A criminal case against former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, one of the first Black representatives elected to Congress from Florida after Reconstruction, ended Wednesday with her guilty plea to a tax charge in a charity fraud case.
Brown, 75, had been convicted before in 2017 of 18 counts and served more than two years of her five-year sentence in prison before her release on humanitarian grounds due to the coronavirus pandemic and its potential harm on older incarcerated people.
A plea agreement filed in court says that although the charge carries a possible three-year prison sentence, federal prosecutors recommend that the judge not impose any additional prison time, but order that the Democrat pay more than $62,000 in restitution to the IRS.
It’s up to U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan to decide the ultimate sentence.
Brown's initial conviction on 18 charges was overturned by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because one juror was removed by Corrigan. The juror had said during deliberations that the “Holy Spirit” had told him Brown was innocent.
The appeals court ruled that juror's removal was improper and ordered a new trial, which was supposed to begin Sept. 12. With this guilty plea, the case is over.
“We just needed to put this behind us. It is,” Brown said outside the courthouse in Jacksonville, news outlets reported. “I wanted to put it behind me and move forward.”
Court documents show that Brown pleaded guilty to a single charge, in federal parlance, “interference with the due administration of the Internal Revenue Service laws." That is a much lesser charge than tax evasion, wire fraud, or 17 others Brown was initially charged with.
Before the fraud case, Brown represented the Jacksonville area in Congress for about 25 years. In 1992, after a state legislative career, she became one of the first three Black people elected to Congress from Florida since Reconstruction, when Blacks were elected to Congress from the South with backing from the Republican-led Congress after the Civil War.
In 1992, Brown and former Reps. Alcee Hastings and Carrie Meek were the trailblazers in Black-majority districts drawn specifically to elect them. At the time, though, Republicans were criticized for essentially segregating the Black votes into these districts so that GOP candidates would win elsewhere.
Brown was renowned for her service to the Jacksonville area and, as a state legislator previously, as a pioneer in the Black political world. But prosecutors said it didn't stop there.
Court documents show Brown siphoned money from the One Door for Education Foundation for personal use. Prosecutors said the pattern of fraud by Brown and her top aide included using hundreds of thousands of dollars from the foundation to pay for lavish parties, trips and shopping excursions.
Federal prosecutors said Brown, her chief of staff and One Door’s executive director used the charity to bring in more than $800,000 between 2012 and 2016, through donations and events including a high-profile golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass.
The Virginia-based One Door gave out only one scholarship, for $1,200, to an unidentified person in Florida, according to court documents.