Florida congresswoman indicted in fraud scheme: U.S. prosecutors

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 08, 2016 1:11 PM

By Letitia Stein

TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) - A federal grand jury indicted U.S. Representative Corrine Brown of Florida and her chief of staff on fraud charges and other crimes, accusing them of funneling money for a bogus education charity to personal use, U.S. prosecutors said on Friday.

Brown, a 69-year-old Democrat from Jacksonville, Florida, is accused of using her political position to help raise more than $800,000 for a charity that donors believed supported college scholarships and other educational work.

Instead, funds donated to the group One Door for Education were used to pay for a golf tournament honoring Brown, luxury box seats at a Beyonce concert and a football game as well as other personal expenses, according to the 53-page indictment filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

A representative at Brown's congressional office in Washington said the congresswoman had no immediate comment.

"It is incredibly disappointing that an elected official, who took an oath year after year to serve others, would exploit the needs of children and abuse the charitable hearts of constituents to advance her own personal and political agendas and deliver them with virtually nothing," Michelle Klimt, special agent in charge of the FBI division in Jacksonville, said in a statement.

Prosecutors noted that the organization was not properly registered as a non-profit group and awarded only two scholarships, totaling $1,200.

Brown, who was elected to Congress in 1992 as one of the first three black members of Florida's congressional delegation since the Reconstruction period following the Civil War, is seeking re-election. She faces a primary challenge in a redrawn district, after courts rejected as improperly gerrymandered her longtime district snaking across northeast Florida.

Her indictment follows the conviction last month of U.S. Representative Chaka Fattah of Philadelphia, accused of orchestrating multiple frauds to enrich himself and preserve his political career. He subsequently announced he would resign.

In addition to charging Brown, the 24-count indictment returned by a Florida grand jury this week also accuses her chief of staff, Elias "Ronnie" Simmoms, 50, of multiple counts of fraud.

Simmoms allegedly misused his position to help a relative obtain government employment and receive more than $735,000 without doing any work for the U.S. House of Representatives, according to prosecutors. Simmons diverted more than $80,000 of his relative's salary for his own personal use, they said.

Brown is also charged with falsifying her tax filings. Prosecutors said Brown and Simmons were due to make a first appearance in U.S. federal court in Jacksonville on Friday.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein, editing by G Crosse)