Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Corrine Brown, Ex-Congresswoman Who Ran a Sham Charity, Gets 5 Years in Prison (NY Times)

Good work by the FBI and U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida.

Sentence should have been longer.

Do you reckon that certain other local corrupt officials are nervous?

The FBI is investigating corruption in Northeast Florida.

Corrine Brown, a former United States representative from Florida, was sentenced Monday to five years in prison for operating a fake charity that she used to fund personal expenses.CreditBob Mack/The Florida Times-Union, via Associated Press 

Corrine Brown, a former longtime United States representative from Florida, was sentenced to five years in prison on Monday for operating a fraudulent charity that she used for more than $300,000 in personal expenses, including tickets for N.F.L. games and a Beyoncé concert.

A federal judge handed down the sentence in a Jacksonville, Fla., courtroom, excoriating Ms. Brown, 71, for abusing her powerful position in the House of Representatives for “entitlement and greed” to support a lavish lifestyle. Ms. Brown, a Democrat who represented parts of Jacksonville and northern Florida for nearly a quarter-century, must surrender to the authorities next month.

“Brazen barely describes it,” the judge, Timothy J. Corrigan of United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, said of Ms. Brown’s sham charity.

Ms. Brown was convicted in May on 18 criminal counts, including mail and wire fraud and filing false tax returns. She lost her re-election bid in the Democratic primary in August 2016, a few weeks after she was indicted.

Her lawyer, James Smith, said he planned to appeal the verdict and the sentencing. “The sentence was substantively unreasonable, and it was too harsh,” Mr. Smith said in an interview Monday evening. While sentencing guidelines called for a term of between more than seven years in prison up to nine years, Mr. Smith said that politicians convicted of similar crimes had received more lenient sentences.

Ms. Brown was among the first African-American politicians elected to Washington from Florida and burnished a reputation in state and national politics as a civil rights champion and as an advocate for the less fortunate. Because of that legacy, the charity, One Door for Education, may have seemed to donors as an extension of her passion.

Ms. Brown, along with two other people, collected more than $833,000 in charitable donations, telling benefactors that their money would help students pay for college and allow schools to receive computers. But One Door for Education did nothing of the sort.

Instead, the donations were funneled into Ms. Brown’s personal bank accounts and toward extravagant items. About $330,000 of the charity’s donations paid for events that included a Florida golf tournament, professional football games and a luxury stadium box for a Beyoncé concert.

“Ms. Brown leveraged the authority of her office and the relationships she had cultivated to illegal purpose,” Judge Corrigan said. “She cast aside the very laws that she helped to enact. The rules, she decided, did not apply.”

The One Door for Education charity was run by Ms. Brown, who personally solicited many of the donations; her chief of staff, Elias Simmons, known as Ronnie; and the organization’s president, Carla Wiley. Ms. Wiley started the charity in Virginia in 2011 but raised very little before she recruited Mr. Simmons to help. He brought in Ms. Brown to raise money.

While One Door for Education may have begun as an honest charity, it turned into a slush fund for all three, prosecutors said. Mr. Simmons withdrew $93,536 in cash from A.T.M.s and gave some of the money to Ms. Brown and kept the rest for himself, they said. Ms. Wiley also pocketed $182,730, prosecutors said.

While Ms. Brown pleaded not guilty and went to trial, both Mr. Simmons and Ms. Wiley pleaded guilty and testified against the former representative. The judge also sentenced them on Monday, with Mr. Simmons receiving four years in prison and Ms. Wiley 21 months.

At the hearing, Judge Corrigan noted that Ms. Brown had earned the respect and admiration of many people in her district during her time in Congress and the decade before that in the Florida House of Representatives. But the judge criticized her for showing no contrition for the crimes.

“She cannot be accorded the same sentencing consideration as someone who accepts responsibility for her wrongful action, expresses remorse and promises to make amends,” Judge Corrigan said.

A version of this article appears in print on December 5, 2017, on Page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: Ex-Congresswoman Who Ran Fraudulent Charity Is Sentenced to 5 Years in Prison.

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