U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Democratic superdelegate and member of Hillary Clinton’s “Florida Leadership Council,” was indicted on corruption charges this week and arraigned in federal court this afternoon.
Two unnamed sources familiar with the case told the Orlando Sentinel that the Jacksonville politician is tied to an unregistered charity called One Door for Education Inc. that’s under investigation by the Department of Justice. The indictment was initially sealed, but was opened Friday morning, WJXT reports.
The investigation stems from a House Committee on Ethics investigation into Brown’s involvement with the charity shortly after One Door’s director pleaded guilty to fraud and agreed to work with prosecutors in March.
From The Sentinel:
Prosecutors say One Door’s director, Carla Wiley, presented her organization as an education charity starting in 2011 but never obtained tax-exempt status or filed state or federal tax returns, even as it solicited about $800,000 in donations.
Between 2012 and 2016, as Wiley withdrew or transferred to her own accounts more than $140,000, the group issued just one scholarship for about $1,000, authorities said.
While documents in Wiley’s case didn’t mention Brown by name, prosecutors alleged that $150,000 in charity funds had been used for events hosted by or in the honor of an unnamed public official, dubbed “Person A.”
Several details in Wiley’s plea suggested Person A is Brown.
For example, prosecutors said Person A hosted a July 2013 golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass to benefit One Door. Records show Brown hosted a tournament for the group’s benefit that month at the same Jacksonville-area golf course.
The Tampa Bay Times in February listed Brown among Florida’s Democratic superdelegates and Clinton’s “Florida Leadership Council.”
News 4 details the charges:
Brown … (was) charged in a 24-count indictment with participating in a conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, multiple counts 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.
Brown blew kisses to her supporters as she strutted into a district court and professed her innocence Friday. U.S. Magistrate Judge James Klindt insisted that all 24 counts against Brown were read out loud, during which Brown appeared to shed tears. The lawmaker faces up to 357 years in prison and a $4.8 million fine if convicted. Her chief of staff, 50-year-old Elias Simmons, faces similar charges with a potential sentence of 355 years in prison and a $4.75 million fine.
Klindt set a trial date for Sept. 6, WJXT reports.
Brown is currently running for reelection in a newly configured district that runs from Jacksonville to Tallahassee and faces two challengers in the state’s Aug. 30 Democratic primary: LaShonda Holloway and Al Lawson.
The winner will take on Republican Glo Smith in November, according to the Sentinel.
A June poll found Brown with a three percentage point lead over Lawson in the primary, the Florida Times-Union reports.
In March, Brown held a press conference to announce she’s “clean” of illegal activity, but did not respond to requests for comment about the indictment Thursday. Brown’s grand jury indictment is sealed, and her attorney refused to discuss the case with First Coast News, but documents in the guilty plea of One Door director Carla Wiley shows “Person A” benefitted personally from their arrangement with the alleged charity.
“The documents described ‘Person A’ as a public official who was often used in promotional materials for the group. Brown’s photo appeared on the website for the group before it was taken down,” according to the news site.
The Times-Union reports that One Door was run out of a single-family home “in an affluent suburb 40 miles northwest of Washington” and solicited donations from political action committees, lobbyists, and foundations with ties to Brown.
“Brown also sought donations for One Door as part of a 2013 golf tournament where sponsorship levels reached as high as $20,000, though it’s unclear how successful Brown’s fundraising push was. Invitations — which included One Door letterhead, the U.S. House of Representatives seal and Brown’s signature — were sent to her supporters and city officials,” according to the news site.
WJXT provided other details from the unsealed indictment on Friday.
“Prosecutors claim Brown, Simmons and One Door’s president, Carla Wiley, used money donated to the charity to buy plane tickets, repair their personal cars and to pay for luxury vacations in the Bahamas, Los Angeles and Miami Beach. The indictment said more than $200,000 from the charity was used to pay for Brown to host a golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, to pay for lavish receptions, a luxury box at a Beyonce concert and a box during when the Jacksonville Jaguars played the Washington Redskins,” according to the news site.
“The tax fraud charges against Brown date back to 2008.”
“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,” said Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell. “Corruption erodes the public’s trust in our entire system of representative government. One of the department’s most important responsibilities is to root out corruption at all levels of government and to bring wrongdoers to justice.”