Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (D) has been charged on multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy as prosecutors allege she funded a lavish lifestyle by stealing the donations to a charity meant to help poor children with scholarships.
Prosecutors in Florida have laid out an expansive case in U.S. District Court, charting years of payments they say were funneled from the charity to her personal bank accounts.
Corrine Brown, a DNC superdelegate who pledged her vote for Hillary Clinton in the unethical 2016 Democratic primary, is pleading not guilty to the charges, claiming she was unwittingly duped by her long-term associates.
But prosecutors argue this is impossible.
“She knew exactly how to lie to these donors, and knew exactly where the cash money was going,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney A. Tysen Duva in his opening statement Wednesday.
The money, provided by donors to assist with the education of poor children, was actually blown on regular Beverley Hills shopping sprees, luxury vacations, VIP tickets to Beyonce concerts, fancy restaurants and personal expenses.
Federal prosecutors said Corrine Brown and her associates used a charity called One Door for Education to bring in more than $800,000 between 2012 and 2016.
However Brown’s indictment says One Door for Education, despite bringing in more than $800,000, only gave out a single scholarship worth $1,200 to an unidentified person in Florida.
Prosecutors say Brown and two of her closest associates — Elias “Ronnie” Simmons and Carla Wiley — were transferring donations to their personal accounts to fund lavish lifestyles.
Simmons and Wiley pleaded guilty and are expected to testify against former Congresswoman Brown.
Bloomberg report: Brown, who is expected testify in her own defense, sat beside her attorney during Wednesday’s presentation, appearing calm and confident. She chuckled with supporters in the courtroom hallway during a break.
Smith, her attorney, said Brown was deceived by Simmons, who was like a son to her.
Smith told jurors that around the time Simmons began depositing checks into Brown’s personal accounts, she had handed over many of her professional affairs to him.
“Around time of the questionable transactions in 2012 … she was into her mid-60s,” Smith said, adding she was under an enormous workload as a member of Congress.
He said Brown didn’t know how to email or text and highlighted that the emails used by prosecutors in their investigation were tied to Simmons and Wiley.
“A long time ago Corrine Brown placed her trust in Ronnie Simmons, and for years he betrayed her behind her back,” Smith said.
Prosecutors focused on Brown’s hands-on connection to One Door’s fundraising with its first witness, addressing the defense’s assertion that she was duped.
John Picerne, a local real estate developer who donated $10,000 to One Door, said Brown talked to him directly about the donation in a phone call.
“If Ronnie Simmons would have asked you for a $10,000 donation, would you have given it?” the prosecutor asked Picerne.
“No I wouldn’t have,” he said.