Former U.S. congresswoman Corrine Brown has been convicted of fraudulently soliciting hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarship donations that, prosecutors say, she used for a personal “slush fund.”
Brown, a Florida Democrat who served for more than two decades in the U.S. House of Representatives, was convicted Thursday by a federal jury in Jacksonville, Fla., for her role in a scheme soliciting more than $800,000 in donations through the charity One Door for Education Foundation, according to the Justice Department. The 70-year-old Brown and others told donors that the money would be used for college scholarships, among other things, federal prosecutors said.
“Former Congresswoman Corrine Brown violated the public trust, the honor of her position, and the integrity of the American system of government when she abused one of the most powerful positions in the nation for her own personal gain,” Acting Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kenneth Blanco said in a statement. “She shamefully deprived needy children of hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have helped with their education and improved their opportunities for advancement, and she lied to the IRS and the American public about secret cash deposits into her personal bank accounts.”
As The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips reported, Brown’s fundraising tactics had come into question in the past:
In 1998, the House Ethics Committee announced they were questioning her on a range of ethics concerns, including a $10,000 check she received from a Baptist leader in legal trouble and a $50,000 car her daughter received from a Gambian millionaire, who was an associate of Brown’s facing jail time in Florida on bribery charges. The congressional investigation decided it did not have enough evidence to prove she did anything wrong, but it did say she acted with poor judgment in having her daughter accept the car.
Also in 1998, Brown’s campaign treasurer quit after he found his name had been forged on her campaign reports.
Evidence showed that from 2012 to 2016, Brown, her former chief of staff, Elias “Ronnie” Simmons, and Carla Wiley, president of the fraudulent charity, reached out to people and businesses Brown knew from her position in Congress for donations. The scholarship donations were then used mostly for Brown’s personal and professional interests, including “tens of thousands of dollars in cash deposits that Simmons made to Brown’s personal bank accounts,” according to the Justice Department.
The Justice Department said that more than $300,000 in donations was used to pay for events such a well-known golf tournament in Florida and lavish receptions, as well as box seats to a concert and a professional football game while in D.C. In fact, only $1,200 in donations was used for scholarships for college students, according to the Justice Department.
Evidence also showed that Brown “failed to disclose, among other things, the reportable income she received from One Door and claimed deductions on her tax returns based on false statements that she made certain donations to One Door, as well as to local churches and nonprofit organizations in the Jacksonville area,” according to the Justice Department.
Brown was indicted on nearly two dozen counts, including falsifying her financial disclosure forms and filing fake tax returns. She pleaded not guilty. At trial, Brown told the jury she was not aware of the fraud that was taking place and passed the blame to her chief of staff, according to the Associated Press. Brown was convicted on 18 of the initial counts.
Her co-conspirators have both pleaded guilty to charges.
“Former Congresswoman Brown chose greed and personal gain over the sacred trust given to her by the community that she served for many years,” acting U.S. attorney W. Stephen Muldrow said in a statement.
After her conviction Thursday, Brown maintained her innocence in a statement from her attorney to the New York Times. “I did not commit these crimes, and I intend to file a motion for a new trial,” she said in the statement, according to the Times. “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.”
Brown’s attorney, James Smith, told reporters that Brown plans to file a motion for a new trial, according to the Associated Press. “She’s strong and fighting for her innocence,” Smith said, according to AP.
Brown’s sentencing date has not yet been set.