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Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) and her chief of staff, Elias “Ronnie” Simmons, are being charged with 24 counts of fraud in connection with a fake charity, according to a federal grand jury indictment that was released Friday.
The charges include mail and wire fraud, conspiracy and tax fraud, according to the Department of Justice.
Prosecutors allege that Brown and her associates were pocketing funds from a One Door for Education Inc., an organization that billed itself as a charity for poor students even though it was not properly registered as a nonprofit.
According to the indictment, Brown used her office to lobby for donations to the fake charity.
“Congresswoman Brown and her chief of staff are alleged to have used the congresswoman’s official position to solicit over $800,000 in donations to a supposed charitable organization, only to use that organization as a personal slush fund,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney General Leslie Caldwell in a statement.
The indictment states that Simmons and Brown, who has been in the House since 1993, used more than $200,000 in charity funds to put on a golf tournament, throw extravagant Washington receptions and for luxury box seats at a Beyonce concert and an NFL game.
Money for the charity was also spent on luxury vacations in the Bahamas, Los Angeles and Miami Beach.
The group’s president, Carla Wiley, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud earlier this year. Prosecutors say Wiley had deposited $800,000 into One Door’s account, but the organization had only given out two scholarships worth $1,200.
“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,” said FBI Special Agent Michelle Klimt in the statement.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) praised Brown’s public service while calling the charges against her “deeply saddening.”
She said Brown has stepped down as ranking member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, a step that House Democrats require for members who have been indicted.
“The charges against Congresswoman Corrine Brown in the indictment today are deeply saddening,” Pelosi said in a statement. “Pursuant to the standing rules of the House Democratic Caucus, Congresswoman Brown has rightly stepped down from her position as Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs pending the resolution of this matter.”
A spokesman in Brown’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(via: The Hill)