U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida and her chief of staff have been charged with multiple fraud and other federal offenses in a grand jury indictment unsealed Friday after a federal investigation into a fraudulent charity with ties to the congresswoman.
Brown, a 69-year-old Democrat, was to appear later Friday in Jacksonville federal court on charges of mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, obstruction and filing of false tax returns. She has represented a Jacksonville-based congressional district since 1993 — one of the first three African-Americans elected to Congress from Florida since Reconstruction— and is seeking re-election in a newly redrawn district.
The indictment comes after an investigation into the charity One Door for Education Foundation Inc., which federal prosecutors say was purported to give scholarships to poor students but instead filled the coffers of Brown and her associates.
Also charged in the 24-count indictment was Elias “Ronnie” Simmons, 50, of Laurel, Maryland, who has served as Brown’s chief of staff since 1993.
Earlier this year, One Door President Carla Wiley pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud after it was determined that she had deposited $800,000 into the foundation’s account over four years. Over that time, federal prosecutors say the foundation gave one scholarship for $1,000 and $200 to an unidentified person in Florida, while Wiley transferred herself tens of thousands of dollars.
“Congresswoman Brown and her chief of staff are alleged to have used the congresswoman’s official position to solicit over $800,000 in donations to a supposed charitable organization, only to use that organization as a personal slush fund,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Leslie Caldwell, chief of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said in a statement.
“Corruption erodes the public’s trust in our entire system of representative government,” Caldwell added.
The indictment says that Brown, Simmons and Wiley “used the vast majority” of One Door donations for their personal and professional benefit, including tens of thousands of dollars in cash deposits that Simmons made to Brown’s personal bank accounts.