Corrine Brown remains defiant as her trial nears

Former congresswoman tells I-TEAM she won't accept plea, wants name cleared

By Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - Weeks before former Congresswoman Corrine Brown is set to go on trial on dozens of federal corruption charges, she said there has been no discussion of a plea agreement, and she wouldn't accept one if it were offered.

"Ain't no conversation," Brown told the I-TEAM.  "The conversation is, 'Drop all of the charges. Clear my name.'"

That position surprises people who don't know Brown.

WATCH: Part 2 of I-TEAM interview with Corrine Brown

"Wherever we go and you come up, everyone says, 'She's going to take a plea, right?' Because no one goes up against the federal government," Brown said. "Oh yeah. I am."

Most of the charges against Brown involve her ties with unlicensed Virginia charity that prosecutors say provided her and her chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, with a personal slush fund.

Following her indictment last summer, Brown lost her bid for re-election after representing Northeast Florida in Congress for 24 hears. Losing this trial could cost her freedom. 

For an hour-long exclusive interview last week in Orlando, News4Jax insisted that no questions would be off-limits, including whether she was guilty of any of the charges against her.

Simmons and his ex-lover, Carla Wiley, who ran the One Door for Education charity, both accepted plea agreements, but Brown and her attorney said the case against her is circumstantial and there's no evidence to prove she had direct knowledge of any fraud. They believe Simmons and Wiley are testifying against her to save themselves.

"It's bull----. That's what it is. Or BS. That's a better word," Brown said.

Corrine Brown remains defiant as she prepares to explain at trial how tens of thousands of dollars meant the One Door for Education charity in and out of her bank accounts without her knowing.

"Never looked at my own transactions," Brown said. "Ronnie ran my office."

She said she trusted the wrong person.

"Someone you groom and love as a son. Maybe I didn't give him enough backbone or he has a sorry attorney," Brown said.

Simmons took a plea deal last month, admitting guilt and agreeing to testify against Brown. Wiley accepted a plea agreement early last year, before Brown was indicted.

So will his former girlfriend, Carla Wiley, she was the director for the one door for education fraudulent nonprofit, and was the first to admit guilt to prosecutors.

"She established a scholarship. She established in her mother's name. Who would do that?" Brown said of Wiley. "I can count the number of times I've ever talked to her on one hand. I'm sorry. She's not anybody I know and I stand by that. I just want to believe it was sloppy bookkeeping, and I don't believe it's a criminal offense."

In Brown's indictment, prosecutors included a flyer for a golf tournament Brown hosted at TPC Sawgrass to benefit One Door for Education. 

"I hosted the outing," Brown said, but insisted that it didn't raise any money.

Asked if it was fraud if she was willing to help a charity that didn't use its money to help people, she answered, "That’s what we will see in court."

Brown’s defense will point out that Wiley began incorporating her charity in 2011; before Brown ever met her. 

If Brown were convicted, she could face up to 357 years in federal prison. She said that's a gamble Brown is willing to take.

"I want my named cleared. I didn't devote 34 years of my life (to public life) to destroy my name. On my tombstone, it will not be 'felon.'"

If she loses, she knows she could die in a federal prison. She said she's not afraid of that.

"No, I'm not," Brown said. "My name is all that you have. My name means something."

Brown said she know knows that federal prosecutors have spent years building the case against her.

"When I found out the federal government sent out over 30 agents over a time period to try to get people to offer me money and other things, what kind of system is that? What kind of system of that?" Brown said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tyson Duva will lead the prosecution team at Brown's trial.

"He will not make his reputation on me," Brown said of Duva. "That's what they're trying to do, recoup his reputation, you know because he lost all those pill mill cases. My attorney doesn't want me to talk about it." 

News4Jax investigated the cases from 2011 that Duva prosecuted. We found two defendants received significant prison time, but five others, including three doctors, were all acquitted.

Brown said she'll take the stand to tell the jury herself the good she did for One Door for Education, facts she believes are being ignored by prosecutors.

"Kids got scholarships from me," Brown said.

Brown disputed reports only one scholarship was awarded.

"I can't wait to get to court, because first of all 22 kids got sent to China, and I haven't seen that anywhere," Brown said.

After decades of public service, Brown has a lot of supporters in the community, but also a lot of people who believe she's like Teflon, that nothing ever sticks to her.

"During time periods like this, you find out who is on your side. You find out who your friends are," Brown said. "I'm not scared. I want 12 people to say I am not guilty, and we are going to expose this criminal justice system."

Brown said she plans to testify at the trial.

"Absolutely! Nobody going to tell my story better than I can tell it. And the truth is the truth."

Brown said she spends three days a week preparing for the trial, and if the jury doesn't rule her way, she wouldn't be afraid to go to prison.

"No, I’m not. I’m ready. I want it over," Brown said. "I believe in the system. I’m going to be tried in a courthouse that I built and named."

Brown said she would not rule out a return to politics, but first she must focus on clearing her name.

"I’ve been to federal prisons all the time. They doing some good things," Brown said. "I don’t plan on being a part of no federal prison. They try to give me 28 prisons in my district (during last year's redistricting). Now they trying to put me in it. I’m not going."

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