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FILE - In this Aug. 13, 2015 file photo, Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla. talks with the press in Tallahassee, Fla. Rep. Brown, who more than two decades ago became one of the first blacks elected to Congress from Florida since reconstruction, is battling to stay in office amid a criminal indictment and a revamped district that includes thousands of new voters.(AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser, File)

A former congressional staffer admitted to pocketing money meant for college scholarships


Former chief of staff Elias "Ronnie" Simmons, 51, of Maryland pleaded guilty to theft and fraud charges after admitting that he and former Florida Congresswoman Corrine Brown set up a bogus college scholarship non-profit with the intent of funneling the money into their own pockets, according to the Justice Department.

Simmons pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and one count of theft of government property in the Middle District of Florida. 

Simmons accepted a plea agreement with federal prosecutors in exchange for testimony against Brown's alleged involvement in the scandal, according to court documents. Simmons admitted that, between 2012 and early 2016, he and the ex-congresswoman, among others, solicited more than $800,000 in charitable donations based on fraudulent claims that the money would be used for college scholarships and school computer drives.

In fact, Simmons admitted that the organization, One Door for Education - Amy Anderson Scholarship Fund, was only connected to two scholarships totaling $1,200.

Simmons also admitted to abusing his connection to Brown to obtain employment for a close relative, who received over $735,000 in government salary payments between 2001 and 2016. The unnamed employee received the hundreds of thousands of dollars despite doing no known work.

A sentencing hearing has yet to be set. According to Sunshine State News, the maximum penalty for Simmons is 30 years and prison and a $500,000 fine. His attorneys, however, said it's likely that his jail time will be dismissed and will only have to pay the fine, but he will have to testify against the 12-term congresswoman in her upcoming April 2017 trial.

His lawyer said, “Ronnie is aware...he has a price to pay for the mistakes,” his attorney wrote. “He is ready. He has no guarantees or promises as to what his sentence would be other than what the federal guidelines indicate. Nonetheless, he has confidence that his decision will bring him and his family peace after a long year of struggle and anxiety.”

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