"I think all of these situations are very, very sad and I just think
that we need to take action to assist the people." Brown's comments
regarding the ethnic cleansing situation in Freedonia. Freedonia is a fictitious
place created by the Marx Brothers. Spy magazine faked a radio interview
and obtained this answer.
|Throughout her career, Corrine Brown (D-FL) and her campaigns have been plagued by ethics complaints. Whether it be her daughter receiving a $50,000 Lexus car from an African businessman in exchange for a favor or her use of taxpayer-paid government employees in her personal business, Brown has shown herself to be a corrupt representative. It's a rare year when Corrine Brown isn't under investigation. Her history of corruption goes back further than her time in the House of Representatives, as Brown corruptly served as a Florida State Representative.|
While congressmen regularly trade favors for campaign donations, its fairly rare that a legislator is openly bribed. However, Corrine Brown is anything but the norm. In 1996, an African millionaire who was facing charges for bribing a U.S. Customs official suddenly befriended Corrine Brown. While most people in America, when wishing to bribe a politician, take the route of funding someone's campaign, the millionaire, Fountanga "Baba" Sissoko, took a less traveled route. Brown's daughter, Shantrel Brown, received a Lexus valued at about $50,000 from him three months after Brown began trying to get Sissoko's court case dismissed.
In late 1996, an interesting figure known as Fountanga "Baba" Sissoko entered the country. He's a multi-millionaire who earned a good portion of his millions by defrauding a bank in the United Arab Emigrates. A lawsuit filed in Miami claimed that he stole at least $240 million from the Dubai Islamic Bank. A fair amount of this money seems to have been spent in America, where he attempted to build a reputation for himself as a charitable individual and not a con man. He was arrested after he tried to bribe a U.S. Customs official into easing the transfer of two American made helicopters into his native home in West Africa.
Corrine Brown was unusually friendly with Sissoko. While its unclear
how they met, Brown and Sissoko seem to have quickly become good friends.
In 1997, Sissoko pled guilty to bribing a U.S. Customs officer. Following
this, Brown became active in his defense. She wrote letters to top administrators
at the White House asking them to allow Sissoko to return to Africa so
that he could avoid going to a prison in the United States. Individuals
contacted included Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. In a letter requesting
that Rubin investigate Sissoko's treatment by the Customs service, she
stated that Sissoko was "singled out and pursued relentlessly. This type
of treatment in unconscionable. Therefore I am, as a Member of Congress,
requesting a FULL INVESTIGATION of Mr. Sissoko's treatment...". She also
sent two other similarly worded letters to Attorney General Janet Reno
and lobbied fellow members of Congress to write letters in support him.
Her actions occurred after the Customs Service had conducted an internal
investigation that found its agents had done nothing wrong. Brown's political
pressure was remarkable enough that it caused Richard Scruggs, an assistant
U.S. attorney who handled Sissoko's case, to state "Never in any case I've
ever had any dealing with was there such an attempt to put so much political
pressure on the prosecutors." In addition to her writing letters on Sissoko's
behalf, Brown also met repeatedly with his legal team and visited him personally
when he was in prison.
|Corrine Brown almost certainly received several favors for her actions on behalf of Sissoko. While he claimed that it was merely a token of their friendship, Sissoko bought Brown's 32 year old daughter Shantrel Brown a Lexus LS 400 valued at $50,000. The car is in Shantrel's name, but is almost certainly used by Corrine Brown, as they still live together. The Browns travel to work together as Shantrel works for the EPA. Following the scandal that emerged around this (and following a month's worth of Shantrel's refusing to answer questions), Shantrel sold the car for $36,000 and donated the money to a church for educational scholarships. In addition to the car, Corrine Brown has also enjoyed the use of Sissoko's luxurious condominium. Over the summer of 1997, Brown, while Sissoko was imprisoned, repeatedly used his condominium which would have normally rented for $6,500 a month.|
Corruption: Other Strange Donations
In addition to taking gifts from corrupt foreign millionaires, Brown also isn't opposed to receiving gifts from corrupt American millionaires. While, in this instance, Brown doesn't appear to have acquired material goods or pleasures for herself, her political life was certainly helped. A federal judge was redrawing the shape of her district and Brown needed to fund the trips of several busloads of supporters to the courthouse. For some unknown reason, Corrine Brown's old friend Rev. Henry Lyons (the former president of the National Baptist Convention USA) wrote a $10,000 check to cover the cost of the buses. The check was made out to Brown instead of the bus company Pameron Tours. This check was later converted to an "official" check for $10,000 to Pameron Tours. In addition, the check was made out from an account that had been opened in the past month. Oddly enough, Lyons' fortune, in addition to being put to questionable uses, also appears to have been acquired illegally, also possibly with the help of Corrine Brown. He extorted over a million dollars from a Canadian company, Loewen Group, by threatening to instigate a Congressional Black Caucus investigation, which Brown is a member of, into the company's dealing with black customers. It's not clear whether or not Brown played any part in directing Lyons to extort money from the company, but it would be a surprise if she wasn't at least aware of it. In her favor, Corrine Brown has never been accused of playing a part in the extortion.
Corrine Brown has also done favors for Lyons. In the prior year, it
appears that Brown was more than willing to purchase discounted plane tickets
for Lyons. Legislators are able to purchase tickets for a discounted price
at the taxpayer's expense. She purchased at least three tickets in this
manner with Omega World Travel. The invoices for these are addressed to
Brown but list the passenger as Lyons. This, obviously, is not any sort
of official government travel and constitutes taxpayer subsidized trips
for rich millionaires who have nothing to do with the government..
locked up under the influence of money.
|In what appears to be a case that often occurs with our representatives, Brown does not appear to have problems taking political donations in direct exchange for political favors. Brown received at least $9,500 in campaign donations from the Itera International Energy Corp. She was also, and perhaps more importantly, sent on a trip with two of her aides to the former Soviet Union. Five months after the trip, she began complaining to the diplomats of the Ukraine and another former Soviet Republic of Turkmenistan regarding a deal the countries had with Itera International Energy Corporation. She wrote rather blunt letters to the diplomats of both countries implying that U.S. relations with the countries could go bad if the energy agreement was not satisfactorily resolved in favor of Itera. She complained that the two countries were not using Itera as a middleman and that this sort of behavior contradicted the United States' hopes of fostering private enterprise in the former USSR. In addition to the use of what's generally considered blunt terminology, Brown also used current bills moving through Congress as an effort to influence the countries. She attached a copy of an appropriations bill that included assistance for the Ukraine in her letter to the Ukraine republic. To the diplomat from Turkmenistan, she mentioned that she had talked with U.S. Agriculture department officials. Both of these casual references were obviously threats intended to cause the two countries to change their views towards in important campaign contributors to Brown's campaign.|
Corruption: Suspicious Payments
During her first run for national office, Brown regularly and grossly violated campaign finance laws. While its possible that these were honest mistakes due to an inexperienced campaign staff, the pattern of oddities should raise many eyebrows. Given Brown's high ethical standard regarding Lexus' and the like, one should be suspicious of the "mystery" withdrawals that repeatedly appear in Brown's campaign.
After serving as a Florida state representative for a number of years, Brown, in 1992, embarked on her campaign for national office. One would think that she would have some idea of what's legal and what's illegal in federal campaigns after serving as a state representative for so long. To be fair, Florida state campaign law differs from the federal laws and its possible that some of these violations, had they occurred individually, could be attributable to these differences. Unfortunately, from 1992-1997, according to the Hill (a political newspaper in DC), she made more than $50,000 in questionable payments to herself and to her aides. In addition to this, their were many illegal donations.
A good chunk of the reimbursements were made by Brown after the Federal Elections Committee had made it clear to her campaign that these actions were, at best, "legally suspect". This includes $7,500 in lump sums to Brown (meaning $7,500 in reimbursement for 'expenses' paid to herself). Over the next four years, Brown used $38,000 in campaign cash to reimburse herself and her aides. While some and perhaps most of these were justified, a fair amount of them arose suspicion. Once, Brown gave herself $500 for travel. It's unclear just what form of travel costs exactly $500. On election day of 1996, she gave herself $1,000 for the same purpose of "travel".
In addition to the $7,500 in lump sum reimbursements that Brown paid to herself, there exist other suspect transactions. Perhaps the most suspect is a $1,000 payment to an individual known as Marcus Hill. This disbursement also happened on election day of 1996. When contacted by a newspaper, Hill gave a rather odd response to as the reason for receiving a thousand dollars. He told them that he was a volunteer for the campaign after he graduated from college and couldn't recall receiving any money from the campaign. His response to the interviewer was "If I got $1,000, I think I would remember,". However, Hill's memory returned after Brown's office was informed of Hill's statement and, evidently, called him to "remind" him of his payment. He called the newspaper back and said that he had checked his records and suddenly remembered receiving $1,000 for his campaign work. As a starving college student myself, this seems kind of surprising. Surely, if any of the campaigns I've done any work for paid me anything more than, say, $100, I don't think that I would have to check my records to see if I had been paid. Other oddities in the Brown's campaign finance report include spending almost as much on flowers ($4,000) as they did on rent ($5,100).After an investigation, the FEC passed on charging Brown with any crime (why, I don't know).
Corruption: Brown's Early Years
Corrine Brown has had a long history of abusing the government. Surprisingly, Corrine Brown's current misdeeds are perhaps less severe than those committed while she was a state legislator. During her years as a state legislator (from 1982 to 1992), Brown committed a number of undoubtedly corrupt acts. These ranged from having taxpayer funded employees work at her own travel agency business to securing federal grants for friends.
In perhaps her most prominent case, Brown was fined $5,000 by the Florida State Ethics Board (the maximum fine) for using taxpayer paid state employees to work at her private travel office. This occurred repeatedly for at least three years. Betty Ann Howard was paid by the state to work as some sort of secretary for Brown. Instead, she managed Brown's travel agency and rarely, if ever, worked for Brown's legislative office. Another employee was taken on Brown's payroll solely because this individual had experience in a travel office. The case was resolved when Brown agreed to pay the fine and said that she should have been more diligent. She regretted "any inadvertent violation" of state law. Evidently Brown has difficulty making a common sense sort of judgement that taxpayer paid employees should not work at a legislator's for profit business. Yeah. Oops.
Other lapses on Brown's part include the following. As a state legislator, Brown helped a friend secure a grant for the "One Stop Economic Development Center". Her friend received a federal grant of $425,000. In the end, the financial venture cost $313,000. She has also sent letters to "concerned" directors of political action committees. In these she pointed out that her campaign was $50,000 in debt and that she was a member of a few influential congressional committees. On a stranger note, Brown employs a convicted murderer and former cocaine addict as a top aide. If anyone has any information on any of these three incidents, please email me as I've been unable to turn up the details behind these.
Jazz Singer: With the possible exception of the Pentagon's multithousand dollar screwdriver, Brown pays for one of the biggest wastes of taxpayer money. In 1998, Singer Rosyln Burrough was a "congressional outreach specialist" for her friend Corrine Brown. What does her job entail? Singing songs about self-esteem to children and senior citizens in Brown's district. She received $14,366 in 1997 for her job and it was estimated that the bill for 1998 would total $35,400. This is a good deal more than Brown pays her legislative assistants, who generally make between $20,000 and $30,000. While Corrine Brown isn't good at much, she's certainly good at wasting taxpayer funds.
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(image courtesy of Mike Valentine's page)