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  • Corrine Brown, Chief of State Plead Not Guilty To Fraud and Other Crimes

    Corrine Brown, a Florida U.S. Representative, along with her chief of staff, entered a not guilty plea to several fraud and other federal charges in an unsealed grand jury indictment that involved an investigation that prosecutors claim is a phony charity turned personal slush fund.

    On Friday, both Brown, 69, and Elias “Ronnie” Simmons, 50, made their pleas against the wire and mail fraud, obstruction, conspiracy and filing of false tax returns charges. If found guilty, Brown could face up to 357 years behind bars and about $5 million in fines. If Simmons is found guilty, he could face 355 years in federal prison and be assessed $5 million in fines.

    Brown has been a representative of the area since 1993 and is one of the first three African-Americans elected to Congress for the state since Reconstruction. She is seeking another term in a recently redrawn district. After her indictment, she stepped down as being the House Veterans Affairs Committee senior Democrat.

    The 24-count indictment is the result of an investigation that looked into One Door for Education Foundation, Inc. According to federal prosecutors, it was noted as a way to provide scholarships to poor students but only lined the pockets of Brown and those involved.

    Brown spoke to reporters, surrounded by supporters, after the hearing saying she would be vindicated at trial.

    Both Simmons and Brown posted a $50,000 bail and were told not to travel outside the U.S. They are due back in court July 26 for a status hearing.

    Simmons made no comment after the hearing.

    Carla Wiley, president of One Door, plead guilty earlier this year to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud after she was discovered to have deposited $800,000 into One Door’s account for the last four years. During that time, only one scholarship for $1,000 and $200 was given to students.

    According to Assistant U.S. Attorney General Leslie Caldwell for the Justice Department, said Brown used her position to garner more than $800,000 in donations to a fraudulent charitable organization. Caldwell said it’s this type of corruption that erodes the trust people have in the representative government.

    The indictment said more than $200,000 in the organization’s funds were used to pay for events Brown and others held in her honor such as extravagant receptions at a Washington conference, golf tournament, etc. Some of the money was used to fix Brown’s car and to pay for vacations to Los Angeles, Bahamas, and Miami Beach.

    Some House of Representative money to the tune of $735,000 was given between 2001 and 2016 to a close family member of Simmons and entailed very little work at all. Simmons allegedly took benefit of this.

    According to A. Lee Bentley, a U.S. attorney, no one is above the law in the nation. The attorney said all forms of corruption would be found and prosecuted.
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