(CN) - A federal judge on Monday sentenced former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown to five years in prison on fraud and other charges related to a purported charity for poor students that she used as a personal slush fund.
Brown, 71, was ordered to turn herself in to authorities no earlier than Jan. 8. She represented a Florida district that included Jacksonville during her nearly 25-year career.
Brown, a Democrat, was convicted by a federal jury in May on 18 of the 22 charges against her, which included fraud, lying on her tax returns and on her congressional financial disclosures.
During her trial, prosecutors described a pattern of fraud by Brown and her top aide that included using hundreds of thousands of dollars from the One Door for Education Foundation for lavish parties, trips and shopping excursions.
“Ms. Brown leveraged the authority of her office and the relationships she had cultivated to illegal purpose,” wrote U.S. District Court Judge Timothy J. Corrigan in the sentencing order. “In the process, she cast aside the very laws she helped to enact. The rules, she decided, did not apply to her.”
Agents from the FBI and Internal Revenue Service also accused Brown of concealing the money on financial disclosure forms filed with the U.S. House of Representatives and falsifying her personal tax returns, including claiming deductions for nonexistent donations to the scam charity.
“Brazen barely describes it,” Corrigan wrote.
Brown's former chief of staff, Elias "Ronnie" Simmons, and One Door's executive director Carla Wiley had accepted plea deals and testified against Brown. They were also sentenced Monday.
Simmons was sentenced to four years in prison, followed by three years of probation, and Wiley received a one-year sentence following by three years of probation. They too were ordered to turn themselves in no earlier than Jan. 8.
Federal prosecutors said the three used One Door to bring in more than $800,000 between 2012 and 2016, including a high-profile golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass. The Virginia-based One Door only gave out one scholarship for $1,200 to an unidentified person in Florida, according to court documents.
Simmons told jurors that his boss ordered him to take cash and checks from One Door's account on dozens of occasions and deposit the money into Brown's personal account.
Brown testified in her own defense, saying she was left in the dark about the details of One Door's money, and blamed the theft on Simmons.
Her attorneys argued for leniency at a hearing last month, saying Brown's community work should mitigate her crimes.
In the lead up to Monday’s sentencing, Brown’s attorney, James Smith III of Orlando, argued the congresswoman’s age and decades of community service should lessen the punishment.
The judge disagreed.
“While I do not relish the prospect of incarcerating Ms. Brown at her relatively advanced age,” Corrigan wrote, “she has given the court no other option, because she chose to commit these serious crimes at a relatively advanced age.”
Corrigan also referenced Brown’s unrepentant remarks throughout the trial and attacks on prosecutors in the media, including one interview where she hinted the FBI’s investigation of her allowed the Pulse nightclub shooting to happen. The judge called the statement “reprehensible” and “beyond the pale.”
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