Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown faces 22 counts related to conspiracy to defraud via what prosecutors call a fake charity: “One Door for Education.” Those charges include conspiracy to commit and aiding and abetting wire and mail fraud, and fraudulent filing of federal tax returns.
If found guilty of all counts, Brown could be sentenced to 357 years in prison, and $4.8M in fines.
The claim is that Brown and her associates solicited charitable donations for personal enrichment. Two of those associates, Carla Wiley and Ronnie Simmons, have cut plea deals and are functioning as state’s evidence.
There is no disagreement as to whether or not there was fraud. The real divergence is on the matter of whether Brown orchestrated the conspiracy, or whether Simmons took advantage of her age and lack of technological savvy.
FloridaPolitics.com is serving up deep dive coverage of the entire trial: jury selection; opening statements; the government’s case, including exhibits and witnesses; the defense arguments and defense witness list; the final verdict; and everything else that matters.
Newest material will be nearest the top, for easy access.
Ongoing: prosecution arguments.
Further inquiry into bank records, followed by an inevitable cross-examination, will start off proceedings on Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m.
Among Thursday witnesses following the current one: Tandy Bondi (Pam Bondi‘s sister-in-law, who worked as a lobbyist for the same firm as Shantrel Brown), Jacksonville power broker and Florida chair of Donald Trump‘s campaign, Susie Wiles; former CSX executive Michael Ward; Husein Cumber, the Executive Vice President for Corporate Development for Florida East Coast Industries, who also serves on the board of directors for JEA, Jacksonville’s utility service.
$330K of One Door money on ‘Queen Corrine’ events [Thursday 11:00 a.m.] Thursday saw a continuation of the government’s case in the federal fraud trial of former U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown, who faces 22 counts related to a non-performing charity, “One Door for Education.”
A presentation that started Wednesday involved showing a pattern, demonstrating a pattern of Brown’s former chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, taking money from the One Door account and giving it to Brown.
Revealed Thursday morning: $330,000 flowed from the One Door account for nine events that were to the political benefit of then-Rep. Brown … with no benefit to the charity that funded them.
Those events included receptions, a Beyonce skybox, a skybox at a Redskins/Jaguars game, and the “Corrine Brown Invitational Golf Tournament.”
Meanwhile, liquor lovers who also loved Corrine Brown savored a signature drink at multiple events: the $10 “Queen Corrine,” a strawberry liquor drink with a sugared rim.
And those who love pastry got extended narrative on two $750 birthday cakes for Brown’s daughter Shantrel, paid for with One Door money.
One of those cakes was enjoyed by none other than South Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz, former Democratic National Committee Chair.
DWS would not be the only Congressperson discussed Thursday morning.
FBI Special Agent Vanessa Stelly, who investigated Brown, went through invoices, solicitation letters, and bank account records on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.
Thursday began with more documentation of 82 ATM withdrawals from the One Door account that were not closely matched with deposits, totaling just over $60,000, with the majority in Laurel, MD – where Simmons lived.
The big reveal: documentation of $330,000 of expenditures from One Door for events connected with Corrine Brown from 2012-2015.
The breakdown: myriad receptions; a 2012 Democratic National Convention barbeque in Charlotte ($23,070) honoring the Congressional Black Caucus; a Beyonce skybox ($13,000) promoted by the Florida Delivers Leadership PAC; an Inauguration bus trip and dinner cruise for senior citizens from Florida ($89,852); the “Corrine Brown Invitational Golf Tournament” ($55,000); and a $15,000 spend on a skybox at a Washington Redskins/Jacksonville Jaguars game.
For at least one event, letters on “Friends of Corrine Brown” letterhead went out to invite potential donors – showing a conflation of the purported charity and the very real political operation.
“I view uplifting our youth as a calling,” Brown (or her proxy) wrote. “Your support of $5,000 for this event is greatly appreciated … checks should be made payable to the One Door for Education Scholarship Fund.”
The point of contact for “more information”: an employee in Brown’s Congressional office.
A flyer was also produced for a Corrine Brown “trailblazers in transportation” event in D.C., which included a legendary go-go band as entertainment.
The flyer had nothing indicating Brown’s commitment for children; however, $4,200 of One Door money (via MasterCard) went toward financing this 2012 event, with additional money coming from other sources – suggesting that One Door was used to fill a liquidity gap in that case.
Similar invoices were produced for other events, with “Ron Simmons” listed as the customer on at least one. Some receptions included intimate VIP receptions, with bigger room gatherings for the hoi polloi.
For the aforementioned trip for senior citizens, a letter on Brown letterhead – complete with a whimsical cartoon of a “Friends of Corrine Brown” bus – went to donors, under the aegis of “support for seniors and students.”
Donations of up to $20,000 were sought, with showcases promised for big-dollar donors. Checks were to be cut to One Door, with attention to Carla Wiley.
The “Corrine Brown Invitational” Golf Tournament was held at The PLAYERS stadium course in July 2013, one of the nicest courses in the country.
Perks included a Calvin Peete golf lesson, for the event sponsored by One Door; the event purportedly benefitted “COMTO,” an organization of minority transportation officials. But no money went to that or any other non-profits.
Point of contact: Von Alexander, a Brown operative who worked for the Congresswoman and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority simultaneously.
Sponsorships went up to $20,000 per donor. Congressmen Cedric Richmond and Ander Crenshaw attended.
$51,000 went to hotel stays at the Marriott at Sawgrass, on One Door’s dime. And a $1,745 spend, authorized by Carla Wiley, went on catering for a luncheon at the golf tourney.
The Beyonce event, meanwhile, had Ronnie Simmons as point of contact. One Door was not on the flyer, but its $15,000 went to defray skybox rental and catering expenses.
Shantrel Brown emailed Ronnie Simmons regarding the nearly $4,000 of skybox catering, saying “CB was OK with the draft [menu] I showed her this morning, however I added a few [items].”
This wasn’t the only Shantrel Brown email to her ex-boyfriend; for another event in 2015, Brown sent Simmons an email, stating that the Browns found a singer at a clothing store who sounds “just like Luther Vandross,” whom Corrine wanted to sing at the event.
The Jaguars/Redskins event was branded as “Jacksonville Goes to Washington,” and featured platinum parking and unlimited food and beverage. Simmons was point of contact. Brown’s signature was on the letter.
The box was leased from Carla Wiley’s consulting company. Ronnie Simmons, meanwhile, wrote Wiley’s company a $15,000 check, which was reimbursed from One Door.
Feds build case with bank records [Wednesday 5 p.m.] Wednesday afternoon began the government’s case in the federal fraud trial of former U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown, who faces 22 counts related to a non-performing charity, “One Door for Education.”
Throughout the latter part of the afternoon, as bank records were introduced, an overflow crowd of looky-loos dispersed, as the tedium of bank transactions wore them down.
However, the pattern and the number were significant: 31 transactions of withdrawal and deposit, totaling over $26,000 over three years.
The government spent much of the latter part of the afternoon interviewing FBI Special Agent Vanessa Stelly, who went through dozens of pieces of evidence that were intended to outline the conspiracy.
Among them: bank account records and incorporation papers for the One Door for Education foundation, which established Carla Wiley as the primary signatory.
Stelly confirmed that corporate status was terminated in Oct. 2012, as the registration fee was not paid by the end of September of that year.
However, reinstatement would happen in June 2014 – almost two years into the alleged conspiracy, as the charity continued to do business, despite not being a recognized non-profit, or 501(c)3.
“That status was never applied for,” Stelly asserted.
Stelly described the two accounts associated with One Door: one a Capital One account opened in May 2011, with Wiley as the primary contact and only signatory.
The original deposit: $100. Estimated value of transactions per month was likewise modest, up until the account closed in May 2012, with a $119.66 charge off after “minimal” activity.
The second One Door account opened in Aug. 2012 was more robust.
From there, a $25,000 check from the “Community Leadership PAC” of Alexandria, VA, was produced: seed money for One Door’s second account.
Brown and her daughter Shantrel, a lobbyist, maintain a condo in Alexandria. Simmons, meanwhile, lives in Laurel, Maryland, where “the vast majority” of cash withdrawals occurred, and deposits into Brown’s own BOA account – far from Laurel, in terms of DC area commutes.
Discussion of the foundation’s bank records, and those of Brown’s personal bank accounts, were intended to draw an evidentiary link between withdrawals and deposit, and establishing correlation (if not causation).
From there, the government documented cash withdrawals from the One Door account (capped, as per bank policy, at $800 per day), and deposits into Brown’s own account, ranging from $500 to $3,000, and at least one payment on her credit card of $160, and a payment of $2,057 to the IRS from her account in July 2013 (the same day of a $2,100 cash deposit into her account from Laurel, MD).
Overdraft charges occasioned deposits to bring the account back to a positive balance. Cash deposits to Brown’s Congressional Federal Credit Union account were verified via a photo ID, a statement revealed. And balance inquiries, asserted the prosecution, were also documented.
All of this was to establish a pattern of transactions, with Simmons putting money into Brown’s account, and Brown extracting it, often on the same day it was deposited.
Surveillance video, as it was obtainable, was also introduced into evidence. The FBI was limited by bank policies of data retention, and the occasional failure of the cameras themselves.
Stills were presented of Ronnie Simmons at various BOA ATMs and inside branches themselves, making deposits.
One particularly interesting transaction was on a Brown trip to Beverly Hills: check no. 193 dated 7/14/2013, drawn on the One Door for Education Capital One account ending in 0180, in the amount of $3,000 and reflecting “Children Summer Camps” in the memo line.
It was written out to Bank of America, and signed by “Carla Wiley, President.” And deposited at the Beverly Hills Wilshire, with Brown and daughter Shantrel in the city after a jaunt to the Bahamas.
“The check was deposited into Shantrel Brown’s bank account,” the Special Agent said, and $1,000 of that $3,000 was transferred to Corrine Brown’s account.
An attempt by the state to get the FBI agent to attest to the authenticity of the Wiley signature was challenged by the defense, and that challenge was upheld.
Shantrel Brown’s bank records were also produced from the California trip. Both mother and daughter spent on cosmetics, something at a “herb store,” and a trip to a Thai restaurant (as sometimes happens after trips to herb stores, apparently).
None of these charges had anything to do with children’s summer camps, the FBI agent asserted.
As the day’s session came to a close, the prosecution presented Corrine Brown’s travel records and deposit slips into her Congressional Credit Union account, ostensibly signed by her.
As well, a still image was provided of Brown depositing $700 in cash in her Bank of America account in Orlando, Florida; Ronnie Simmons was nowhere to be found.
And, perhaps tellingly, multiple statements were provided with multiple balance inquiries in a given day, from Jacksonville, where Brown was but Simmons was not.