Brown’s former chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, was also found guilty and was sentenced to 48 months in prison, and the charity’s founder, One Door for Education President Carla Wiley, was also found guilty and sentenced to 21 months in prison.
In sentencing U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan stated that Brown had abused the trust earned by used her position in Congress and an “admirable record of service,” in order to fulfill a criminal conspiracy.
Corrigan noted that the three individuals may have varying degrees of cupability, with Brown and Simmons sharing the sizable responibility of blame, but each reaped the benefits of an “especially shameless” scheme which took money designated to provide educational opportunities for children, using it to bankroll a lavish lifestyle.
“This was a crime born out of entitlement and greed committed to ensure a lifestyle that was beyond their means,” Corrigan said. “Just think of the good that could have been done with that money if it would have been used for its intended purpose.”
Brown was ordered to report to prison no earlier than Jan. 8 to an as-yet undetermined facility, but allowed her to remain free until then.
Brown’s attorney, James Smith of Orlando, has already stated that Brown would appeal the sentence.
In spite of an appeal, Brown will most likely see some time behind bars as federal rules dictate Brown should begin serving her time while the appeal is pending unless a judge finds substantial issues likely to result in a new trial, or a sentence shorter than the time he’ll need to decide the appeal, both of which seem unlikely at this point.
Prosecutors pushed Corrigan for a minimum of five years in prison during a sentencing hearing held last month.
A pre-sentencing report from courthouse staff had recommended a prison term between seven years, three months and nine years, based on sentencing guidelines for the 18 counts Brown was found guilty of at a trial.
Jurors convicted Brown of charges involving wire and mail fraud, conspiracy, concealing income and filing false tax returns.
Thirteen of those counts were directly related to her fundraising efforts for One Door for Education, an organization she falsely described as being a tax-exempt nonprofit supporting projects to help children.
Wiley had started One Door as a grassroots Virginia scholarship fund in honor of her mother. But the fund was never recognized by the IRS as a charity and was largely inactive until Simmons, whom Wiley dated at on point, proposed using the fund to receive – and spend – donations from Brown’s backers for receptions she held during yearly legislative conferences.
Between 2012 and the start of 2016, One Door received about $800,000 in donations. Many of the donors stated Brown had personally approached them and told them One Door would use the money for kids’ causes.
However, prosecutors told jurors were during Brown’s trial that only a “sliver” of the money was spent on actualt charitable causes.
Over $330,000 went into parties and outings including; a Beyonce concert, a Jaguars-Redskins game in Washington, D.C., and the invitational golf tournament One Door sponsored in honor of Brown’s at TPC Sawgrass.
Prosecutors reminded Corrigan last month that another $26,860 in cash was moved directly from One Door’s bank account into Brown’s accounts.
Simmons was indicted with Brown last year but took a plea deal and testified against his former employer.
Wiley pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy in March 2016, months before the others were even charged.
Prosecutors’ ordered Corrigan and the two other defendants to collectively forfeit more than $650,000 the government labeled as proceeds from the crime.
In addition, under a separate part of the law involving repaying crime victims for their losses, prosecutors asked for Brown and Simmons to be ordered to make restitution payments totaling $452,000 to donors who gave to One Door.
Prosecutors also requested an order for Brown pay $62,000 in restitution to the IRS for tax fraud.
Simmons was also ordered to pay another $91,000 in restitution for a charge involving him alone creating a ghost employee on Brown’s staff payroll.
With her sentencing, Brown’s imprisonment will end a tumultuous but significant career in which she and two others, all elected in 1992, became the first African-Americans that Florida sent to Congress since the 19th century.
Brown served in both Congress, and in Florida’s Legislature for a decade before then, where she was viewed as an advocate for the poor and disenfranchised.
Perhaps most ironic, Brown – who touted herself as a politician responsible for big projects and important public buildings, was sentenced in the federal courthouse she helped bring to fruition.
Her 24 years in Congress ended only after her indictment.