
“Former Congresswoman Corrine Brown failed to deliver and uphold her duty to file true and correct tax returns by lying about her income and charitable contributions to feed her greed. No one is above the law, including those in a position of public trust, and there isn’t a separate standard when it comes to paying taxes, said Chief Weber. “IRS CI, along with our law enforcement partners, will hold accountable those who violate the tax laws and cheat the taxpayers.”
Brown, 70, of Jacksonville, was convicted on 18 counts of an indictment charging her with participating in a conspiracy involving a fraudulent education charity, concealing material facts on required financial disclosure forms, obstructing the due administration of the internal revenue laws and filing false tax returns. The jury also found Brown guilty of violating the Ethics in Government Act by concealing certain income on the required annual financial disclosure forms she submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Judge Timothy J. Corrigan of the Middle District of Florida noted that he would schedule Brown’s sentencing for a later date.
Brown’s co-conspirators, Elias “Ronnie” Simmons, Brown’s long-time Chief of Staff, and Carla Wiley, the president of the fraudulent charity, previously pleaded guilty to their roles in the education charity scheme on Feb. 8, 2017, and March 3, 2016, respectively.
Evidence at trial showed that between late 2012 and early 2016, Brown participated in a conspiracy and fraud scheme involving One Door for Education – Amy Anderson Scholarship Fund (One Door) in which the Brown, Simmons, Wiley and others acting on their behalf solicited more than $800,000 in charitable donations based on false representations that the donations would be used for college scholarships and school computer drives, among other charitable causes. Testimony by One Door donors showed that Brown and her co-conspirators solicited donations from individuals and corporate entities that Brown knew by virtue of her position in the U.S. House of Representatives. Many of the donors were led to believe that One Door was a properly registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, when, in fact, it was not.
Contrary to Brown’s representations, Brown, Simmons, Wiley and others used the vast majority of One Door donations for their personal and professional benefit, including tens of thousands of dollars in cash deposits that Simmons made to Brown’s personal bank accounts, according to trial evidence. In one instance, Simmons deposited $2,100 of One Door funds into Brown’s personal bank account the same day that Brown paid $2,057 to the IRS for taxes she owed. Likewise, trial evidence showed Brown and Simmons used the outside consulting company of one of Brown’s employees to funnel One Door funds to Brown and others for their personal use.
Trial evidence also showed that more than $300,000 in One Door funds were used to pay for events hosted by Brown or held in her honor, including a golf tournament in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida; lavish receptions during an annual conference in Washington, D.C.; the use of a luxury box during a concert in Washington, D.C.; and the use of a luxury box during an NFL game in the Washington, D.C., area. According to trial evidence, despite raising over $800,000 in donations, One Door granted only two scholarships totaling $1,200 that were awarded to students to cover expenses related to attending a college or university.
Additionally, trial evidence demonstrated that Brown failed to disclose, among other things, the reportable income she received from One Door and claimed deductions on her tax returns based on false statements that she made certain donations to One Door, as well as to local churches and non-profit organizations in the Jacksonville area.
The FBI and IRS-CI investigated the case. Deputy Chief Eric G. Olshan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys A. Tysen Duva and Michael J. Coolican of the Middle District of Florida prosecuted the case.



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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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