United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
SENTENCING ORDER 
TIMOTHY J. CORRIGAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
have written before, when I am asked what's the most
important attribute of a good judge, I say
‘humility.' This is especially true in sentencing.
No matter how long we judges have done it, we can never
forget what an awesome responsibility it is to decide whether
and for how long to deprive someone of their liberty. We also
must remember our duty to those affected by the sentencing,
to the general public, and to the cause of justice, and must
do everything we can to get it right.
is the most multifaceted, emotional, and challenging task a
judge performs.” To bring home this point, after 46 years
on the bench, my colleague and mentor, the Honorable William
Terrell Hodges, recently sentenced his last defendant. At the
end of the sentencing, Judge Hodges recalled advice he had
received years earlier from his mentor, Judge Charles Scott,
about sentencing: “If it ever gets easy, it's time
the law gives me some tools to help make the difficult
sentencing decisions. The federal sentencing statute, 18
U.S.C. § 3553(a), lists a number of factors for the
Court to consider in arriving at a sentence. These 3553(a)
factors include the nature and circumstances of the crime
committed, the history and characteristics of the defendant,
the need for the sentence imposed to reflect the seriousness
of the crime, promote respect for law and provide just
punishment, the need for deterrence, and protection of the
public, among others. The statute also requires consideration
of the advisory sentencing guidelines.
these sentencing factors are helpful, they do not yield a
specific result, as if a mathematical equation. Rather, it
ultimately remains the task of the sentencing judge to
determine a sentence that, in the words of the statute, is
“sufficient, but not greater than necessary, to comply
with the purposes” of sentencing. 18 U.S.C. §
3553(a). It is to this task that we now turn.
The Nature and Circumstances of the Offense (Applies to all
11, 2017, a jury returned a guilty verdict against former
United States Congresswoman Corrine Brown on 18 felony counts
of conspiracy, aiding and abetting mail and wire fraud,
concealing material facts on her Congressional financial
disclosure forms, and various tax related charges. Her
co-defendant and former Chief of Staff, Elias
“Ronnie” Simmons, had already pled guilty to two
counts of conspiracy and aiding and abetting theft of
government funds, and their co-conspirator, Carla Wiley, had
pled guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Although both Ms.
Brown and Mr. Simmons also stand convicted of crimes that did
not involve their co-conspirators, the centerpiece of the
prosecution was the illegal scheme involving all three
defendants- their knowing and willful participation in the
fraudulent solicitation and theft of funds from the charity
known as One Door for Education.
Door for Education was operated as a criminal enterprise by
Carla Wiley, Ronnie Simmons and Corrine Brown. While each had
different roles in this criminal enterprise, they all reaped
the benefits of their fraudulent activities. The
defendants' fraud was particularly shameless because it
utilized a charity established to honor Ms. Wiley's
mother that was supposed to help disadvantaged children. Yet
precious little of the hundreds of thousands of dollars
donated to One Door was used for this purpose. Rather, One
Door funds were primarily used to line the pockets of Ms.
Wiley, Mr. Simmons and Ms. Brown or to fund events that
mainly benefitted Ms. Brown, but did not help children.
Wiley started One Door for Education in Virginia in 2011 with
the intent to establish scholarships for students interested
in becoming teachers like Ms. Wiley's mother. But she was
unable to raise much money on her own and the charity did
very little. In 2012 she began a relationship with Mr.
Simmons who saw an opportunity for then Congresswoman Brown
to become involved with One Door. Although Mr. Simmons was
never an authorized signatory on the One Door accounts, Ms.
Wiley turned the checkbook and debit card over to him in
August 2012. Almost immediately, Ms. Brown began soliciting
donors to contribute to One Door. And as quickly as the money
flowed in, Mr. Simmons withdrew it at Ms. Brown's
direction, forging Ms. Wiley's signature when necessary.
Ms. Wiley monitored the One Door bank account and was aware
of the money coming into and leaving the account. At Mr.
Simmons' request, Ms. Wiley regularly advised him when
donated funds had cleared, enabling him to withdraw more
money. Sometimes Mr. Simmons went directly to an ATM,
withdrew the maximum amount allowed, and delivered the cash
to Ms. Brown in her House office. At other times, he withdrew
the funds from One Door via an ATM and deposited them into
Ms. Brown's bank account at another bank just minutes
away. Mr. Simmons also helped himself to the One Door cash.
Thousands of dollars in One Door checks were made out to
third parties who then wrote checks to Ms. Brown which she or
Mr. Simmons deposited into Ms. Brown's personal accounts.
Other times One Door paid for goods, services or events
benefitting Ms. Brown, Mr. Simmons and Ms. Wiley. Ms. Wiley,
who had online access to the One Door bank account, also took
One Door funds.
Brown and Mr. Simmons solicited and received over $833, 000
which was deposited into the account of One Door, an entity
Ms. Brown falsely touted to donors as being a 501(c)(3)
charity providing educational opportunities for children. The
government's forensic accountants traced $330, 000 of
that money to events attended by Ms. Brown or held in her
honor, such as sky box seats at an NFL game, a luxury box at
a Beyoncé concert, and free catered parties with live
music held in upscale hotels, none of which had anything to
do with charitable fundraising for One Door; $93, 536 in ATM
withdrawals which Mr. Simmons either gave to Ms. Brown in
cash, deposited for her, or kept for himself; $16, 641
funneled through third parties to Ms. Brown's personal
bank accounts or those of her daughter; $15, 156 to pay for
Mr. Simmons' expenses; $13, 292 to pay expenses of Ms.
Brown and her daughter; $182, 730 stolen by Ms. Wiley; and
$2, 936 for Mr. Simmons and Ms. Wiley to take a Miami Beach
the seriousness of these crimes, both Ms. Brown and Mr.
Simmons traded on Ms. Brown's status as a member of
Congress to solicit the donations to One Door which they then
fraudulently converted to their own use. And each committed
additional crimes facilitated by their public positions: Ms.
Brown used her clout as a Congresswoman to convince
charitable organizations to inflate her donations so that she
could fraudulently claim deductions on her income tax
returns. Mr. Simmons, as Brown's Chief of Staff, created
a bogus government job for his sister thereby forcing the
taxpayers to pay the sister salary and benefits she had not
earned. Mr. Simmons then took a significant part of the
sister's compensation for his own personal use.
public had a right to expect that Ms. Brown, as an elected
member of Congress, and Mr. Simmons, her long time Chief of
Staff, would not abuse their positions of public trust and
responsibility. It also had a right to expect that Ms. Wiley,
Mr. Simmons and Ms. Brown would not steal money donated for
the benefit of children and spend it on themselves. Nor can
any of these three individuals rationalize their criminal
conduct by claiming financial hardship- each had jobs which
paid substantial salaries. Rather, this was a crime borne of
entitlement and greed, committed to support a lifestyle that
was beyond their lawful means. In short, this was bad
the complicating aspects of the sentencing decision in these
cases is what to make of the victims. Unlike many of the
fraud victims I have seen over the years in this Court, none
of the One Door donors were devastated or financially ruined
by the crimes of these defendants. Many of the donors were
wealthy. While surely some were motivated to donate to an
obscure Virginia-based charity for benevolent reasons, others
sought to maintain access to Ms. Brown and remain in her good
graces. Although the government was required to notify all of
these victims of their right to speak at the sentencing
hearing, apparently none felt sufficiently aggrieved to do
even taking into account the mixed motives of some of the One
Door donors, all of them had a right to expect that a
substantial portion of their donation would be used for the
stated purpose: to help children. Many of the donors
testified that Ms. Brown personally visited them to ask for
donations to One Door. The donors who testified said they
would not have given the money had they known it was going to
personally benefit Ms. Brown, Ms. Wiley and Mr. Simmons.
is one additional victim- One Door itself. These defendants
systematically looted One Door funds which otherwise would
have been available to help deserving children. Just think of
the good that could have been done with that money if it had
been used for its proper purpose.
Court now turns to an individual assessment of each
defendant's sentencing factors.
her involvement with Ronnie Simmons, Ms. Wiley was, by all
accounts, a well regarded person who devoted substantial time
to civic affairs. Ms. Wiley started the One Door for
Education charity for the good purpose of honoring her
mother, a life long teacher, and to provide scholarships and
other assistance to deserving children. According to One
Door's website, the goal of One Door was to
“[provide] scholarships and opportunities to students
pursuing a degree in Education as well as opening doors in
the community.” The One Door slogan was “We make
your education dreams a reality.” In reality, very
little of the money donated to One Door benefitted children.
Instead, Ms. Wiley, having entered into a relationship with
Mr. Simmons, ceded operational control over the One Door
fundraising and spending to Mr. Simmons, knowing that he
intended to use One Door as a vehicle to fund Ms. Brown's
activities and personal lifestyle. Even though Mr. Simmons
was in charge, Ms. Wiley remained involved in One Door's
fraudulent activities. Despite being the registered agent and
director of One Door, Ms. Wiley never complied with any of
the state and federal laws governing charities. And while One
Door advertised itself as a 501(c)(3) tax exempt
organization, at no time did Ms. Wiley do what was necessary
to make that representation true. Ms. Wiley also monitored
the One Door accounts so she could see the money flowing in
and out and helped to facilitate the deposit of checks from
One Door donors.
was all Ms. Wiley had done, it would be bad enough. But Ms.
Wiley decided to take advantage of the large amount of money
flowing into One Door to feather her own nest. Between 2012
and 2016 she initiated approximately 160 individual
electronic transfers from the One Door account to her
personal bank account and to one she shared with her son,
totaling over $120, 000.00. These transfers ranged in size
from $50.00 to $9, 000.00 and on numerous occasions Ms. Wiley
initiated multiple transfers on the same day. She also
withdrew an additional $41, 600.00 from the One Door account,
made personal car payments totaling more than $16, 000.00,
used approximately $3, 500 of One Door funds to pay ...