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House Vets Panel Gets New Ranking Democrat After Lawmaker's Indictment

Rep. Takano discussing charts with Rep. Honda (Photo: Work for Warriors Caucus)
Rep. Takano discussing charts with Rep. Honda (Photo: Work for Warriors Caucus)

The House Veterans Affairs Committee has a new ranking member after longtime Democratic Rep. Corinne Brown of Florida was forced to relinquish the leadership position after being charged in a criminal investigation.

Rep. Mark Takano of California said in a brief statement that he was "humbled to assume the role" of acting ranking member.

His spokesman, Josh Weisz, told Military.com on Tuesday that Takano will meet over the next few days with fellow Democrats on the committee to talk specific goals, but that his "first priority is for the committee to continue its work at full-speed during this transition period."

Brown, along with her chief of staff, was charged on Friday with 24 counts of wrongdoing. The Florida grand jury indictment alleges Brown and Elias R. "Ronnie" Simmons, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars through a phony charity, One Door for Education -- Amy Anderson Scholarship Fund, which they used "for their own personal and professional benefit."

The indictment states that Brown, Simmons and Carla Anderson Wiley -- who established the One Door charity in 2011 -- used unlawfully raised funds on "a variety of personal expenses, including … plane tickets, repairs to personal vehicles, and luxury vacations in the Bahamas, Los Angeles, California and Miami Beach, Florida."

Though Wiley's alleged actions are detailed, there are no charges listed against her in the 52-page indictment. Wiley entered into a plea agreement in March in which she pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Wiley's middle name is also Anderson, but Military.com was not able to learn if she was related to the Amy Anderson named in the phony charity. The Florida Times-Union reported that Amy Anderson was a 30-year-old school teacher in Loudoun County, Virginia.

The plea bargain suggests that Wiley may be a witness for the government against Brown and Simmons.

The charges include one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, 16 counts of mail and wire fraud, one count of theft of government funds, two counts of scheming to conceal material facts, one count of obstructing and impeding the administration of Internal Revenue laws, and three counts of filing false tax returns.

The 69-year-old Brown pleaded not guilty in an Jacksonville, Florida, courtroom on Monday. She faces a combined total of 357 years in prison and fines of up to $4 million. Simmons, 50, who also pleaded not guilty, faces a similar sentence.

Brown did not respond to Military.com's request for comment on Tuesday.

In her blog on Sunday Brown wrote: "Being indicted is very scary. Yet my conscience is clear because I'm innocent. I'm not the first black elected official to be persecuted and, sad to say, I won't be the last.

"The most important thing I want you to understand is that an indictment is not a conviction," she continued. "An indictment is an accusation. Anybody can make an accusation. You've heard the prosecutor's side, but you still have not heard the rest of the story."

On Monday, speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, Brown said that if the federal agents investigating her had instead been investigating Omar Mateen, who last month opened fire inside an Orlando, Florida, nightclub, the victims might still be alive.

"These are the same agents that was not able to do a thorough investigation [of Mateen] and we ended up with 50 people dead," she told reporters.

Paul Rieckhoff, founder and chief executive officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, posted on his Facebook page Monday that Brown's trying to make a connection between the investigation into her activities and the Orlando shootings "is the kind of whacky rhetoric she's been famous for on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

"I don't know anything about the charges against Rep Brown," Rieckhoff wrote in a later posting on his Facebook page. "But I do know she was the most awful Ranking Member of HVAC we've ever seen and vets are better off without her leading our committee.

He said IAVA is non-partisan but previously advised the Democrats to select a Post-9/11 veteran such as Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota to the ranking position, and that it will now do so again.

Takano, in his statement on Monday, said he was named ranking member in accordance with the rules of the Democratic Caucus.

Weisz said Takano expects the committee to remain focused on ensuring the VA is accountable without violating employees' due process rights, improving the VA health system without privatization, strengthening the mental health care veterans receive, and providing veterans the support they need.

Congress is only in session until Friday, when it breaks for the summer. It reconvenes in September, just two months before the November elections in which every House seat is up for reelection.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at Bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BryantJordan.

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