I've republished it in full because of the insight it gives into some of the issues I believe the Clintons and friends will be brought to account on.
Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown sentenced to five years in prison
‘Crime born out of entitlement and greed,’ judge says
Former congresswoman Corrine Brown walks out of the Federal Courthouse after being sentenced to 5-years on fraud charges in connection with a charity, One Door for Education. (Bob Mack/Florida Times-Union)
Former congresswoman Corrine Brown walks out of the federal courthouse after being sentenced to 5-years on fraud charges. (Bob Mack, Florida Times-Union)
U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan sentenced ex-U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown on Monday to five years in federal prison for fraud and tax crimes that include raising about $800,000 for a sham charity, a remarkable defrocking of the once-powerful and garrulous Jacksonville Democrat who inspired devotion and vitriol in equal parts throughout her decades in public office.
Brown’s longtime chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, was sentenced to 48 months in prison, and the fake charity’s founder, One Door for Education President Carla Wiley, was sentenced to 21 months.
The trio fractured under the weight of the prolonged federal investigation and trial: Wiley and Simmons were once lovers, and Brown has said she loved Simmons like a son. In court, they were all on different sides.
Brown’s defense lawyer argued at trial the aging congresswoman was the unwitting victim of her charming and manipulative chief of staff.
Corrigan largely rejected that defense and rebuked the actions and motives of the three defendants. All three, he said, were knowing participants in a “shameless” conspiracy to bilk wealthy donors out of money by using a fake charity that purported to help needy kids.
“This was a crime born out of entitlement and greed committed to ensure a lifestyle that was beyond their means,” Corrigan said.
“Ms. Brown was personally responsible for all or nearly all of the $833,000 that flowed into One Door because, without her clout, donors would not have given to One Door. Even if she did not know how all the money was being used, there was never any intent that the bulk of the money would be used for charitable purposes.”
Corrigan said Brown, 71, would report to prison no earlier than Jan. 8 to an as-yet undetermined prison, but allowed her to remain free until then. The Bureau of Prisons will decide the date she must surrender to authorities.
Brown’s attorney, James Smith of Orlando, argued for a probation-only sentence and said Brown would appeal Corrigan’s decision.
An appeal may not keep the 12-term congresswoman from going behind bars, however. Federal rules say Brown should begin serving her time while the appeal is pending unless the judge finds the defense is raising substantial issues that are likely to result in a new trial or a sentence shorter than the time he’ll need to decide the appeal.
Under federal sentencing rules, Brown will have to complete 85 percent of her sentence before being eligible for release. A federal report in March said that the roughly 4,100 convicts released after serving fraud sentences completed about 88 percent of their sentences.
Corrigan made it clear that Brown’s decision to take the stand in her own defense — and to occasionally speak out publicly to criticize the prosecutors — was at best unhelpful to her cause. He decided against finding that she committed perjury on the stand, though he said her testimony was at times “hedging, noncommittal, off-topic and evasive.”
That decision slightly reduced the guidelines Corrigan used to sentence her.
Corrigan criticized as “beyond the pale” some of the remarks Brown made to the media during the run up to her trial, “especially her reprehensible statement implying that the FBI might have been able to prevent the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando if it wasn’t preoccupied with investigating her.”
The judge’s strongest language was saved to describe Brown’s fraud and tax crimes. Corrigan was especially taken aback by an instance in which Brown claimed she had donated money to One Door so she could write off more charitable contributions on her tax forms.
“Brazen barely describes it,” he said.
Brown showed no visible reaction as she was sentenced. The courtroom was packed with many of her supporters, including former Mayor Alvin Brown, City Council members Joyce Morgan and Reggie Brown and Bishop Rudolph McKissick Sr., the pastor emeritus at Bethel Baptist Church.
The often-outspoken Brown climbed into the back seat of a black Mercedes without saying a word, a handful of people cheering her as the car pulled onto Monroe Street.
FALL FROM GRACE
Corrigan said he believed the Democrat used her position in Congress to achieve an “admirable record of service.”
“This is a sad day for everyone,” Corrigan told Brown shortly after sentencing her. “I was impressed with all the outpouring of support for you, and I think it’s a tribute to all the work you’ve done over the years. That’s what makes this all the more tragic.”
That good was not enough to wash out the bad that came to light at her trial, however. Corrigan also said she abused the trust of that office in order carry out a criminal conspiracy.
Corrigan said he believed Brown and Simmons shared an equal amount of culpability in the conspiracy, while Wiley shouldered the least amount.
Still, he noted the three each reaped the benefits of the illegal scheme, which he described as “especially shameless” since they took money that was supposed to provide educational opportunities for poor children and instead used it to bankroll a lavish lifestyle.
That term was based on sentencing guidelines for Brown’s convictions on 18 counts at her May trial. Jurors found her guilty of charges involving wire and mail fraud, conspiracy, concealing income and filing false tax returns.
Thirteen of the counts Brown was convicted of involved her fundraising efforts for One Door for Education, an organization she falsely described as being a tax-exempt nonprofit supporting projects to help children.
Wiley, who at one point dated Simmons, started One Door as a grassroots Virginia scholarship fund in honor of her mother. But the fund, which the Internal Revenue Service never recognized as a charity, was essentially inactive until Simmons suggested using it as a tool to receive — and spend — money Brown’s backers donated for receptions she held during yearly legislative conferences.
Between 2012 and the start of 2016, One Door received about $800,000 in donations, often from wealthy businesspeople who later said Brown personally approached them and told them One Door would use the money for kids’ causes.
In reality, jurors were told during Brown’s trial, only a tiny sliver of the money was spent on real charity, while more than $330,000 went into party-like events like outings to a Beyonce concert, a Jaguars-Redskins game in Washington and the invitational golf tournament One Door sponsored in Brown’s honor at TPC Sawgrass.
Prosecutors reminded Corrigan last month that another $26,860 in cash was moved from One Door’s bank account to Brown’s accounts, sometimes with bank cameras recording Simmons picking up or depositing the money. Simmons also hand-delivered some cash to Brown, prosecutors pointed out.
Simmons was indicted with Brown last year but took a plea deal and testified against his old boss of a quarter century. Wiley pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy before the others were even charged.
Prosecutors’ argument that the fraud had been significant was underscored by their requests for Corrigan to order the three to collectively forfeit more than $650,000 the government labeled as proceeds from the crime.
In addition, under a separate part of the law involving repaying crime victims for their losses, prosecutors asked for Brown and Simmons to be ordered to make restitution payments totaling $452,000 to donors who gave to One Door. They also asked for an order making Brown pay $62,000 in restitution to the IRS for lying on her taxes, and an order for Simmons to pay another $91,000 in restitution for a charge involving him alone creating a ghost employee on Brown’s staff payroll.
“It is incredibly disappointing that an elected official, who took an oath year after year to serve others, would exploit the needs of children and abuse the charitable hearts of constituents to advance her own personal and political agendas, and deliver them with virtually nothing,” said FBI Jacksonville Special Agent in Charge Charles P. Spencer in a prepared statement after sentencing.
If Corrigan’s sentence stands, Brown’s imprisonment will end a tumultuous but significant career in which Brown and two others, all elected in 1992, became the first African-Americans that Florida sent to Congress since the 19th century.
Both in Congress and in Florida’s Legislature for a decade before then, Brown seemed to relish a role as an advocate for poor and disenfranchised people. She also enjoyed touting herself as a politician who brought political bacon home to Jacksonville in the form of funding for big highway projects and important public buildings, including the federal courthouse where she was sentenced.
She inspired devotion in her supporters, and acrimony in her opponents. More often than not, she got the last laugh: Republicans had all but given up running opponents against her.
Her 24 years in Congress only ended after she was indicted, and Brown had pushed back hard against the idea that the criminal case would define her legacy.
“On my tombstone it will not say ‘felon, guilty,’” Brown said during an interview with Times-Union news partner First Coast News in April.
Corrigan didn’t mince words in describing Brown’s behavior.
“Ms. Brown leveraged the authority of her office and the relationships she had cultivated to illegal purpose,” he said. “In the process she cast aside the very laws that she helped to enact. The rules, she decided, did not apply to her.”