Rep. Corrine Brown, chief of staff, plead not guilty in charity fraud

Corrine Brown
Corrine Brown

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) – U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida and her chief of staff, Elias ‘Ronnie’ Simmons, pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, obstruction and filing of false tax returns. Prosecutors say Brown used a  phony Virginia charity as a personal slush fund.

Brown released a statement saying she was temporarily stepping down as ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, in accordance with House rules.

Brown predicted she would be cleared at trial.

“My heart is just really heavy. But I’m looking forward to a speedy day in court to vindicate myself,” Brown said. “We will present the other side.”

Ronnie Simmons indicted in charity fraud case
Elias ‘Ronnie’ Simmons (left) leaving the indictment hearing.

Brown and Simmons, of Laurel, Maryland, were both released on $50,000 bail and ordered not to travel outside the U.S.  A status hearing was set for July 26.

Simmons had no comment following the hearing.

On March 4, 2016, One Door President Carla Wiley pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud after it was determined that she had deposited $800,000 into the foundation’s account over four years.  Over that time, federal prosecutors say it gave one scholarship for $1,000 and $200 to an unidentified person in Florida, while Wiley transferred to herself more than a hundred thousand dollars.

The indictment says that Brown, Simmons and Wiley “used the vast majority” of the One Door charity donations for their personal and professional benefit, including tens of thousands of dollars in cash deposits that Simmons made to Brown’s personal bank accounts.

According to the indictment, more than $200,000 in One Door funds were used to pay for events hosted by Brown or held in her honor.

Money belonging to the One Door charity was also used for repairs made to Simmons’  car and vacations to locations such as the Bahamas, Miami Beach and Los Angeles. In addition, the indictment charges, donated money was used to pay a “close family member” of Simmons more than $735,000 between 2001 and 2016 for a job in Brown’s office that involved little or no work.   Simmons allegedly benefited from some of that money.