Prosecutors: 'Charity' paid $330,000 for lavish events, trips, even car repairs

Ex-Congresswoman Corrine Brown accused of living large off charity funds

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The second day of testimony in the federal case against Corrine Brown provided more evidence of how the former congresswoman diverted a large part of the $883,000 she helped raise for a "bogus charity" to finance her lavish lifestyle.

Brown, 70, has pleaded not guilty to 22 fraud, conspiracy and tax charges. Prosecutors have laid out an expansive case in U.S. District Court, saying that $70,000 was funneled from One Door for Education to her personal bank accounts.

Federal prosecutors maintain that Brown and her associates used One Door funds on lavish events and trips between 2012 and 2016. They said much of that money was used for lavish trips, $13,582 for tickets to a Beyoncé concert, $15,000 for tickets to a Washington Redskins-Jacksonville Jaguars game, $55,594 for a golf tournament/fundraiser at TPC Sawgrass, shopping excursions in Beverly Hills and other personal expenses.

The government maintains that only $10,000 of One Door's funds were spent on education or charitable activities.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tysen Duva said that evidence will show that more than $140,000 in cash was deposited into Brown's account that didn't come from her salary or retirement income. 

During its opening statement, Brown's defense said was duped by her former chief of staff, Elias "Ronnie" Simmons, who she treated like a son and who she trusted to handle many of her personal and professional affairs.

Simmons and Carla Wiley, who ran One Door, have already pleaded guilty and are expected to testify against Brown.

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LEGAL COMMENTARY: Gene Nicholas, Rhonda Peoples-Waters on 2nd day of testimony
VIDEO: Donors to charity testify Day 2 of testimony reveals more details on Brown's daughter

On Thursday afternoon, Susie Wiles; a Republican political consultant who has worked on the campaigns of President Donald Trump and Gov. Rick Scott, and was a top aide to Mayors John Delaney and John Peyton; and Michael Ward, the outgoing CEO of CSX, both testified about their involvement with donations.

Both told prosecutors that if they had known the money was going into Brown's pockets, they would not have donated.

On Friday, two other high-profile donors are expected to testify: prominent lawyer Steve Pajcic and Jack Hanania, who owns multiple car dealerships.

After court recessed for the day, prosecutors filed a sealed document that News4Jax was told the defense knows nothing about. It's not clear what it contains or when it may be unsealed.

Thursday morning's testimony included more details from FBI Agent Vanessa Stelly detailing when and where $60,000 in withdrawals were made from One Door's accounts and events and $330,000 the charity paid for events between 2012 and 2015. Those events included $89,000 for Brown's bus trip to and a Congressional Black Caucus reception for President Barack Obama's second inauguration in 2013, and a 2014 reception for 100 people that included a $750 birthday cake for Brown's daughter, Shantrel.

Stelly said no students attended or Open Door scholarships were given at those events. The FBI said it could only find one $200 scholarship was awarded by the charity.

The government said One Door funds also paid for $2,200 in repairs to Shantrel Brown's Mercedes, a round-trip ticket for her to the Virgin Islands, and that she cashed a $3,000 check made out to One Door while she was with her mother in Los Angeles for a Rodeo Drive shopping trip with her mother.

On cross-examination, Brown's attorney asked Stelly if flyers soliciting money for One Door said money raised could be only used for scholarships and not on fundraisers or events. She said no, the flyers did not say that.

The agents could also not answer if it was possible that Brown or Simmons used their own personal money to help pay for the events.

News4Jax legal observer Rhonda Peoples-Waters said evidence that came out Thursday on Brown's detailed involvement in planning the events could be problematic for her case.

"I absolutely think that's a concern and that is a question the jurors will be looking to hear from Corrine when she testifies," Peoples-Water said. "Why is it that your daughter is so involved? What's her role here? Why is it your car expenses are being utilized and paid for out of that One Door funding? Those are hard questions."


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