Ex-congresswoman guilty of stealing from phony charity

Jason Dearen
Associated Press

Jacksonville, Fla. — After a historic, nearly 25-year career representing Florida in Congress, former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown was found guilty on Thursday of taking money from a charity that was purported to be giving scholarships to poor students.

The verdict came after prosecutors outlined a pattern of fraud by Brown, 70, and her top aide that included using hundreds of thousands of dollars from the One Door for Education Foundation for lavish parties, trips and shopping excursions. She was convicted of 18 of the 22 charges against her, including lying on her taxes and on her congressional financial disclosure forms.

Brown watched the judge read each verdict in a silent courtroom with no visible reaction. She later left the courthouse holding onto the arm of a companion, surrounded by dozens of reporters. A few supporters shouted “We love you Corrine!” and “Keep the Faith!” as she silently made her way to a waiting car.

Brown, a Democrat who was one of the first three African Americans to be elected to Congress from Florida since Reconstruction, represented the district that included Jacksonville since 1993.

Since her indictment last summer, she had been publicly defiant of the government’s charges, saying in a statement she was among black elected officials who have been “persecuted.” She had pleaded not guilty to all of the charges, including the fraud, but lost re-election last fall after her indictment.

Key to the government’s conviction was the testimony of Brown’s former chief of staff, Elias “Ronnie” Simmons, and the charity’s president, Carla Wiley. Both pleaded guilty after their federal indictments for misusing the charity’s funds, and testified against Brown.

Federal prosecutors said Brown and her associates used One Door to bring in more than $800,000 between 2012 and 2016, including a high-profile golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass. Brown’s indictment said the Virginia-based One Door only gave out one scholarship for $1,200 to an unidentified person in Florida.

The judge did not set a date for Brown’s sentencing, which could include many years of jail time.