Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) and her chief of staff have been indicted on federal corruption and fraud charges related to her role in an allegedly fraudulent charity scheme.
In the 24-count indictment released Friday, Brown and her chief of staff, Elias “Ronnie” Simmons, of Laurel, Md., face charges of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, and filing false tax returns.
The pair are accused of participating in a scheme to solicit more than $800,000 in donations for the One Door for Education scholarship fund that were instead used “for personal and professional benefit,” including the use of luxury boxes at a concert and a football game in the D.C. area, according to the Justice Department. The government alleges that despite this cash haul, One Door only distributed two scholarships totaling $1,200 to cover college expenses.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell said in a statement that Brown and Simmons used the donations as a “personal slush fund.”
“Corruption erodes the public’s trust in our entire system of representative government,” Caldwell said in a statement. “One of the department’s most important responsibilities is to root out corruption at all levels of government and to bring wrongdoers to justice.”
Brown and Simmons pleaded not guilty on Friday in a Jacksonville federal court, according to the Associated Press.
“I am looking forward to my day in court to vindicate myself,” Brown told reporters gathered outside the courthouse, according to First Coast News, WTLV.
A spokesman for Brown did not reply to a request for comment from The Washington Post.
The indictment alleges that Brown, who represents a Jacksonville, Fla.-area district, and Simmons solicited donations from individuals and corporate groups that they said would support One Door, which was supposed to provide college scholarships and money to purchase computer equipment and other educational supplies for schools. However, One Door was not a properly registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and the majority of funds were not used for those programs, according to Justice.
“The indictment alleges that Brown, Simmons and Carla Wiley, the president of One Door, among others, the vast majority of One Door donations for their personal and professional benefit, including tens of thousands of dollars in cash deposits that Simmons made to Brown’s personal bank accounts,” the department said in a release. “In one instance, Simmons is alleged to have deposited $2,100 in One Door funds into Brown’s personal bank account the same day that Brown wrote a check for a similar amount to pay taxes she owed.”
The pair are set to appear before a federal judge in Jacksonville at 1 p.m. Friday.
Earlier this year the House Ethics Committee began a separate official probe into Brown’s actions. That panel is still investigating.