Jacksonville, FL - She was the first to plead guilty in connection to the case, and now, she’s the first of the alleged co-conspirators to take the stand.
Carla Wiley was the President of One Door For Education- a group to honor Wiley’s mother, Amy Anderson, through scholarships and other opportunities for students pursuing a future in the education field. Wiley is one of three people who have been accused of representing that group as a non-profit and soliciting more than $800,000 in donations over several years, but allegedly using the money for personal expenses, travel, and events instead. The other two alleged co-conspirators are now-former Congresswoman Corrine Brown and her Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons, who was dating Wiley.
Both Wiley and Simmons have already pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government, as Brown now stands trial.
Wiley says the day before the FBI visited her office for their initial interview in January 2016, she got a call from Brown, Simmons, and Brown’s daughter Shantrel, where they told Wiley she did not need to speak with the FBI. She says the others on the call had already been interviewed by the FBI, and Brown did not seem surprised that investigators were looking in to One Door. Wiley says the FBI was at her office for about two hours the next day, and she lied about One Door’s charitable activity and how the money was being spent.
“The main reason was fear. I felt like if I lied and had them leave the office, it was all going to go away,” Wiley said.
She says she then got a lawyer, and soon agreed to cooperate with the government.
Wiley says the fraud case stems from 2012, when she and Simmons were boating. The two were dating at the time and had actually been in a relationship about five or six years prior. She says Simmons told her he needed a non-profit to host an event for Brown, so she offered up One Door. She gave Simmons the checks and debit card for One Door, believing that he would manage the funds “correctly”. After she gave up the checks and debit card, she says she could only access the bank account online or in person at the bank.
She told the court Simmons would frequently forge her name on checks from One Door. In fact, of the two scholarships that were ever given by One Door, Wiley says the first- a $1,000 check from her personal account, was legitimate. The second check- for $200 from the One Door account- was signed by Wiley, but Wiley says it was in Simmons’ handwriting and she hadn’t been aware of the check until it was shown to her as the result of this investigation.
Once she handed over the checks and debit card, Wiley says Simmons essentially took control of the organization- although she maintained the title of President. She says she would only communicate with donors when Simmons told her to, and that Simmons and Brown did all of the fundraising. While One Door had a Board- including a Treasurer- Wiley says they weren’t active.
In fact, Wiley says she at one point told Simmons that the group’s Treasurer was getting suspicious, in the hopes that it would change how the account was being used. She admitted that was a lie, and the Treasurer had not said anything to her.
She told the court that she did not let Simmons or Brown know that she was transferring One Door money in to her own account online to use for personal expenses, including car payments for her and her son. She also said she didn’t initially realize Simmons was also allegedly funneling money to his own use.
After a special golf tournament hosted by One Door in 2013, Wiley says she realized lots of money was coming in to the group, but scholarships weren’t going out. Those suspicions were confirmed when she and Simmons went on a romantic trip to South Florida, including staying at a luxury hotel, and Wiley says she thought Simmons had treated her to the trip. She later learned the One Door account was used to pay the expenses.
Of the big events that allegedly used One Door funding- including a golf tournament, Jaguars game, and Beyonce concert luxury suite- Wiley says she did not see any promotion or discussion of scholarship opportunities and charitable giving.
Brown’s defense is putting all of the blame for what happened on Simmons and Wiley. Brown’s attorney, James Smith III, says Brown became increasingly dependent on Simmons to handle her travel, finances, and more, and Simmons betrayed that trust.
Smith also worked to cast doubt on Wiley’s credibility, by showing that she was in charge of registering One Door as a non-profit, and that even though she knew it wasn’t registered, she would still solicit donations.
It’s not something the prosecution tried to hide.
“Did you lie to get donations to One Door For Education?” asked Justice Department Public Integrity Section Deputy Chief Eric Olshan.
“Yes,” Wiley responded.
“Did you use One Door for Education money for your own benefit?” from Olshan.
“Yes,” Wiley answered again.
GALLERY: One Door For Education’s website
Wiley was the first to plead guilty back in March 2016. Brown and Simmons were indicted in July 2016.
She was charged by information for one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud- a count to which she pleaded guilty. She could face up to twenty years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but is hoping for leniency as a result of her cooperation with the government. While there is no promise of any sentencing recommendation that will result from the plea deal, the defense questioned Wiley to show prosecutors don’t make any recommendation until Wiley’s testimony is done.
“You’re scare of going to prison, right?” asked Brown’s defense James Smith III.
“Yes,” Wiley said.
Simmons is expected to testify later this week. He also agreed to cooperate with prosecutors as part of his plea agreement. He was indicted on 19 charges and pleaded guilty to two- conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and theft of government funds. He could be sentenced to twenty years in prison for the conspiracy charge and ten years for the theft charge.
During the jury selection process, the panel was told to carefully consider the testimony of anyone who accepted a plea deal, because they are hoping to gain favor with the government. They were also instructed, however, that plea bargaining in itself is an accepted and allowable practice.
Brown is facing 22 charges, including conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, aiding and abetting mail fraud, aiding and abetting wire fraud, scheme to conceal material facts, corrupt endeavor to obstruct and impede the due administration of internal revenue law, and filing false tax returns. If convicted on all counts, she could be sentenced to more than 350 years in prison.
The jury must be unanimous to either convict or acquit Brown on the charges.
WOKV is inside of the courtroom following the latest testimony. Get updates by following our reporter Stephanie Brown on Twitter, and check back at WOKV.com for updates through the day.