Corrine Brown’s former chief of staff pays back restitution in federal fraud case

Elias “Ronnie” Simmons, who once served as chief of staff to Corrine Brown during her time in Congress, has paid his restitution in his federal fraud case, according to court documents.

Simmons was indicted in July 2016, along with Brown, following a months-long investigation into an educational charity based in Virginia, One Door for Education. They each faced charges including conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, multiple counts of mail and wire fraud, and concealing facts on required financial disclosure forms. The indictment alleged that Brown solicited donations for the One Door charity, and at times, used that money as a “personal slush fund.”

In February 2017, Simmons pleaded guilty to two of the charges he faced: conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and theft of government property. That May, Simmons testified at Brown’s trial, saying she “was in complete control of where the money went.” Just days after that testimony, a jury convicted Brown on 18 of the charges she faced, including conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and tax fraud.

That December, Brown and Simmons were sentenced, along with another co-conspirator, Carla Wiley, who had pleaded guilty in 2016, and also testified at Brown’s trial. Brown was given five years in prison, Simmons received four years in prison, and Wiley was given 21 months. In addition, they were ordered to pay restitution, and a judge also entered a forfeiture order against them. Simmons’ sentence included $544,137 in restitution, along with thousands owed in forfeiture.

A court document filed Friday states Simmons has now repaid his restitution, although his forfeiture remains outstanding. Simmons completed his prison sentence in June 2020, spending the final months in a halfway house, which is typical for federal prisoners, then began serving a three-year term of supervised release, which ended this summer. Court documents showed Wiley, who was released from prison in July 2019, completed her restitution payments in 2022.

Brown, who was first elected to Congress in 1992, and was re-elected every two years until 2016, when she was defeated shortly after her indictment, appealed her conviction on the basis that a juror was improperly dismissed during deliberations. That juror told a judge that the “Holy Spirit” told him that Brown was not guilty on all charges. After that juror was replaced and deliberations restarted, Brown was convicted. In January 2020, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld Brown’s conviction, in a two-to-one decision. In April 2020, Brown was released from prison due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and continued serving her sentence on home detention. At that point, she had spent about two years at a federal prison in Central Florida.

Brown continued fighting her conviction, eventually having the case reheard by all of the judges in the Eleventh Circuit. In May 2021, the appeals court overturned her convictions, finding the juror was improperly removed, and sent the case back to the district court for a possible retrial. As prosecutors moved forward toward a retrial in 2022, Brown reached a plea agreement with prosecutors, pleading guilty to just one count of tax fraud in May 2022. She was sentenced to time served and ordered to pay $62,650 in restitution to the IRS. Brown also waived the right to seek a refund of the $31,000 or so that was collected from her and lawfully disbursed to victims other than the federal government, while the appeal was pending.

Weeks later, Brown filed paperwork to run for Congress again, in Florida’s 10th District, which was an open seat in the Orlando area. She finished fourth in the Democratic primary but did not rule out a future in politics.

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