Ex-Florida congresswoman Corrine Brown gets 5 years in prison

12-term US representative convicted on 18 counts in federal corruption case

By Jim Piggott - Reporter , Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter , Eric Wallace - Senior Producer, I-TEAM

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown was sentenced Monday to five years in federal prison for her role in a corruption conspiracy that involved stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from a fake education charity for needy children.

Brown, 71, was allowed to go home and will be sent a letter in the mail telling her where and when to voluntarily report for her sentence. That date will be no sooner than Jan. 8.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan called it a sad day for everyone as he read the 12-term Florida Democrat's sentence.

"This is a sad day for the community, and I was impressed by all the outpouring of support for you," Corrigan said, referring to about 100 letters he said he received before the sentencing hearing. "That's a testament to what you did. That's what makes it all the more tragic and more sad. All I can do is to wish you well and your family well."

He agreed to recommend Brown serve her time in a prison as close to Jacksonville as possible, so so she can be near her family.

Brown's attorney, James Smith, said after the sentence was announced that Brown will be filing an appeal within the next two weeks and that she will ask for a bond pending appeal, which would allow her to remain out of prison until her appeal has been exhausted.

"She hasn't given up hope. She intends to continue to fight," Smith said outside the federal courthouse. "This court does not have the last word considering the congresswoman's fate."

Brown will also serve three years of supervised release and must pay $250 a month in restitution once she's released from prison.

READ: Sentencing order for Brown, co-conspirators 

Former Brown chief of staff Ronnie Simmons and his ex-girlfriend, Carla Wiley, both of whom cooperated in the case against the longtime lawmaker, were also sentenced to prison time during Monday's hearing.

Wiley, who founded the bogus One Door for Education charity at the center of the corruption case, was given 21 months in prison with three years of supervised release. Simmons was sentenced to four years in prison with three years of supervised release.

Both will have to pay $250 a month in restitution. They are also being allowed to voluntarily report in January for their prison terms.

Both Simmons and Wiley pleaded guilty and testified against Brown. Prosecutors sought lighter sentences for them, citing their cooperation.

For the last decade Brown was at the center of a scheme that collected hundreds of thousands of dollars for One Door for Education, an unregistered charity -- funds that were used instead to pad a lavish lifestyle that far exceeded the lawmaker's means.

The legal saga began 17 months ago with the 12-term congresswoman's career-ending indictment.

A court officer recommended Brown serve up to nine years in prison for the fraud, but Corrigan settled on a sentence of five years.

Corrigan said during the sentencing hearing that he vowed to impose a sufficient sentence that was not greater than necessary. 

In a blistering memo last month, prosecutors called for a stiff sentence. They cited Brown's abuse of position and lack of contrition, noting her claims that she is the victim of a racially motivated prosecution.

“After 21 years on the bench, I say with assurance that, faced with the same evidence of fraud and tax crimes that exists here, the FBI, the IRS, and the United States Attorney would have investigated and prosecuted regardless of the individual’s race," Corrigan wrote in his sentencing order.

SKETCHES: A look inside federal courtroom as sentences read

Brown's defense attorneys had lobbied for probation, pointing to her years of service, age and health, among other factors. 

In his sentencing order, Corrigan explained that he "seriously considered" honoring that request, but that in the end he didn't think that would be appropriate for her crimes.

"A sentence of probation for a member of Congress convicted of 18 counts involving mail, wire, and tax fraud would not be sufficient," Corrigan wrote. "While I do not relish the prospect of incarcerating Ms. Brown at her relatively advanced age, she has given the court no other option because she chose to commit these serious crimes at a relatively advanced age.”

At its core, the case was focused on One Door, an unregistered charity that raised $833,000 over a four-year stretch during which only $1,200 went to scholarships for students. In fact, most of that money benefited Brown personally. 

The rest paid for things such as events and travel for Brown and those in her orbit, as well as dozens of cash deposits to her personal bank account and a range of frivolous expenses, like nearly $14,000 for Beyonce tickets and $15,000 for a suite at a Jaguars-Redskins game.

A jury found Brown guilty in May of 18 counts of federal mail, wire and tax fraud for soliciting donations for the fake charity, using that charity as a “slush fund” for herself and her associates, and lying on her taxes and congressional disclosure forms.

In Simmons testimony in the Brown case, he acknowledged taking money as well, but kept little for himself. Wiley, One Door's founder, stole more than $100,000.

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