In 1992, Corrine Brown of Jacksonville, Fla., was the first African American from that state to be elected to Congress since Reconstruction. She served 12 terms until this January, when she lost the 2016 Democratic primary because of both corruption charges and gerrymandering of her 5th Congressional District.
On Monday, a federal judge sentenced Brown to five years in federal prison after she was convicted in May on 18 corruption charges ranging from mail fraud to filing a false federal tax return in relation to her One Door for Education charity, which prosecutors allege she used as a personal “slush fund” for herself and her associates.
The federal indictment said that Brown and her chief of staff Ronnie Simmons used One Door donations for their personal and professional benefit, totaling more than $800,000, much of which was deposited in cash to Brown’s personal bank accounts.
The Florida Times Union reports that Simmons received four years in prison, while the founder of the charity, Carla Wiley, received a 21-month sentence for her role.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan said the 71-year-old former congresswoman abused the public trust.
“This is a sad day for everyone,” said Corrigan after sentencing Brown to prison. “I was impressed with all the outpouring of support for you, and I think it’s a tribute to all the work you’ve done over the years. That’s what makes this all the more tragic.”
“This was a crime born of entitlement and greed, committed to supporting a lifestyle that was beyond their means,” he continued. “Just think of the good that could have been done with that money if it would have been used for its intended purpose.”
Corrigan also placed most of the blame squarely at Brown’s feet:
Ms. Brown was personally responsible for all or nearly all of the $833,000 that flowed into One Door because, without her clout, donors would not have given to One Door. Even if she did not know how all the money was being used, there was never any intent that the bulk of the money would be used for charitable purposes.
Because Brown had been a Florida congressperson for so long, she weighed in on many of the state’s most prominent cases, including the FAMU hazing case (Brown is a FAMU alum) and the George Zimmerman case, in which she joined others in the Congressional Black Caucus in introducing a resolution decrying the state’s controversial “Stand your ground” law.
Judge Corrigan ordered Brown to report to prison no earlier than Jan. 8.
Brown’s attorney says that her client plans to file an appeal.
Read more at the Florida Times-Union.