JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown on Wednesday pleaded guilty to one count of tax fraud in her federal case, admitting that she lied to the IRS about her income and about deductions she had claimed.
Brown, 75, had been convicted before in 2017 of 18 counts in the charity fraud case and served more than two years of her five-year sentence in prison before her release on humanitarian grounds due to the coronavirus pandemic and its potential harm on older incarcerated people.
As part of a plea deal, the other 17 counts against Brown were dropped, and she was sentenced to 32 months of time served and was ordered to pay restitution of $62,650 to the IRS. She also waives the right to seek a refund of the $31,000 or so that was collected from her and lawfully disbursed to victims other than the federal government, while the appeal was pending.
“We just needed to put this behind us,” Brown said on the steps of the federal courthouse after the hearing. “I wanted to put it behind me and move forward.”
WATCH: Press the play button below to watch Corrine Brown speak outside the courthouse after her plea hearing.
Brown’s attorney successfully petitioned for a retrial after her conviction on wire and tax fraud charges. The plea deal Wednesday puts an end to that retrial, which had been scheduled for fall 2022.
Brown’s plea agreement gave details of Brown’s actions related to her tax returns, which were the basis of the criminal charge -- corrupt endeavor to obstruct & impede the due process of the Internal Revenue Service laws. Prosecutors said that for the 2008 to 2014 tax years, Brown didn’t report income associated with cash deposits into her bank account.
During that same period, prosecutors said Brown over-reported her charitable giving, by inflating the value of gifts to charitable organizations and nonprofits. Prosecutors said that also included letters Brown asked two of the non-profits to create for her use during an IRS audit. The letters did not accurately reflect the donations.
COURT DOCUMENT: Corrine Brown plea agreement
The plea agreement goes year-by-year detailing the organizations and donations involved: Edward Waters College (now known as Edward Waters University), Community Rehabilitation Center (CRC), Bethel Baptist Church, and New Destiny Church, as well as One Door for Education, the fake charity prosecutors said Brown used as a personal slush fund.
During Brown’s 2017 trial, representatives of EWC, CRC, and the two churches testified about discrepancies between what was reported on Brown’s tax returns, and what the records of the organization reflected.
According to the plea agreement, Brown’s claimed donations to Edward Waters College included $12,000 in furniture and accessories in 2008, and another $8,000 in furniture in 2009 for use in executive offices. Prosecutors also said that as Brown was being audited in 2010, she had the college provide letters itemizing her donations.
At Brown’s 2017 trial, prosecutors showed photos of the furniture in question (pictured below) and called several school officials as witnesses. While one witness did testify that Brown had donated the furniture, the items had been donated between 1998 and 2002, according to the testimony at Brown’s first trial.
Brown was one of the first Black representatives elected to Congress from Florida after Reconstruction.
“I got calls yesterday from Orlando, Gainesville, Tallahassee. People were concerned about me going through the process. They wanted it over, so, it’s over,” Brown said on Wednesday after her plea hearing.
When asked what her future holds now, Brown joked about having a book or a movie written about her experiences. Then she turned serious and said: “So many people in the community have told me that they are missing voices, and they want someone to -- it’s been a silence.”
Following Wednesday’s plea hearing, Brown attended a prayer rally at nearby Jacksonville City Hall.
When she was leaving the rally, News4JAX reporter Jim Piggott spoke with her briefly, and she hinted that politics weren’t out of the question for her future.
She also admitted that the entire federal prosecution has been hell for her.
“But it’s over,” she said.
Brown didn’t say much ahead of the plea hearing on Wednesday.
Piggott spoke with Brown as she arrived at the federal courthouse, but she would only say, “God is good” and that she would speak with News4JAX after the hearing.
Piggott called Brown on Tuesday and heard much of the same.
“I want you to know, God has been good to me,” Brown said. “I just talked to my pastor and I know that He goes in front of me and make the crooked straight. That’s all I can tell you, He’s good.”
Brown was indicted in 2016 on charges that included conspiracy, wire fraud, and tax fraud. In 2017, a jury convicted Brown of using the “One Door for Education” fake charity to fund a lavish lifestyle. Brown was sentenced to five years in federal prison but was released in 2020 due to COVID concerns in the prisons.
Piggott also spoke with Brown as she left court on Wednesday about her time in prison and what she was able to accomplish there.
Piggott: In prison, you did a lot for women in prison. What can you tell us about that? People were commending you for your work. What do you think?
Brown: Absolutely and I have told you that some of the women want to talk to you, and we will work that out.
Piggott: We’ll work that out. I just think that’s important because there are some good things that came from your prison term.
A year ago, an appeals court decided the local judge during her trial was wrong to dismiss a juror who told other jurors, that “the Holy Spirit” told him Brown was innocent. After her conviction was thrown out, prosecutors made the decision to re-try the case. But now that a plea deal is in place, the case is over.
Former federal prosecutor Curtis Fallgatter worked with Brown early during her appeals. He said he’s not really surprised by the developments.
“A little bit, but not terribly because of the age of the case, the complexity of the case, the number of issues, reversal on appeal issues about a retrial, can I get a conviction, the age of Brown,” Fallgatter said.
Brown’s attorneys asked for a rehearing before the full 11th Circuit, known as an “en banc” hearing. In May 2021, the appellate court reversed the conviction with a 7-4 decision, sending the case back to the district court for a potential retrial.
In October 2021, we learned that prosecutors planned to re-try Brown on the felony counts she faced in her 2017 trial. At the time, we learned prosecutors had already extended her a plea deal to avoid being retried and the possibility of a return to prison, an offer she rejected at the time.
Following the appointment of a new defense team, Brown’s retrial was set to take place in September of 2022 before the plea deal was reached.
Before the fraud case, Brown represented the Jacksonville area in Congress for about 25 years. In 1992, after a state legislative career, she became one of the first three Black people elected to Congress from Florida since Reconstruction, when Blacks were elected to Congress from the South with backing from the Republican-led Congress after the Civil War.
In 1992, Brown and former Reps. Alcee Hastings and Carrie Meek were the trailblazers in Black-majority districts drawn specifically to elect them. At the time, though, Republicans were criticized for essentially segregating the Black votes into these districts so that GOP candidates would win elsewhere.
Brown was renowned for her service to the Jacksonville area and, as a state legislator previously, as a pioneer in the Black political world.
But as Judge Timothy Corrigan formally sentenced Brown on Wednesday, he said that despite the fact that she was a civil rights trailblazer, she “succumbed to greed” on her taxes.
Brown will continue to get her pension from her time served in Congress, and there is no probation included in her sentence.