Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida pleaded not guilty on July 8 to 24 charges against her regarding accusations that she created a fake charity for her own profit.
The 69-year-old, who was one of the first three African-Americans elected to represent Florida in Congress since Reconstruction, entered the plea along with Chief of Staff Elias "Ronnie" Simmons in a grand jury indictment for federal charges of mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, obstruction and filing false tax returns, reports CBS News.
Brown has represented her district since 1993 and is seeking re-election. She also served as senior Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee until she stepped down following her indictment.
"My heart is just really heavy," the Florida representative told reporters outside the courthouse. "But I'm looking forward to a speedy day in court to vindicate myself. We will present the other side."
Brown and her associates are accused of pocketing money from the One Door for Education Foundation Inc., which was registered as a charity to provide scholarships to disadvantaged students.
The foundation gave away a $1,200 scholarship to one Florida resident, while One Door president Carla Wiley transferred tens of thousands of dollars to her personal account, according to federal prosecutors. Wiley pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud earlier in 2016.
At least $200,000 in One Door funds reportedly went to a golf tournament, luxury boxes at concerts and a football game, car repairs and lavish vacations, prosecutors said.
"Our office is committed to ferreting out and prosecuting all forms of corruption and fraud, regardless of who the offender is," explained U.S. attorney A. Lee Bentley. "In our nation, no one is above the law."
If she is convicted on all charges, Brown could face a maximum of 357 years in prison and $5 million in fines.
"I really do believe that the work I've done speaks for me," Brown said, promising that she has "the rest of the story," according to WJAX. "This is just the beginning."