Former US Representative Corrine Brown, whose initial felony conviction in a tax and charity fraud case was overturned by a federal appeals court, pleaded guilty to tax fraud this week. This was before Brown was to undergo a second trial.
Judge Timothy Corrigan scheduled a hearing for Brown today for her to change her plea. The once-powerful Democrat pleaded not guilty in the past to 18 federal charges, including wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy, and filing fake tax returns.
The 17 other charges against her were dropped as part of her plea deal, and she won’t go back to prison. She will need to pay back $62,000 to the IRS, however.
After the change of plea hearing, Brown told the press that she ‘needed to put this behind us. I wanted to put it behind me and move forward.’
She added that she received calls from friends in Florida who were concerned about her health and going through another trial. Now that won’t happen.
The second trial was set for Sept 12. Her original conviction in 2017 was tossed by the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals because the judge removed a juror improperly during deliberations. The juror said the ‘Holy Spirit’ said to him that Brown was innocent.
Brown, 75, served two years of her five-year sentence before she was released in April 2020 because her age was thought to make it risky for her to catch COVID-19 in prison.
Before the federal fraud case, Brown was the representative of the Jacksonville, Florida, area for 25 years. After a state legislative career, Brown was elected to Congress in 1992. She was one of the first black people to be elected to Congress in Florida since the Reconstruction era.
Brown Used Fake Charity As Slush Fund
Brown was indicted in 2016 on charges that included tax fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy. The next year, she was convicted for using the One Door For Education phony charity to fund a high-living lifestyle.
In 2017, Carla Wiley, founder and president of One Door For Education, testified under oath that the Virginia charity was named for her mother, who was a teacher. It was designed to fund education for the neediest children. But Brown’s chief of staff asked her to use the nonprofit to fund the ex-congresswoman’s fundraisers.
During the first trial, Wiley admitted that the organization paid more than $300,000 for Brown’s campaign events and a Beverly Hills shopping trip. The charity only gave one, $1,000 scholarship to a high school student.
Wiley also said a few months after starting the charity in 2012, she had difficulty raising money. So, she shut down the bank account. But a few weeks after that, she met Brown’s former chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons. He asked her to re-open the account.
Simmons said that he was searching for a nonprofit to host receptions for Brown. She originally set up One Door as a nonprofit, so she was able to help.
Wiley opened another bank account and provided Simmons with the debit card and the nonprofit’s checkbook, even though she was the owner and president. Simmons started writing checks and forging Wiley’s name, which she knew he was doing.
One Door President Lied To The FBI
Wiley admitted during the trial that she took $140,000 from her charity for personal use. She added that she lied to the FBI when they talked to her about One Door in the beginning of 2016.
Wiley said she lied out of fear. “I thought if I lied and got them to leave my office, it would all go away.” That night, she had a four-way call with Brown, Brown’s daughter, and Simmons.
During her cross-examination, Wiley added that Simmons dealt with all logistics involving donors and told her to send more fundraising letters, although she knew he forged her signature.
Wiley said she knew that people giving money thought that One Door was a tax-deductible charity but she knew its nonprofit status was no longer valid. She added that Brown probably knew that One Door had not filed its nonprofit paperwork with the IRS.
The trial revealed that the former chief of staff even paid for a romantic trip with Wiley using funds from the charity.
Also, Von Alexander, a former staffer in Brown’s DC office, told the jury that Brown provided her with blank checks from the charity, as well as those for the Brown For Reelection campaign fund.
Alexander said that Brown told her to fill in amounts in the thousands of dollars, put them in her bank account and write a check to the congresswoman in that amount. Brown said it was her to be reimbursed for several campaign events.
She said that Simmons had her do the same thing. But Alexander also was told to put money into Brown’s bank account and that of her daughter. At that time, Alexander said she felt at the time that she had to do what Brown told her.
Fast-forwarding to 2022, former federal prosecutor Curtis Fallgatter worked with the former congresswoman during the appeal process. He told the press he wasn’t surprised by the most recent developments. Fallgatter said because of the age of the case and the number of issues in the case, including her age, it seemed unlikely they would get a conviction.