JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Convicted felon and former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown will be running for Congress again.
In a news release obtained Thursday morning by News4JAX, Brown -- who pleaded guilty last month to one count of tax evasion in her federal case to avoid a retrial of her overturned conviction of fraud and conspiracy -- announced her candidacy for the 10th Congressional District of Florida -- which is in the Orlando area. Brown previously served in Florida’s Third and Fifth Congressional Districts -- which included part of Jacksonville.
“I’ve represented most of the people of the new 10th District during my 24 years in Congress and I always earned huge support in this region,” Brown said in the news release. “Now I see our hard-won gains are being taken away from us.”
In the news release, Brown added that her experience has shown her firsthand the inequality of the American judicial system.
“There are far too many innocent people wrongly imprisoned,” Brown said.
Brown was in Tallahassee on Thursday to file paperwork to make official her run for the 10th Congressional District. The seat is currently held by U.S. Rep. Val Demings, who is running against incumbent U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
News4JAX reporter Jim Piggott on Thursday afternoon spoke with Brown by phone. She said a lot of prayer went into her decision to get back into politics.
“It is something I’ve prayed over. But I do know I’m qualified. I have the skill set,” she said. “There are things that I can do that will make a difference to the people in Florida, and I’m ready to go to work.”
Brown said she has work to finish and wants to devote that to the Orlando area where she says she can focus on transportation issues and judicial issues. When she was previously in Congress, the zone she represented did stretch to the Orlando area.
“I love Jacksonville, but as I said, Orange, you know, I’ve done so much work with transportation and the port, and I have a project I want to complete,” Brown said. “It’s a transportation from New Orleans to Orlando -- tourist destination to tourist destination.”
Talking in a campaign mode about the issues, Brown said she wants to bring about change to several areas.
“When you look at the state of Florida and see how it’s been gerrymandered, it is clear we have some major problems in Florida,” Brown said. “We are going back in several different areas and having minority representation is one of them.”
Piggott asked her about critics who might question why a convicted felon should run for office.
“It is not like it’s not something that I’ve prayed over,” Brown said. “Ministers have prayed with me, people have come up to me and asked me to run.”
WATCH: Press the play button below to watch Jim Piggott’s phone call Thursday with Corrine Brown.
Brown would not talk specifically about the legalities of her running. In the plea agreement, it does say she may therefore be deprived of certain rights such as holding political office. But it’s the word “may” that makes it tricky, and Brown’s supporters say that gives her the right to run. It’s a question News4JAX asked attorney and former federal prosecutor Curtis Fallgatter.
“It appears under the federal law there’s no prohibition for a convicted felon to run for federal office,” Fallgatter said. “She has had a good lawyer research that and has given her a sound opinion that she can run for Congress.”
And even though Brown lives in Jacksonville, she can run for office in the Orlando area, but right now, it appears she will not have to move to the district to run or even if she wins.
News4JAX political analyst Rick Mullaney weighed in Thursday about Brown’s chances of winning in Orlando.
“I am very surprised, and I think the public is surprised. It certainly took a lot of people off guard, but you remember the way that district used to be drawn, it did use to be north and south instead of east to west. It’s currently east to west, and for many many years, Corrine Brown was very popular in that area,” Mullaney said. “Uphill battle in my mind, surprising, but that’s apparently the direction she is heading.”
News4JAX asked people in downtown Jacksonville if they think she’s making a smart move. Shantel Cohen questioned Brown’s decision.
“Maybe she should sit out for a while and give it a rest,” Cohen said.
While some were surprised to hear Brown wants to run for political office again, she did hint last month to Piggott after her guilty plea that politics might still be in her future.
WATCH: Press the play button below to watch the exchange last month between Corrine Brown and Jim Piggott during which she hints at a political future.
Piggott was asking what she would do next and said, “Politics are out of the question, I know.”
And Brown said: “Do you know that?”
Piggott asked: “Is it not?”
And Brown shook her head, saying “No, no.”
Guilty plea & federal case
On May 18, the former congresswoman pleaded guilty to a federal tax fraud charge, 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 last month 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 and 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 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-19 concerns in the prisons.
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.
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, News4JAX 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 when Judge Timothy Corrigan formally sentenced Brown on May 18, 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.