70ºF

Brown's longtime chief of staff beat fiancée 8 years ago

Ronnie Simmons, Corrine Brown face federal fraud, other charges

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Ronnie Simmons, a key player in Rep. Corrine Brown's two decades in Congress, and co-defendant in 24 federal charges connected to an unregistered charity, pleaded guilty eight years ago to beating his fiancée at the time.

Federal prosecutors now say Simmons funneled the money from a questionable Virginia charity into an $800,000 slush fund that was used by himself, Brown and the woman who ran the charity. 

In February 2008, Geraldine Centeno told sheriff's deputies in Lauren, Maryland, that during an argument with Simmons, he dragged her by her hair and punched her. According to the domestic violence report from the Anne Arundel County Police Department, there was a large rip in Centeno's shirt. She told deputies she didn't want to say any more because she "didn't want Mr. Simmons to go to jail," the report said.

Rescue personnel were called, and the 35-year-old victim was taken to Laurel Regional Medical Center.  At the hospital, Centeno refused to give a written statement and refused to have photos taken of her injuries.

Asked about the situation, Simmons told an officer he did not know why paramedics were called. 

In the report, deputies wrote there was blood spatter on the carpet in the hall where the assault occurred, and there was a bottle of a Shout next to the carpet. Deputies noted it appeared someone had tried to clean up the blood.

Based on evidence at the scene, Simmons was arrested.

Elias Rutledge "Ronnie" Simmons later pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and was sentenced to time served (two days in jail) and two years of probation. He was also fined $500 and ordered to complete an anger management course and “all other counseling recommended.”

Reached Tuesday, Centeno called the abuse traumatic.

"It was the worst time of my life," Centeno said. "He threw me down the steps. He dragged me around."

Simmons has worked as Brown's chief of staff since she first went to Washington in 1993. He lives in Laurel, Maryland, and works in Brown's Washington office.

Based on court records, it appears there was a second assault case against Simmons that same year.

The I-TEAM also found two peace orders taken out against Simmons in 2009 in Maryland Civil Court. A peace order is similar to Florida's protective order or restraining order.

Simmons and his attorney have not returned requests for comment, but Centeno had plenty to say when News4Jax reached her. 

Centeno said Brown had more of a mother-son relationship with Simmons than an employer-employee relationship. She said that while she was living with Simmons, they appeared to be living beyond their means, with several expensive cars, designer clothes and money left over for the finer things.

She said the accusations against Simmons and Brown helped her make sense of what was happening. In fact, she was drawing some of the same conclusions that the federal government did after their investigation.

photo

"I had the impression that he was the front man; that he ran everything behind the scenes," Centeno said. "I always thought he would dig his own grave, and he has."

Centeno believes that by the time the case is over, Brown and Simmons will no longer be on the same team.

"I think they will probably turn their back on each other at some point," Centeno said.

Centeno not only shared her thoughts with News4Jax, but also posted the coverage about Simmons' arrest on her Facebook page, saying she was glad the truth was finally getting out.

"It's therapeutic," Centeno posted about the coverage of Simmons' past. "I hid it for a long time. He played a large role in my story of life. I had a half of a second of sympathy, but it faded quickly."


About the Authors: