Brown Pleads Not Guilty For Role In Suspected Fraud Scheme

Jul 8, 2016

Updated 7/13/16

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL5) responded to her federal indictment in a blog post Sunday, suggesting charges against her are the result of racism.

In her statement, "Note to my friends," Brown, who faces 22 counts of fraud and other federal charges, began by referencing the shooting deaths of five Dallas police officers, and police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, where two black men were killed.

"Two black men were needlessly gunned down by police; 5 Dallas police officers were slain by a demented man, and on Friday I had to appear in federal court," she wrote.

Brown then suggested the charges against her are the result of racism: "I’m not the first black elected official to be persecuted and, sad to say, I won’t be the last."

Read the entire post.

Original article published 7/8/16

JACKSONVILLE — U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL5) pleaded not guilty Friday afternoon to 22 federal counts of fraud and other offenses resulting from an FBI probe of an education charity.

Brown, 69, of Jacksonville, and her chief of staff Elias “Ronnie” Simmons, 50, of Laurel, Maryland, were charged in a 24-count indictment with participating in a conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, multiple counts of mail and wire fraud, concealing material facts on required financial disclosure forms, theft of government property, obstruction of the due administration of the internal revenue laws and filing false tax returns.

After the hearing, Brown said she’ll tell her side of the story in court.

“My heart is just really heavy,” Brown said. “This has been a really difficult time for me, my family, my constituents. But I’m looking forward to a speedy day in court to vindicate myself.”

If convicted on all charges, Brown faces up to 357 years in prison and a fine of $4.8 million. Simmons could face up to 355 years in prison and $4.75 million in fines, according to News4Jax.

After the hearing, Brown said she’ll tell her side of the story in court.

“My heart is just really heavy,” Brown said. “This has been a really difficult time for me, my family, my constituents. But I’m looking forward to a speedy day in court to vindicate myself.”

If convicted on all charges, Brown faces up to 357 years in prison and a fine of $4.8 million. Simmons could face up to 355 years in prison and $4.75 million in fines, according to News4Jax.

MORE | Read the entire indictment below

A 24-year member of Congress, Brown is up for re-election. She’s due back in court Sept. 6, just days after the Democratic primary in August.

Brown and Simmons are suspected of soliciting more than $800,000 in donations to a supposed charitable organization "only to use that organization as a personal slush fund," said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.

RELATED HEADLINEFederal Grand Jury Reaches Decision On Corrine Brown

Congresswoman Corrine Brown (D-FL5) pleads not guilty to fraud counts.
Credit Pressly Pratt / WJCT News

Brown's attorney Elizabeth White said the timing of Brown's summons to court is troubling.

“The manner in which the government has handled these proceedings leads to the inescapable conclusion that is desires to improperly influence the upcoming election and undermine the legislative process,” White said.

State Senator Audrey Gibson also stood in support of Brown. She said in an email Friday she believes Brown is a “victim of circumstances whom she thought had a heart for the underserved as she does.”

Charges Against Brown

The indictment said, between late 2012 and early 2016, Brown and Simmons participated in a conspiracy and fraud scheme involving One Door for Education – Amy Anderson Scholarship Fund, which was shut down by the Justice Department in March.

The more than $800,000 in donations was to be used for "college scholarships and school computer drives, among other things," the indictment states.

But despite raising more than $800,000 in donations, the indictment said only two scholarships totaling $1,200 were awarded to students to cover expenses related to attending a college.

The indictment also names Carla Wiley, the president of One Door, who pleaded guilty for her involvement in the scheme March 3.

In one instance, Simmons is alleged to have deposited $2,100 in One Door funds into Brown’s personal bank account the same day Brown wrote a check for a similar amount to pay taxes she owed.  The indictment also states Brown and Simmons used the outside consulting company of one of Brown’s employees to funnel One Door funds to Brown and others for personal use.  

According to the indictment, more than $200,000 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; "lavish" receptions during an annual conference in Washington D.C.; a Beyonce concert; and the use of a luxury box during an NFL game.

Charges Against Simmons

Corrine Brown supporters gather outside the Bryan Simpson U.S. Courthouse.
Credit Pressly Pratt / WJCT News

Simmons is also charged with theft of government property based on the misuse of his position to obtain congressional employment for a close relative.

Between 2001 and early 2016, the indictment said a relative of Simmons received approximately $735,000 in government salary payments despite performing no known work for the U.S. House of Representatives. 

The indictment also said, between 2009 and late 2015, Simmons diverted more than $80,000 of his relative’s government salary for his personal benefit, including through transfers to his personal bank accounts, payments on his personal credit cards and loan payments on his boat.

Additional Charges

Simmons and Brown are also charged with failing to disclose the reportable income they received from One Door and the salary payments that Simmons diverted from his relative’s government employment on required financial disclosure forms submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives and made available to the general public.

Brown is also charged with engaging in tax obstruction between 2008 and 2014 and filing false returns based on her repeated failure to report income from substantial cash deposits to her personal bank accounts and her repeated deduction of inflated and fabricated charitable donations. 

According to the indictment, Brown claimed deductions on her tax returns based on false donations she claimed she made to One Door, as well as to local churches and non-profit organizations in the Jacksonville area.

Editor's note: This article was updated with quotes from Brown, her plea and possible sentence.

News4Jax contributed to this report.