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Former congresswoman Corrine Brown sentenced to five years for fraud

Democrat Brown, 71, a trailblazer for African Americans in Florida. used charity for poor students as personal slush fund

Corrine Brown, once a powerful Florida Democrat and US representative, was sentenced on Monday to five years in prison for fraud and other crimes related to a purported charity for poor students that she used as a personal slush fund.

Brown, 71, who in 1992 was one of the first three African Americans elected to Congress from Florida since Reconstruction, listened stoically in a Jacksonville courtroom as US district court judge Timothy Corrigan read her sentence.

She was ordered to turn herself in to prison authorities in January. Her attorney said she plans to appeal.

Brown was convicted by a federal jury in May on 18 of 22 charges which included fraud and lying on her tax returns and congressional financial disclosures.

Judge Corrigan alluded to Browns long history of public service before handing down the sentence, which could have been as long as nine years. The judge also cited her history of overcoming obstacles as a black woman in the American south as she built a trailblazing career.

However, Corrigan said Brown succumbed to entitlement and greed in siphoning money from the One Door for Education Foundation. Prosecutors said the pattern of fraud by Brown and her top aide included using hundreds of thousands of dollars for lavish parties, trips and shopping excursions.

It is a sad day for everyone, Corrigan said. It is a sad day for this community. I was impressed with all the outpouring of support for you and its a tribute to you and the work youve done and that makes it more tragic and sad.

Brown represented a Florida district that included Jacksonville during a nearly 25-year career. The judge said she used her high profile to lure donors to fundraisers, abusing her power, and was unrepentant when faced with evidence that contradicted her claims of innocence.

The rules, she decided, did not apply to her, Corrigan said.

Browns former chief of staff, Elias Ronnie Simmons, and One Doors executive director, Carla Wiley, accepted plea deals and testified against Brown. They were also sentenced on Monday.

Simmons was given four years in prison followed by three years of probation and Wiley received a one-year, nine-month sentence followed by three years of probation. They too were ordered to report for prison in January.

Federal prosecutors said the three used One Door 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.

Simmons told jurors his boss ordered him to take cash and checks from One Doors account on dozens of occasions and deposit the money in her personal account.

Brown testified in her own defense, saying she was left in the dark about the details of One Doors money and blaming the theft on Simmons.

Brown, who wore a purple suit to the hearing, made no comment as she left the courthouse in a black Mercedes. Her attorney, James Smith, said Brown was prepared for the possibility of a long sentence but still maintains her innocence.

This is a woman who has overcome a lot and this wont be the last thing she has to overcome, Smith told reporters outside the courthouse.

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