Corrine Brown's Former Chief of Staff Pleads Guilty To Theft, Wire Fraud

Feb 8, 2017

Simmons leaves the federal courthouse in Jacksonville
Credit News4Jax

Ronnie Simmons, who was chief of staff to former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL5) and is a co-defendant on federal corruption and conspiracy charges, has changed his plea to guilty on counts one and 18 of the indictment.

Sources say the change in plea comes after a federal grand jury was convening on his sister, Monica Simmons Isom. She is the Duval County elementary school teacher believed to be “Person C” in the indictment, accused of funneling $735,000 in government salary money over a decade, while claiming to be a member of Brown’s staff.

Count one of the indictment was conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Count 18 of the indictment is theft of government funds, the charge related to Person C.

The plea agreement includes Simmons’s potentially testifying in cases or cooperating with the government, and there are consequences for violating the cooperation portion of the agreement.

In court Wednesday, Simmons admitted that he conspired, with Brown and co-defendant Carla Wiley, to commit wire fraud from late 2012 to early 2016, detailed in count 1. He also admitted to knowingly and willfully depriving the U.S. House of money, as outlined in count 18.

The final decision on whether to accept the plea will fall to district Judge Timothy Corrigan, who will also handle sentencing. Simmons waived the right to make a plea to the district judge directly, instead making his plea to the magistrate Judge James Klindt on Wednesday.

Simmons faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for count 1, and up to 10 years and an additional $250,000 fine for count 18. The court could also order him to make restitution to any victims. The government estimates that restitution would be $1,002,847.32.

Once Simmons is sentenced, counts 2 through 17 and count 20, the remaining counts against him, will be dismissed. He can still be held accountable under sentencing guidelines for conduct of the dismissed charges, even though they are dismissed. 

Brown and Simmons were already scheduled to be in court on Thursday for a hearing, as attorneys discuss motions in the case, but Wednesday, Simmons was excused from that appearance. The trial is currently scheduled for April.

Simmons' attorney, Anthony Suarez, has not returned calls for comment. Brown's attorney hasn't returned calls, but has previously said that she was looking forward to her day in court and would not consider a plea deal.

Simmons and Brown have been accused of using an unregistered charity to raise $800,000 that prosecutors said they used as a personal "slush fund." Among the 22 federal charges against Brown are counts of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, violation of tax laws, and concealing material facts on required financial disclosure forms. 

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