Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown was sentenced Monday to five years in federal prison for fraud and tax crimes that included raising about $800,000 for a sham charity.
Brown’s longtime chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, was sentenced to 48 months in prison, and the charity’s founder, One Door for Education President Carla Wiley, was sentenced to 21 months.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan said he believed Brown used her position in Congress to achieve an “admirable record of service.” However, he also said she abused the trust of that office in order carry out a criminal conspiracy.
“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.”
In a long statement read before announcing the sentences, 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.
“This was a crime born out of entitlement and greed committed to ensure a lifestyle that was beyond their means,” Corrigan said. “Just think of the good that could have been done with that money if it would have been used for its intended purpose.”
Corrigan ordered Brown to report to prison no earlier than Jan. 8 to an as-yet undetermined prison, but allowed her to remain free until then.
Brown’s attorney, James Smith of Orlando, argued for probation and said Brown would appeal the sentence.
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.
Prosecutors asked Corrigan for at least five years in prison during a sentencing hearing held last month.
A pre-sentencing report from courthouse staff, which the judge isn’t required to follow, recommended a prison term between seven years, three months and nine years.
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.
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SOURCE: Florida Times-Union, Christopher Hong and Steve Patterson