JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Corrine Brown began her political career in 1982, elected into the Florida House of Representatives when 35 years old.
Ten years later, she was elected to the U.S. House, representing the Third Congressional District, a portion of Northeast Florida that included Jacksonville and one of the first African-Americans since Reconstruction to represent the state in Congress.
The shape of her district changed over the years and she transitioned to the Fifth Congressional District. Over her 13 terms in Congress, she succeeded in getting millions of dollars in federal funding for projects in this area and across the state.
She won funding for transportation projects, including the Fuller Warren Bridge. She backed numerous military and veterans issues and introduced legislation to establish new national cemeteries, including one in Jacksonville, and got funding for Jacksonville’s new Veterans Administration clinic.
She also secured money for a new Federal Courthouse in Jacksonville – the place where she was tried and convicted earlier this year.
At Brown's side for much of her career in public service was Ronnie Simmons, who started working for her out of college and rose to become her chief of staff.
In April 2011, Carla Wiley formed One Door for Education -- filing papers with the state of Virginia and opening a bank account for the charity. But she never got non-profit status with the IRS.
Wiley closed the charity’s bank account due to fundraising problems, but soon after she began a personal relationship with Simmons in July 2012, he suggested reopening it.
Then, from August of 2012 to January of 2016, federal agents said One Door for Education solicited more than $800,000, whith those accused in the case claiming they were raising money for scholarships for students in need.
Federal agents say more than $330,000 in One Door funding was used to pay for events in Brown’s honor, including lavish Washington D.C. receptions, luxury box seats at a Beyonce' concert and box seats at a Jaguars/Redskins game.
In January 2016, federal agents approached Wiley, Simmons and Brown for the first time. Brown was served a subpoena at a Jacksonville BBQ restaurant. Wiley reached a plea deal in March 2016 and cooperated with the federal government.
Wiley detailed to prosecutors how money from the bogus charity was spent on personal expenses for all three of them. That helped prosecutors indict Brown in July 2016 on 22 counts, including conspiracy, wire and mail fraud and filing a false tax return.
The next month, under the cloud of the indictment and facing a redrawn congressional district, Brown's re-election bid ended when she lost to Al Lawson in the Democratic primary.
As Brown and Simmons started preparing for trial – set for the spring of 2017 – Simmons changed his plea to guilty in February to two federal counts and also started cooperating with federal prosecutors.
Simmons and Wiley were among the witnesses prosecutors called at Brown's May 2017 trial, which ended in Brown’s conviction on 18 of 22 counts.
Of the $833,000 that One Door for Education raised, prosecutors said just $1,200 of it went to scholarships, benefiting only two students.