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December 4, 2017

As one former member of Congress enjoys release from prison after five years, another one gets sentenced to five years in Florida federal court

I blog here over the weekend about the resentencing hearing on Friday that allowed former US Representative William Jefferson to officially put federal prison behind him after serving five years and five months. Today, as reported in this local article, another former member of Congress got sentenced to prison in another federal courthouse.  Here are the details:

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown was sentenced Monday to five years in federal prison for fraud and tax crimes that included raising about $800,000 for a sham charity. Brown’s longtime chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, was sentenced to 48 months in prison, and the charity’s founder, One Door for Education President Carla Wiley, was sentenced to 21 months.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan said he believed the Democrat used her position in Congress to achieve an “admirable record of service.”  However, he also said she abused the trust of that office in order carry out a criminal conspiracy.

“This is a sad day for everyone,” Corrigan told Brown shortly after sentencing her.  “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.”...

Corrigan ordered Brown to report to prison no earlier than Jan. 8 to an as-yet undetermined prison, but allowed her to remain free until then.  Brown’s attorney, James Smith of Orlando, argued for probation and said Brown would appeal the sentence.

An appeal may not keep the 12-term congresswoman from going behind bars, however. Federal rules say Brown should begin serving her time while the appeal is pending unless the judge finds the defense is raising substantial issues that are likely to result in a new trial or a sentence shorter than the time he’ll need to decide the appeal.

Prosecutors asked Corrigan for at least five years in prison during a sentencing hearing held last month.  A pre-sentencing report from courthouse staff, which the judge isn’t required to follow, recommended a prison term between seven years, three months and nine years.

That term was based on sentencing guidelines for Brown’s convictions on 18 counts at her May trial.  Jurors found her guilty of charges involving wire and mail fraud, conspiracy, concealing income and filing false tax returns.  Thirteen of the counts Brown was convicted of involved her fundraising efforts for One Door for Education, an organization she falsely described as being a tax-exempt nonprofit supporting projects to help children....

Between 2012 and the start of 2016, One Door received about $800,000 in donations, often from wealthy businesspeople who later said Brown personally approached them and told them One Door would use the money for kids’ causes.  In reality, jurors were told during Brown’s trial, only a tiny sliver of the money was spent on real charity, while more than $330,000 went into party-like events like outings to a Beyonce concert, a Jaguars-Redskins game in Washington and the invitational golf tournament One Door sponsored in Brown’s honor at TPC Sawgrass....

Prosecutors’ argument that the fraud had been significant was underscored by their requests for Corrigan to order the three to collectively forfeit more than $650,000 the government labeled as proceeds from the crime.  In addition, under a separate part of the law involving repaying crime victims for their losses, prosecutors asked for Brown and Simmons to be ordered to make restitution payments totaling $452,000 to donors who gave to One Door.  They also asked for an order making Brown pay $62,000 in restitution to the IRS for lying on her taxes, and an order for Simmons to pay another $91,000 in restitution for a charge involving him alone creating a ghost employee on Brown’s staff payroll....

If Corrigan’s sentence stands, Brown’s imprisonment will end a tumultuous but significant career in which Brown and two others, all elected in 1992, became the first African-Americans that Florida sent to Congress since the 19th century.

December 4, 2017 at 02:18 PM | Permalink


Should there be an Elected Official Court? Should a record of public service become a mitigating, or an aggravating factor in sentencing? These questions are relevant to the legal response to veterans committing crimes.

Posted by: David Behar | Dec 4, 2017 2:54:31 PM

Does it bother anyone that Ms. Brown's statements about the prosecution were used against her? I get that they could be construed to show lack of remorse, but don't targets have some First Amendment rights too? It's unseemly for the prosecution to make a big deal over the criticism, as reprehensible as the criticism was.

The best remedy for bad speech is more speech, not retaliation.


Posted by: federalist | Dec 4, 2017 8:47:13 PM

Fed. There is an affirmative duty of the defense to seek the personal destruction of the investigators, the prosecution, and the judge after a single adverse ruling. The defense bar owes its job to the other side, and not to the client. Thus the client needs a separate lawyer team to go after the other side, and to terrorize its own defense lawyer into carrying out its duty to the client.

Posted by: David Behar | Dec 5, 2017 8:12:29 AM

Your old pal and now Judge Stephanos Bibas has written a lot about the legitimacy and value of apologies in the sentencing process, and the defendant's post-offense behavior can often matter much more than their offense behavior --- especially to prosecutors grumpy about not getting a plea/cooperation --- in the lead up to and ultimate sentencing (Compare, e.g., Scooter Libby and Michael Flynn). Because all traditional justifications for punishment and their scale turn on issues of character even more than conduct (especially if public safety is a preeminent concern), I am okay with sentencing decision-making that includes considerable focus on character.

That all said, federalist, I think your concerns are justified and I am always grateful when you and others call out any and all federal authorities for doing something "unseemly" (especially at a time when the FBI is apparently in "Tatters").

Posted by: Doug B | Dec 5, 2017 9:32:27 AM

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