Corrine Brown found guilty on fraud and tax evasion charges

In Nation
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Former U.S. Rep. was found guilty on Thursday of taking money from a charity that was purported to be giving scholarships to poor students.

The jury’s verdict came after prosecutors put on a detailed criminal case that outlined a pattern of fraud by Brown, 70, 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 her congressional financial disclosure forms.

She watched the judge read each verdict with no visible reaction.

Brown, a Democrat who represented the Florida district that included Jacksonville since 1993, had pleaded not guilty to all of the charges, including fraud. She lost re-election last fall after her indictment.

Brown’s former chief of staff, Elias “Ronnie” Simmons, and the charity’s president pleaded guilty after their federal indictments for misusing the charity’s funds, and testified against Brown.

Federal prosecutors said Brown and her associates used a charity called One Door for Education to bring in more than $800,000 between 2012 and 2016. Brown’s indictment said the Virginia-based One Door only gave out one scholarship for $1,200 to an unidentified person in Florida.

Simmons said Brown ordered him to take cash and checks from One Door’s account. On dozens of occasions, Simmons said he was told to take out of One Door’s account the maximum $800 from an ATM near his house and deposit hundreds of it in Brown’s personal account. Sometimes he kept some for himself.

Brown testified in her own defense, saying she was left in the dark about the goings-on with One Door’s money, and blamed the theft on Simmons.

Brown said she left those details to Simmons and other hired staffers, and said she should have paid more attention to her personal and professional finances.

Brown was one of the first three African Americans elected to from Florida since Reconstruction after she was elected in 1992.

Her district, designed to increase African American representation in Congress, stretched from her hometown of Jacksonville to areas of western Orlando and Orange County, including Eatonville and the Pine Hills neighborhood.

Brown helped steer millions of dollars in federal money and projects to her district, putting in $377 million worth of earmark requests in 2010 and – when the practice of putting dollar figures on requests ended the next year – later ranking second in the state in the total number of requests for pet projects.

She also served alongside former Republican U.S. Rep. as the top Democrat on the congressional railroads subcommittee, helping bring transportation funds to the area.

She served in Congress for 24 years until a court-ordered redistricting in 2016 dramatically shifted her district from Orlando to Tallahassee. Despite her lawsuits, and her statements comparing the move to “slavery” by diluting African American voting power, the redistricting stood and she lost to state Sen. Al Lawson of Tallahassee in the Democratic primary.

By then, she had already been indicted on curruption charges following an ethics investigation in the House of Representatives.

Steven Lemongello of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

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