Brandon Larrabee, News 4 Jax, May 12, 2017
Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown could spend the rest of her life in prison after being found guilty of taking money from a charity that was purported to be giving scholarships to poor students.
The former Democratic congresswoman was convicted Thursday on 18 counts in a federal corruption trial, the latest chapter in a stunning fall for a longtime Jacksonville political institution.
Brown, who was defeated for re-election last year after 24 years in the U.S. House, was found guilty on all but four counts for her part in a scheme that used sham education charity One Door for Education to finance personal expenses and events. U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Corrigan could hold a sentencing hearing for Brown, 70, within 90 days.
“Former Congresswoman Corrine Brown violated the public trust, the honor of her position, and the integrity of the American system of government when she abused one of the most powerful positions in the nation for her own personal gain,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco said in a statement issued after the ruling. “She shamefully deprived needy children of hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have helped with their education and improved their opportunities for advancement, and she lied to the IRS and the American public about secret cash deposits into her personal bank accounts.”
Brown’s attorney, James Smith, told reporters outside the Jacksonville courtroom that Brown would ask for a new trial, though Smith declined to say on what grounds.
“She wants to let her supporters know that she is still strong and resolute,” Smith said. “She still maintains her innocence, and she thanks everyone for their prayers and their support.”
Brown was found guilty of counts charging her with conspiracy, concealing material facts on required financial disclosure forms, filing false tax returns and related charges.
The Thursday verdict came after prosecutors outlined a pattern of fraud by Brown and her top aide that included using hundreds of thousands of dollars from One Door for lavish parties, trips and shopping excursions.
According to the government, Brown — along with former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons and Carla Wiley, both of whom pleaded guilty — used One Door at least in part to finance their own expenses while working with other people to solicit more than $800,000 for the charity.
Brown left the courtroom quietly, with her head hanging slightly, a contrast to the flamboyant and often bombastic style she used for years in confrontations with political opponents and the media.
She declined to comment as she left the federal courthouse with supporters shouting that they loved her as she piled into a car with her entourage and pulled away. She later released the following statement:
While I respect the jury’s decision, I disagree with it, and I want to make it clear that I maintain my innocence. I did not commit these crimes, and I intend to file a motion for a new trial. I will continue to stand on my record of decades of faithful service to this community and the nation. I have a long record of charitable service to the community and that will continue even during this process. I want to thank my family and friends for their prayers and support during this difficult time. I ask that you continue to pray for and support me. This fight is not over and as I’m sure you know, I will continue to fight to clear my name and restore my reputation.”
Brown’s media silence was unusual, as she has often been a verbal pugilist, comparing an attempt to redraw her district to slavery and rhetorically asking reporters who inquired about the criminal charges whether they were pedophiles, as a way to point out that the allegations weren’t yet proven.
But the 12-term, Jacksonville-based congresswoman was also a master of constituent services, using “Corrine Delivers” as a slogan to tout her ability to bring home projects and services to the voters who elected her. That ability helped her cultivate a political base that seemed unassailable.
If the conviction holds, Brown faces up to 277 years in prison and the possibility of paying restitution. She could also lose her Congressional pension, which insiders said would have likely been in the six-figures.