JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A judge sentenced former congresswoman and convicted felon Corrine Brown to five years in federal prison Monday morning during a short hearing at the U.S. federal courthouse in downtown Jacksonville.
Judge Tim Corrigan issued the sentence for Brown to serve 60 months, about five years, in federal prison after she was found guilty on 18 counts of corruption.
Brown, who was stone-faced following the sentencing, is also required to pay $62,650.99 in restitution to the IRS. She must also pay a portion of $452,515.87 in restitution to others.
All three defendants will be able to voluntarily surrender to prison sometime after Jan. 8, 2018, Corrigan said. All three defendants will be required to turn over passports.
Corrine Brown turned in her passport on December 6.
Corrigan described the sentencing for the defendants as a "sad chapter and there's no other way to say it."
The former congresswoman’s defense attorney, James Smith, had been trying to convince the judge to sentence Brown to community service and probation.
Reaction in the courtroom to Brown’s sentencing was quiet with little chatter in the overflow courtroom.
Co-conspirators Carla Wiley and Ronnie Simmons also were sentenced Monday at the federal courthouse.
The judge sentenced Carla Wiley, who ran the phony nonprofit organization called One Door for Education, to serve 21 months (one year and nine months) in federal prison for her role in the fraud scheme. She received the least amount of time out of the three defendants involved. She will serve three years of supervised release. She owes $425,515.87 in restitution, which will be paid about $250 a month after she gets out of prison. She must turn in her passport by Dec, 11 so she cannot leave the country. Judge Corrigan called this time in Wiley's life a, "sad chapter and there's no other way to say it."
Judge Corrigan issued a tougher sentence for Ronnie Simmons, Brown’s former chief of staff. He has been sentenced to four years, or 48 months, in federal prison. He will owe $91,621.38 in restitution to the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as more restitution split between the three defendants.
Judge Corrigan's comments on the defendants
Judge Tim Corrigan said Monday during the sentencing that people who held Brown in high regard as their "champion" could not accept that she did anything wrong.
He said that while she was able to achieve great accomplishments in her career and in her time as a congresswoman, she also used her position of power to commit "aggravated" crimes against many. While Brown's attorney, Smith, wanted to get her off on a probation sentencing, Corrigan said he felt a sentence of probation would "not be sufficient."
Corrigan also described the One Door for Education scheme a "criminal enterprise."
Corrigan spoke sternly about Simmons, as well, stating that he engaged in "serious criminal conduct," and also used his sister's illegal compensation for his own personal use, as well. Corrigan said Simmons defrauded the government. The judge decided to vary upward from the suggested advisory range for Simmons, meaning Simmons received more prison time than suggested by prosecutors.
As for Wiley, she initially was considered a "well-regarded person," but she decided to take advantage of the phony charity situation to "feather her own nest."
She engaged in long-term criminal actions, which Corrigan said was "too serious to avoid the ultimate form of punishment in a fraud case."
The Initial Trial
There are a lot of moving parts in the case against Corrine Brown and her co-conspirators.
Carla Wiley first became involved in the fraud scheme when she started dating Ronnie Simmons.
She was president of a charity called One Door for Education, which was never actually registered as a 501(c)(3).
The fake charity received more than $800,000 in four years, with about only $1,200 of it actually going to scholarships for students. That money is now gone.
Simmons was dating Wiley when he told her he needed a nonprofit to financially back a reception for congresswoman Brown in 2012. Wiley offered One Door for Education as an option for that reception.
The charity claimed to give scholarships to poor and underprivileged children seeking the become teachers.
During the initial trial earlier this year, Brown’s defense attorney, James Smith, described her as a hardworking congresswoman who was dedicated to her constituents.
Lead prosecutor A. Tysen Duva argued during the trial that Ronnie Simmons worked under Brown and did her bidding by taking out $800 a day from the One Door for Education bank account and depositing it into Brown’s personal bank account. He did this numerous times, according to Duva and evidence released earlier this month.
The fake charity was essentially used as a slush fund for Corrine Brown’s travels, expenses and shopping, according to the prosecutors.
She used the money put in her bank account to go to Nassau, Bahamas with her daughter, fly to Beverly Hills and shop along Rodeo Drive, and attend a Beyoncé concert, according to court documents and previous reports by First Coast News.
The prosecutors also argued that Brown committed wire fraud, mail fraud and stole money from the government after she lied on tax documents.
Brown had friends in high places, such as former CSX CEO Mike Ward. She would ask them for donation to Open Door for Education and many of them gladly donated, according to previous reports and prosecutor testimony.
Ward, for instance, contributed $35,000 to One Door for Education after learning that the money would go toward providing students with iPads for learning.
Prosecutors also argued that Brown lied about and inflated what she gave in tithes to various churches. The churches came forward in the trial and said the donations claimed to be given by Brown did not match their records, to which Brown said she sometimes gave anonymous donations.
Other legitimate scholarship organizations came forward and said they had never received funds from Brown’s charity.
Meanwhile, Brown’s tax returns claimed she contributed as much as $30,000 – 20 percent to a third of her income, to various charities.
Prosecutors also claimed that without the cash deposits that Ronnie Simmons made to her bank account, she would have overdrawn her account numerous times during 2012 to 2015.
When Brown took the stand, she denied any wrongdoing on her part and said she trusted the wrong people and said they were behind the unlawful acts.
She cried multiple times on the stand and said she was not to blame for what had happened, according to previous reports.
Overall, the prosecution argued that $330,000 of the money garnered through One Door for Education was used for events receptions surrounding the congresswoman. Meanwhile, $70,000 of that money went to cash in the congresswoman’s pocket. Carla Wiley pocked more than $100,000, while Simmons is accused of pocketing thousands of thousands of dollars for himself.
The FBI released a statement regarding the sentencing of Wiley, Simmons and Brown.
"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. 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. Their work is some of the most complex, tedious, and significant work we do for the American public. It is an exceptionally difficult task, but 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 IRS-CI and U.S. Attorney’s Office for their efforts to hold Brown and her associates accountable for their inexcusable actions.”
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