JASON DEAREN and CURT ANDERSON, Associated Press
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida and her chief of staff pleaded not guilty Friday to multiple fraud charges and other federal offenses in a grand jury indictment unsealed after an investigation into what prosecutors call a phony charity turned into a personal slush fund.
Brown, a 69-year-old Democrat, and Chief of Staff Elias “Ronnie” Simmons, 50, entered pleas in Jacksonville federal court on charges of mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, obstruction and filing of false tax returns.
She has represented a Jacksonville-based congressional district since 1993 — one of the first three African-Americans elected to Congress from Florida since Reconstruction— and is seeking re-election in a newly redrawn district. Later Friday, 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.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who called the charges against Brown “deeply saddening,” said that for more than two decades “Brown has served her constituents in Florida with passion and energy. She has been a champion for America’s veterans.”
The 24-count indictment comes after an investigation into the purported charity One Door for Education Foundation Inc., which federal prosecutors say was billed as a way to give scholarships to poor students but instead filled the coffers of Brown and her associates.
After the hearing, Brown predicted she would be cleared at trial. She was surrounded by supporters outside the courthouse, some carrying signs. One read, “Justice or else. Corrine matters.”