A Florida congresswoman and her chief of staff were indicted Friday for allegedly participating in a fraud scheme while soliciting more than $800,000 in charitable donations for a fraudulent charity. Named in the 24-count indictment along with her chief of staff, Rep. Corrine Brown faces up to 357 years in prison and a $4.8 million fine if convicted of all charges.
“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,” stated Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell. “Corruption erodes the public’s trust in our entire system of representative government.”
Serving as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 1993, Rep. Brown has been accused of engaging in tax obstruction since 2008 according to the indictment. While fabricating charitable donations to local churches and non-profit organizations in the Jacksonville area on her taxes, Brown also allegedly participated in a conspiracy and fraud scheme involving her chief of staff and the president of One Door for Education, a fraudulent charity based in Virginia.
According to court filings, Carla Wiley, the president of One Door, deposited more than $800,000 into the charity’s bank account between 2012 and 2016, which had been solicited by Brown and her chief of staff, Elias “Ronnie” Simmons, along with others working on their behalf. Despite the fact that One Door had received over $800,000 in donations, the organization only offered two scholarships: one for $1,000 and another for $200.
While transferring One Door contributions directly into Brown’s personal bank accounts, Simmons also had a relative who received approximately $735,000 in government salary payments despite performing no known work for the U.S. House of Representatives. According to the indictment, more than $200,000 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 at a Beyonce concert; and use of a luxury box during an NFL game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Washington Redskins.
“Corrupt public officials undermine the integrity of our government and violate the public’s trust,” said Special Agent in Charge Michelle Klimt of the FBI’s Jacksonville Division. “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.”
After Brown was served with a federal subpoena in January, the House Ethics Committee announced two months later that they had begun an investigation into whether Brown was involved in fraudulent activities. On Friday, Brown and Simmons were named in a 24-count indictment including multiple charges of mail and wire fraud, concealing material facts on required financial disclosure forms, theft of government property, obstruction of the due administration of the internal revenue laws, and filing false tax returns.
If convicted on all charges, Brown could face up to 357 years in prison with a $4.8 million fine. Simmons could be sentenced up to 355 years in prison with $4.75 million in fines. A trial date has been scheduled for September 6.
Wiley, the president of One Door, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud on March 3, for her involvement in the charity scheme.