Jacksonville, FL — Almost ten months after she was first indicted on twenty-two federal charges, now-former Congresswoman Corrine Brown is officially going on trial.
Opening statements are Wednesday afternoon, following more than two days of vetting 95 prospective jurors to seat a twelve person jury with two alternates. With the estimated three week proceeding getting underway, WOKV is recapping how things got to this point.
Questions started circulating in January 2016, when Brown was served a federal subpoena, but the situation started coming to head in March 2016, when Carla Wiley pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and agreed to cooperate with the prosecution as part of her plea agreement. Wiley was the head of "One Door For Education", and the information filed against her in federal court says she and two others- one of who was a public official- represented that group as a charity to solicit and collect more than $800,000 in donations.
In reality, the US Attorney’s Office says One Door was never registered as a non-profit, and the donations were used instead for the personal expenses of the three co-conspirators and a few others.
In July 2016, Brown and her Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons were jointly indicted- confirming them as Wiley's alleged co-conspirators. In February 2017, Simmons pleaded guilty to two of the 19 charges he faced and also agreed to cooperate with the prosecution.
Federal court records say the trio used Brown’s position as a Congresswoman to aid their efforts to raise money for One Door. Simmons’ plea deal says Brown would often solicit the donations and then have Simmons recap and follow up with the donor. The deal also says Brown would frequently ask Simmons to have Wiley check the balance of the One Door account.
The US Attorney’s Office says there are tens of thousands of dollars that were withdrawn from the One Door account in ATMs where the city where Simmons lived, and then deposited in Brown’s account. About $140,000 was also allegedly transferred to Wiley’s account from One Door, and Simmons allegedly benefited from tens of thousands of dollars in checks as well.
Prosecutors say the money would go toward car repairs, travel and lodging, events hosted by Brown or held in Brown’s honor, among other things. Some of those events allegedly funded by One Door money included a golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass, a fundraiser in a luxury box at a Beyonce concert, a fundraiser in a luxury box at a Jaguars-Redskins NFL game in DC, and parties at an annual conference in DC. Court filings from prosecutors say the fundraisers and events did not actually raise any money or otherwise benefit any charity.
Throughout the time in question, prosecutors say there was only ever two scholarships paid by One Door- one for $1,000 to a person in Virginia in February 2013, and one for $200 to a person in Florida in June 2015.
Brown served in the House of Representatives for more than two decades, before losing a primary election in August 2016. She said then that the time and resources she had to dedicate to the federal case against her were a factor in her ability to focus on the election. She had also faced a newly re-drawn district that stretched from Jacksonville to the west, after her prior district which stretched from Jacksonville to Orlando was thrown out because of gerrymandering.
Before she was voted out of office, Brown also faced an investigation by the House Committee on Ethics, which formed an Investigative Subcommittee to look in to these allegations. That investigation had been put on hold, however, pending the federal law enforcement probe.
If convicted on all charges, Brown could get more than 350 years in prison. A jury must be unanimous to convict. She’s specifically charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, seven counts of aiding and abetting mail fraud, nine counts of aiding and abetting wire fraud, one count of scheme to conceal material facts, one count of corrupt endeavor to obstruct or impede the due administration of internal revenue law, and three counts of filing a false tax return.
The later charges against Brown deal with claims by the US Attorney’s Office that Brown underreported income she received from One Door and overreported the charitable contributions she was making.
Wiley- the first to plead- admitted to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She could be sentenced to 20 years in prison. Simmons pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and one count of theft of government funds. He could get 20 years in prison for the conspiracy count, and 10 years for the theft.
Simmons faced the theft of government funds charge separate from Brown. He’s accused of helping a relative- who is a teacher living in Jacksonville- get a job with the House of Representatives an earning some $735,000 over about 15 years while doing little to no work. Simmons allegedly benefited about $80,000 from the revenue he helped his relative secure.
The jury is being specifically instructed to carefully consider the testimony of those who have taken plea deals- Simmon and Wiley- to consider that there testimony could be incentivized by the potential to receive a lighter penalty. They are also, however, being told not to negatively view a person solely for having taken a plea deal.
WOKV is in the courtroom as these proceedings continue. Our reporter Stephanie Brown will have updates on Twitter during court recesses and new stories posted frequently to WOKV.com.