Former U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown and Two Others Sentenced to Prison for Fraud Scheme Involving Bogus Non-Profit Scholarship Charity
Former U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown was sentenced to five years in prison today in federal court in Jacksonville, Florida for her role in a conspiracy and fraud scheme involving a sham scholarship charity.
Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow of the Middle District of Florida, Special Agent in Charge Charles P. Spencer of the FBI’s Jacksonville, Florida Division and Chief Don Fort of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) made the announcement.
“Corrine Brown abused her position as a Member of Congress by defrauding charitable donors who wanted to help underprivileged young men and women receive a quality education,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Cronan. “Instead of helping those deserving students, Brown used the contributions she solicited to finance a personal slush fund to support her lavish lifestyle. The Criminal Division is committed to helping root out such fraud wherever we find it.”
“I am proud of the exceptional work of the special agents, analysts and support personnel who spent countless hours following the money trail in this case,” said Special Agent in Charge Spencer. “Their work is some of the most complex, tedious, and significant work we do for the American public. Rooting out public corruption is a priority for which the FBI will continue to dedicate the resources necessary to investigate, because the impact on everyday people is real. We thank our law enforcement partners at the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, IRS-CI and U.S. Attorney’s Office for their efforts to hold Brown and her associates accountable for their inexcusable actions.”
“For years Corrine Brown banked on the slogan ‘Corrine Delivers’,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Shawn Batsch of IRS-CI. “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. She also let them down by selfishly neglecting her duty to pay an honest tax.”
U.S. District Court Judge Timothy J. Corrigan sentenced Brown to serve 60 months in prison; Brown’s long-time Chief of Staff Elias “Ronnie” Simmons to serve 48 months in prison; and Carla Wiley, the president of the fraudulent charity, to serve 21 months in prison.
Brown, 71, of Jacksonville, was convicted by a federal jury on May 11, 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.
Brown’s co-conspirators — Simmons, 51, of Laurel, Maryland and Wiley, 55, of Leesburg, Virginia — previously pleaded guilty to their roles in the education charity scheme on Feb. 8, and March 3, 2016, respectively. Brown and Wiley were ordered by Judge Corrigan to forfeit $654,292.39, and Simmons was ordered to forfeit $727,964.90. All three defendants were ordered to pay total restitution of $452,515.87 to victims of the fraud scheme. Brown was ordered to pay an additional $62,650.99 in restitution to the IRS, and Simmons was ordered to pay an additional $91,621.38 in restitution to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Evidence at trial showed that between late 2012 and early 2016, Brown, Simmons and Wiley participated in a conspiracy and fraud scheme involving One Door for Education – Amy Anderson Scholarship Fund (One Door) in which the defendants and others acting on their behalf solicited more than $800,000 in charitable donations based on false representations that the donations would be used for college scholarships and school computer drives, among other charitable causes. Testimony by One Door donors established that Brown and her coconspirators solicited donations from individuals and corporate entities that Brown knew by virtue of her position in the U.S. House of Representatives. Many of the donors were led to believe that One Door was a properly registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, when, in fact, it was not.
Contrary to Brown’s representations, Brown, Simmons, Wiley and others 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, according to trial evidence. In one instance, Simmons deposited $2,100 of One Door funds into Brown’s personal bank account the same day that Brown paid $2,057 to the IRS for taxes she owed. In another instance, Brown and a close relative used the proceeds of a $3,000 One Door check referencing “children summer camps” in the memo line for their personal benefit. Likewise, trial evidence showed Brown and Simmons used the outside consulting company of one of Brown’s employees to funnel One Door funds to Brown and others for their personal use.
Trial evidence also showed that more than $300,000 in One Door funds were used to pay for events hosted by Brown or held in her honor, including a golf tournament in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida; lavish receptions during an annual conference in Washington, D.C.; the use of a luxury box during a Beyoncé concert in Washington, D.C.; and the use of a luxury box during an NFL game in the Washington, D.C., area. According to trial evidence, despite raising over $800,000 in donations, One Door was associated with only two scholarships totaling $1,200 that were awarded to students to cover expenses related to attending a college or university.
Additionally, trial evidence established that Brown engaged in a scheme to conceal reportable income she received from One Door, and from other sources, on annual financial disclosure forms she was required to file with the U.S. House of Representatives. Evidence at trial further showed that Brown failed to report on her personal tax returns for tax years 2009 through 2014 income derived from over $160,000 in cash deposited into her bank accounts, and claimed false deductions for purported charitable donations to One Door, as well as to local churches and non-profit organizations in the Jacksonville area, that Brown never made.
As part of his earlier guilty plea, Simmons separately admitted that he misused his position as Brown’s chief of staff to obtain congressional employment for a close relative, who received over $735,000 in government salary payments between 2001 and early 2016 despite performing no known work for the U.S. House of Representatives. Between 2009 and late 2015, Simmons admitted that he diverted over $80,000 of the relative’s government salary for his personal benefit, including through transfers to his personal bank accounts, payments on his personal credit cards and loan payments on his boat.
The FBI and IRS-CI investigated the case. Former Deputy Chief Eric G. Olshan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys A. Tysen Duva and Michael J. Coolican of the Middle District of Florida prosecuted the case.