Ex-Congresswoman Gets 5 Years For Charity Scam

A former Florida congresswoman was sentenced to five years in federal prison for her role in a fraud and conspiracy centered around a fake charity.

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Jacksonville) was convicted by a federal jury in May on 18 counts of an indictment charging her with participating in a mail and wire fraud conspiracy and scheme, concealing material facts on required financial disclosure forms, obstructing the due administration of the internal revenue laws and filing false tax returns.

The 71-year-old, who served 24 years in Congress before losing a 2016 Democratic primary, will report to prison no earlier than Jan. 8 and reportedly will appeal the sentence handed down yesterday by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy J. Corrigan.

The congresswoman’s longtime chief of staff, Elias “Ronnie” Simmons, 51, of Laurel, Md., and the charity’s president, Carla Wiley, 55, of Leesburg, Va., also will see prison time, sentenced to four years and 21 months, respectively. They each pleaded guilty to their roles in the education charity scheme in February and March 2016, respectively.

Between late 2012 and early 2016, the trio participated in a conspiracy and fraud scheme involving One Door for Education – Amy Anderson Scholarship. They and others acting on their behalf solicited more than $800,000 in charitable donations based on false representations that donations would be used for college scholarships and school computer drives, among other charitable causes.

The three solicited donations from individuals and corporate entities that Brown knew by virtue of her position in Congress, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, and many were led to believe that One Door was a registered nonprofit when it was not. Brown and her co-conspirators used the vast majority of donations for their personal and professional benefit. More than $300,000 in funds were spent on events hosted by Brown or held in her honor with only two scholarships awarded, totaling $1,200 to cover expenses related to attending college.

Brown and Wiley were ordered to forfeit almost $655,000 and Simmons was ordered to forfeit almost $728,000. All three defendants were ordered to pay total restitution of $452,515.87 to victims of the fraud. Brown was ordered to pay an additional $62,650.99 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and Simmons was ordered to pay an additional $91,621.38 in restitution to the House of Representatives.

As part of his plea deal, Simmons separately admitted that he used his position to obtain congressional employment for a close relative, who received more than $735,000 in government salary payments between 2001 and early 2016 despite performing no known work for the House of Representatives.

“For years Corrine Brown banked on the slogan ‘Corrine Delivers,’” Assistance Special Agent in Charge Shawn Batsch of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) said in a press release after the sentencing. “In this case, that’s precisely what she did: she banked entirely on herself when she delivered charitable donations to her own pockets. Having built a lifelong reputation of helping others, she ultimately failed her constituents by fraudulently helping herself to contributions meant for underprivileged children.”