Former Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown has been found guilty of getting involved in a fraud by taking money to benefit her personally from a charity that was intended for scholarship funds for poor students.
The jury's decision was given on Thursday after prosecutors accused Brown, 70, of using hundreds of thousands of dollars from the One Door for Education Foundation to fund her lavish lifestyle including extravagant parties, travel, and shopping sprees.
Brown was found guilty on 18 of the 22 counts filed against her, including lying on tax and financial disclosure forms. She pleaded guilty to all charges including fraud.
Brown's former chief of staff, Elia "Ronnie" Simmons, and One Door's president likewise pleaded guilty following their federal indictments for misuse of the charity's funds. They also testified against Brown. Simmons revealed that his former boss ordered him to take cash and checks from One Door's accounts and transfer them into the congresswoman's personal accounts.
Simmons also gave specific details as Brown instructing him on dozens of occasions to take out the maximum $800 from the charity's account from an ATM near his house and deposit hundreds of it in Brown's personal account. He admitted that there were also times, he kept some of the money for himself as well.
Federal prosecutors said Brown and associates working in cahoots with her used said charity to bring in more than $800,000 between 2012 and 2016. The former lawmaker's indictment said the Virginia-based One Door for Education, however, only gave out one scholarship to an unidentified person in Florida worth only $1,200.
Brown in testifying in her own defense claimed she was left in the dark about developments and goings-on with One Door's money. She blamed the huge theft on Simmons. Brown said she left the details of handling the charity's finances to Simmons and other hired staffers. She said she later realized she should have paid more attention to both her personal and professional finances.
Democrat Brown was one of the first three African-Americans elected to Congress from Florida since Reconstruction after she was elected in 1992. Her district, designed to increase African-American representation in Congress include the span from her hometown of Jacksonville to areas of western Orlando and Orange County, including Eatonville and the neighborhood of Pine Hills.
Brown was known for being instrumental in getting millions of dollars in federal money and projects to her district, putting in $377 million worth of earmark requests in 2010. She ranked second then in the state in the total number of requests for funds for her pet projects. She also served as the top Democrat on the congressional railroads subcommittee, being a crucial factor in bringing transportation funds to the area.
She served in Congress for 24 years, but it ended on her being indicted on corruption charges as a result of an ethics investigation in the House of Representatives. She also lost to state Sen.Al Lawson of Tallahassee in the Democratic primary.