Florida Congresswoman Corrine Brown Pleads Not Guilty to Fraud Charges

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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 faces a maximum of 357 years in prison and nearly $5 million in fines if she is convicted on all charges, CBS affiliate WJAX reported. Simmons faces a maximum of 355 years in prison and nearly $5 million in fines if he is convicted.

Brown 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.

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.”

“My heart is just really heavy. But I’m looking forward to a speedy day in court to vindicate myself,” Brown said. “We will present the other side.”

Brown and Simmons, of Laurel, Maryland, were both released on $50,000 bail and ordered not to travel outside the U.S. A status hearing was set for July 26. Simmons, who has been Brown’s chief of staff since 1993, declined comment after the hearing.

Federal court rules require the trial to take place within 70 days, according to WJAX. The discovery phase in the case is expected to take two weeks.

A special status conference is scheduled for Aug. 12 and a trial date has been set for Sept. 6.

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SOURCE: CBS News