Former Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown of Florida was found guilty of 18 counts of fraud and tax evasion on Thursday. She was acquitted on four of the original 22 counts.
The charges stem from Brown’s financial relationship with the One Door for Education Foundation, which falsely purported to be a charity that granted scholarships to students from low income families. In reality, the One Door for Education Foundation was not a registered 501(c) (3) charitable organization and throughout its existence only awarded two scholarships to two students worth a total $1,200. According to NLPC Chairman Ken Boehm:
“This is another example of a member of Congress using a charity as a conduit for personal gain. We saw it in the case of former Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV) and in the case of Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY). When a politician launches a so-called charity, and his or her political supporters and campaign contributors are the donors, the new entity demands a lot of scrutiny.”
In March of last year, One Door president Carla Wiley pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and admitted to falsely representing One Door as a charity. Prosecutors also found that she, along with her two co-conspirators, had used the Foundation as a personal slush fund for personal expenses and had misrepresented it as a charitable organization. In February 2017, Brown’s former Chief of Staff, Elias “Ronnie” Simmons, pleaded guilty to her role in the scheme.
Brown’s conviction on Thursday established her as the third co-conspirator in the fraudulent charity scheme, using funds from One Door to cover personal expenses. While Brown was a member of Congress, her Chief of Staff deposited $2,100 into the Congresswoman’s personal bank account on the same day that she made a payment to the IRS of $2,056 for taxes she owed. More than $300,000 of the Foundation’s money was used to fund events held in Brown’s honor or for personal expenses, which included a luxury box at a professional football game and a golf tournament held in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. According the Justice Department, Brown also fraudulently claimed deductions on her tax returns for donations to the One Door for Education Foundation, and solicited donations by misleading donors to believe that their money would be used to fund scholarships for poor students.
As NLPC president Peter Flaherty wrote about last year, the twelve term former Congresswoman has a long history of ethics problems. In 1998, the NLPC filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission regarding Ms. Brown’s failure to disclose a $10,000 payment she had received from National Baptist Convention president Henry Lyons. In 2000 the Congresswoman’s daughter Shantrel Brown, then an employee of the Environmental Protection Agency, accepted a $46,000 Lexus from an associate of Gambian businessman Foutanga Dit Babani Sissoko. At the time, Sissoko was serving jail time for bribing a U.S. Customs official in 1996, and the Congresswoman had petitioned then-Attorney General Janet Reno for Sissoko’s early release.
Following Representative Brown’s conviction, Acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow released the following statement:
“Former Congresswoman Brown chose greed and personal gain over the sacred trust given to her by the community that she served for many years. These guilty verdicts underscore our Office’s resolve in holding public officials at all levels of government accountable for their actions. In this case, former Congresswoman Brown stole money that was donated on the false promise of helping further the educational goals of underprivileged children.”
However, despite her conviction, the former Congresswoman has maintained her innocence. Brown released a statement through her attorney, which read in part:
“While I respect the jury’s decision, I disagree with it and I want to make it clear that I maintain my innocence. I did not commit these crimes and I intend to file a motion for a new trial…This fight is not over and as I’m sure you know I will continue to fight to clear my name and restore my reputation.”
Jamie Gregora is NLPC’s Washington Reporter.