The 17 month legal ordeal of former local U.S. Representative Corrine Brown ended this week in a Jacksonville Federal Courthouse. The beloved politician was sentenced to five years in prison for her role in helping raise more than $800,000 for a bogus charity that was used as a slush fund, federal court officials said.
Brown, 71, was convicted in May on 18 counts of participating in a conspiracy involving a fraudulent education charity, concealing material facts required on financial disclosure forms and filing false tax returns. Following the completion of her term, she will also serve three years of supervised release and must pay $250 a month in restitution once she’s released from prison. She was ordered to pay a total of $515,166.86 in restitution to her victims, including $62,650.99 to the Internal Revenue Service.
Brown, a hometown Democrat from Jacksonville, served 24 years in Congress. She lost her re-election bid last year after being indicted to Rep. Al Lawson out of Tallahassee.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan said he considered Brown’s years of public service in deciding her punishment. But he determined that “probation for a member of Congress convicted of 18 counts involving mail, wire, and tax fraud would not be sufficient,” according to a transcript of his comments.
Brown was at the center of a scheme, described as “shameless” by Judge Corrigan, that collected hundreds of thousands of dollars for One Door for Education, an unregistered charity — funds that were used instead to pad a lavish lifestyle that far exceeded the lawmaker’s means.
“She cast aside the very laws that she helped to enact,” Corrigan wrote. “The rules, she decided, did not apply to her.”
Brown maintains her innocence and will appeal, her lawyer, James Smith, told reporters outside the federal courthouse following the sentencing. The former congresswoman declined to comment.
“I disagree with the idea that a woman who is 71 should have to go to prison for a nonviolent economic offense,” Smith told reporters.
Smith said he also would argue on appeal that most of the evidence against Brown was circumstantial and that the judge improperly removed a juror in the case.
“She hasn’t given up hope. She intends to continue to fight,” Smith said. “This court does not have the last word considering the congresswoman’s fate.”
That juror told Corrigan that the Holy Spirit had informed him that Brown was not guilty, Jacksonville’s WJXT-TV reported.
Prosecutors said Brown participated from 2012 to 2016 in a conspiracy and fraud scheme involving the One Door for Education fund, along with her chief of staff, Elias “Ronnie” Simmons, and the charity’s president, Carla Wiley.
“Trial evidence also showed that more than $300,000 in One Door funds had been used to pay for events hosted by Brown or held in her honor,” federal prosecutors said in a statement.
In his 25-page sentencing order, Judge Corrigan said the One Door for Education charity was “operated as a criminal enterprise” by Brown, her chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, and the charity’s founder, Carla Wiley.
“These defendants systematically looted One Door funds which otherwise would have been available to help deserving children,” Corrigan said in the sentencing order. “Just think of the good that could have been done with that money if it had been used for its proper purpose.”
Simmons was sentenced to four years in prison and Wiley to 21 months, federal court officials said. None of the three were taken into custody after being sentenced and are scheduled to report in January.