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House Ethics Panel Opens Probe Into Fla. Rep. Corrine Brown

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Cliff Owen/Associated Press
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Associated Press Photo
In this July 22, 2015, file photo, House Veterans Affairs Committee Ranking Minority Leader Corrine Brown, D-Fla., speaks at a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington.

The House Ethics Committee has officially opened an investigation into Florida Democrat Corrine Brown over a number of allegations, including "fraudulent activity" with an unnamed organization.

The committee will defer to the Justice Department and not actively pursue the probe because of the federal investigation.

The panel also is aware of allegations that Brown may have improperly solicited charitable donations, used campaign money for personal use, and failed to comply with tax laws.

Brown said she had no comment.

The committee's statement did not provide further details, but earlier this month Carla Wiley, a close associate of Brown, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and agreed to testify as part of a larger probe into the activities of a Leesburg, Virginia-based charity called One Door for Education.

Court filings show Wiley deposited $800,000 into the group's bank account over the past four years but gave out one $1,000 scholarship. Wiley transferred thousands of dollars to herself; the money was also used to fund parties, an NFL luxury box, and other extravagances in Washington.

The court papers say the funds were used to benefit individuals identified only as Person A and Person B. Separate documents obtained by The Associated Press in a public records request to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer correspond to some allegations in the federal court documents that "Person A" is Brown.

Brown allegedly solicited charitable contributions to One Door in connection with a 2013 golf tournament called the "Corrine Brown Invitational." Wiley's plea agreement said that numerous donors wrote checks to One Door in connection with the gold tournament but that the money did not go to the charities named in the solicitation.

The ethic panel statement said that the committee is looking into allegations that Brown "may have conspired with other persons in connection with fraudulent activity, improperly solicited charitable donations, used campaign funds for personal purposes, used official resources for impermissible non-official purposes, failed to comply with tax laws, and made false statements."

The announcement comes just two days before a federal court holds a hearing on whether to grant Brown's request to throw out Florida's current congressional districts. Brown maintains that a congressional map approved last year by the state Supreme Court violates federal voting rights laws. The new map shifts Brown's district from one that runs from Jacksonville to Orlando to one that stretches westward to Tallahassee. Brown has sharply criticized the map and says it illegally diminishes the voting clout of minorities.

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