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Corrine Brown, ex-congresswoman, found guilty of taking money from fake charity

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (CBS)-- Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown was found guilty on Thursday of taking money from a charity that was purported to be giving scholarships to poor students.

The jury's verdict came after prosecutors put on a detailed criminal case that outlined a pattern of fraud by Brown, 70, that included using hundreds of thousands of dollars from the One Door for Education Foundation for lavish parties, trips and shopping excursions. She was convicted of 18 of the 22 charges against her, including lying on her taxes and her congressional financial disclosure forms.

She watched the judge read each verdict with no visible reaction.

CBS affiliate WJAX-TV in Jacksonville, Florida, tweeted that one person could be heard crying softly in the courtroom and that Brown remained stoic as the verdicts were read.

Brown, a Democrat who represented the Florida district that included Jacksonville since 1993, had pleaded not guilty to all of the charges, including fraud. She lost re-election last fall after her indictment.

Brown's former chief of staff, Elias "Ronnie" Simmons, and the charity's president pleaded guilty after their federal indictments for misusing the charity's funds, and testified against Brown.

Federal prosecutors said Brown and her associates used a charity called One Door for Education to bring in more than $800,000 between 2012 and 2016. Brown's indictment said the Virginia-based One Door only gave out one scholarship for $1,200 to an unidentified person in Florida.

Simmons said Brown ordered him to take cash and checks from One Door's account. On dozens of occasions, Simmons said he was told to take out of One Door's account the maximum $800 from an ATM near his house and deposit hundreds of it in Brown's personal account. Sometimes he kept some for himself.

Brown testified in her own defense, saying she was left in the dark about the goings-on with One Door's money, and blamed the theft on Simmons.

Brown said she left those details to Simmons and other hired staffers, and said she should have paid more attention to her personal and professional finances.

WJAX reports that Brown will not immediately go to jail. She will be sentenced in 90 days or more.

The FBI Jacksonville Division released a statement about the verdict:

"Former Congresswoman Brown took an oath year after year to serve others, but instead she exploited the needs of children and deceived her constituents to advance her own personal and political agendas. Corrupt public officials undermine the integrity of our government and violate the public's trust, and that is why investigating public corruption remains the FBI's top criminal priority.  I am proud of our special agents, analysts and support personnel who spent countless hours following the money trail in this case, and thank our law enforcement partners at the IRS-CI and U.S. Attorney's Office for their efforts to hold Brown and her associates accountable for their inexcusable actions."

WJAX adds that Rep. Al Lawson said his thoughts and prayers are with Brown and her family. He had won Brown's seat in the November election.

"It came quicker than we thought," Lawson said in a statement to WJAX. "Our thoughts and prayers are with her and her family.  She's done a lot for this community and can't take that away from her."

Guilty verdicts

  • Count 1: Conspiracy to commit mail & wire fraud (Conspiring to use One Door to defraud)
  • Count 2: Aiding & abetting mail fraud (FedEx of $5,000 donor check to One Door on 6/3/13)
  • Count 4: Aiding & abetting mail fraud (FedEx of $28,700 donor check to One Door on 9/10/13)
  • Count 6: Aiding & abetting mail fraud (FedEx of $10,000 donor check to One Door on 9/15/14)
  • Count 7: Aiding & abetting mail fraud (FedEx of $10,000 donor check to The Alexander Agency on 9/16/14)
  • Count 8: Aiding & abetting mail fraud (FedEx of $10,000 donor check to One Door on 9/16/15)
  • Count 9: Aiding & abetting wire fraud (Email from Simmons asking for $5,000 donation on 6/18/13) 
  • Count 10: Aiding & abetting wire fraud (Deposit $3,055 One Door check to Alexander Agency on 8/5/13)
  • Count 11: Aiding & abetting wire fraud (Deposit $2,086 One Door check to Alexander Agency on 8/13/13)
  • Count 12: Aiding & abetting wire fraud (Deposit $2,500 One Door check to Alexander Agency on 9/3/13)
  • Count 13: Aiding & abetting wire fraud (Deposit $2,000 One Door check to Alexander Agency on 9/9/13)
  • Count 15: Aiding & abetting wire fraud (Deposit $10,000 check to Alexander Agency on 9/17/14)
  • Count 17: Aiding & abetting wire fraud (Email from Simmons seeking $10,000 donation to One Door on 9/16/15)
  • Count 19: Engaging in a scheme to conceal material facts (False congressional financial disclosure forms)
  • Count 21: Corruptly endeavoring to obstruct or impede the due administration of the Internal Revenue Laws
  • Count 22: Filing a false U.S. individual tax return for tax year 2012
  • Count 23: Filing a false U.S. individual tax return for tax year 2013
  • Count 24: Filing a false U.S. individual tax return for tax year 2014

Not guilty verdicts

  • Count 3: Aiding & abetting mail fraud (FedEx of $5,000 donor check to One Door on 7/2/13) 
  • Count 5: Aiding & abetting mail fraud (FedEx of $7,000 donor check to One Door on 9/10/14) 
  • Count 14: Aiding & abetting wire fraud (Simmons email w/ FedEx label for $7,000 check to One Door on 9/10/14) 
  • Count 16: Aiding & abetting wire fraud (Email from Simmons seeking $10,000 donation on 9/9/15)

Counts 18 and 20 were related to Ronnie Simmons only.

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