Congressional Accountability Project
1611 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 3A
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 296-2787
fax (202) 833-2406
 
 

June 9, 1998

The Honorable James Hansen, Chairman
The Honorable Howard Berman, Ranking Member
House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct
HT-2, The Capitol
U. S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representatives Hansen and Berman:

This letter constitutes a formal ethics complaint against U.S. Representative Corrine Brown (D-FL), and a request for an inquiry into whether Rep. Brown received illegal gratuities, bribes or improper gifts, and violated financial disclosure laws, by accepting an expensive car and lodging from Mr. Foutanga Dit Babani Sissoko and a $10,000 payment from Rev. Henry Lyons.

This complaint is pursuant to House Rule 10, which authorizes the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct ("Ethics Committee") to investigate "any alleged violation, by a Member, officer, or employee of the House, of the Code of Official Conduct or of any law, rule, regulation or standard of conduct applicable to the conduct of such Member, officer, or employee in the performance of his duties or the discharge of his responsibilities."(1)

On June 3, 1998, the St. Petersburg Times reported that Rep. Brown repeatedly intervened with the Justice Department and other Members of Congress on Mr. Sissoko's behalf, and, subsequently, Mr. Sissoko gave an expensive car to Rep. Brown or her daughter.

The St. Petersburg Times also reported that Rep. Brown also accepted lodging from Mr. Sissoko on Florida's Brickell Key. Rep. Brown repeatedly intervened with the Justice Department to keep Mr. Sissoko out of prison. She wrote two letters to Attorney General Janet Reno urging her to deport Mr. Sissoko to West Africa instead of sending him to prison.(3) In addition, one of these letters refers to a phone conversation between Attorney General Reno and Rep. Brown regarding Mr. Sissoko. In that letter, Rep. Brown felt the need to clarify that, during their phone conversation, she was "not asking for a personal favor" to keep Mr. Sissoko out of prison. House Rule 51 prohibits House Members from accepting gifts, with exceptions, and waivers granted by the Ethics Committee. The rule also prohibits House Members from allowing family members to accept gifts given because of the official position of the Member. The gift rule allows some gifts made on the basis of personal friendship, but forbids House Members from accepting gifts worth more than $250 without the prior written approval of the Ethics Committee.(5) In addition, the House Code of Official Conduct states that: We urge the Ethics Committee to investigate whether Rep. Brown has improperly accepted an expensive car or vacations and personal hospitality which are impermissible under the gift rule or the Code of Official Conduct. Federal financial disclosure law requires Members of Congress to publicly disclose information regarding their holdings, compensation, and financial transactions, as well as other personal financial details.(7) Specifically, it requires disclosure of gifts worth more than $250. We urge the Ethics Committee to review whether Rep. Brown complied with these financial disclosure requirements. The St. Petersburg Times account calls into question whether Rep. Brown and Mr. Sissoko conformed their conduct to the letter of the law. In particular, Section 201 of the U.S. Criminal Code may have been triggered by their activities. We strongly urge the Ethics Committee to investigate whether Rep. Brown has accepted a car and lodging on Brickell Key that constitute illegal gratuities or bribes. Although Rep. Brown was not the ultimate decision-maker regarding whether or not Mr. Sissoko would be kept out of jail, her letter-writing and lobbying campaigns on behalf of Mr. Sissoko were affirmative "official acts" within the meaning of the federal bribery statute. On April 14, 1998, the St. Petersburg Times reported that: We strongly urge the Ethics Committee to determine whether, in receiving this $10,000 payment, Rep. Brown has accepted an illegal gratuity in violation of section 201 of the U.S. Criminal Code, accepted an improper gift in violation of House Rule 51, and failed to disclose the $10,000 payment as required by federal financial disclosure law.
 

The St. Petersburg Times articles suggest that Rep. Corrine Brown may have violated criminal laws and House Rules which safeguard the integrity of Congress. We strongly urge the Ethics Committee to swiftly authorize an investigative subcommittee to investigate Rep. Brown, and to appoint an outside counsel to conduct the investigation.

Sincerely,

Gary Ruskin
Director


Certificate of Service
 
 

This is to certify that I have today, by hand delivery, provided an exact copy of this complaint to the Respondent in this matter, Representative Corrine Brown, at the following address:
 
 

Representative Corrine Brown
1610 Longworth House Office Building
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
 
 
 
 

Gary Ruskin
Complainant


Endnotes

1. House Rule 10, clause 4(e)(2).

2. Bill Adair and David Dahl, "The Representative, The Millionaire, and the Luxury Car." St. Petersburg Times, 3 June 1998. Attachment #1 also includes Jim DeFede, "The Baba Chronicles." Miami New Times, 25 September 1997.

3. Correspondence from Representative Corrine Brown to Honorable Janet Reno, 11 June 1997 and 17 June 1997. See Attachment #2.

4. House Rule 51, clause 1(b)(2)(A).

5. House Rule 51, clause 1(e).

6. House Rule 43, clause 3.

7. 5 U.S.C. app. 6, §§101-111.

8. 18 U.S.C. § 201(b)(2)(A).

9. 18 U.S.C. § 201(c)(1)(B).

10. Monica Davey, David Barstow and David Dahl. "Lawmaker Got $10,000 from Lyons Fund." St. Petersburg Times, April 14, 1998. Attachment #2 also includes "A $10,000 Mystery." St. Petersburg Times, April 15, 1998.