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Finance report raising questions


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 1998

WASHINGTON -- Lawyers for African millionaire Foutanga Sissoko gave $3,500 to the campaign of Rep. Corrine Brown, the Jacksonville Democrat who led an aggressive lobbying campaign to keep Sissoko from going to prison.

Brown received five $500 contributions from lawyers at the Miami firm of Greenberg Traurig. She also received $1,000 from the firm's political action committee, according to her latest campaign finance report.

The contributors include Mark Schnapp and Oscar Levin, lawyers who defended Sissoko during the final phase of his sentencing on a bribery conviction.

Last summer, Brown urged top Clinton administration officials to keep Sissoko from going to prison. Then, three months later, her daughter Shantrel accepted a $50,000 luxury car from Sissoko's chief financial officer.

Shantrel Brown has said her mother had no part in her decision to accept the car, which she recently sold. But four members of the House of Representatives, including one Democrat, have called for an ethics investigation of Rep. Brown.

The contributions from Greenberg Traurig account for more than one-fourth of the $12,255 Brown raised during the second quarter. Her Republican opponent, Bill Randall, raised $31,216.

Levin said he met Brown during the Sissoko case and that he gave $500 to her campaign because "I feel she happens to be a good legislator and she is accessible."

Greenberg Traurig is one of the most politically active law firms in Florida. Marvin Rosen, the former finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is a senior partner.

Sissoko is prohibited from making contributions because he is not a U.S. citizen. His defense team included lawyers from several other Miami firms, but none of them made contributions to Brown, according to her latest report.

A Brown spokeswoman said she had no comment on the contributions.

Brown's July 15 finance report also shows she paid $3,907 in campaign money to buy a 1988 Lincoln Continental that her mother had bought for $1.

Congressional candidates are free to spend money on virtually anything campaign-related, including cars. But Brown's transaction is unusual because it involved Sissoko, her mother, Delia Covington, and a stolen car.

The strange tale began last Aug. 12 when Covington's beige Cadillac Seville was stolen from the parking lot of a Jacksonville apartment complex, according to a police report. Covington then bought the Lincoln for $1 from Bonnie Brown Jr. on Sept. 10, state records indicate.

In the meantime, Shantrel Brown says, she mentioned her grandmother's stolen car to Sissoko's chief financial officer, who offered to buy Covington a new car. But for reasons that are still unexplained, the $50,000 Lexus was titled to Shantrel Brown, who used it to drive Rep. Brown to work at the U.S. Capitol.

Then on May 8 of this year, Covington sold the Lincoln to Gateway Auto Sales in Jacksonville. State records do not indicate how much she was paid for the car. The Kelley Blue Book, a reference guide for used-car prices, lists the trade-in value at $1,950, assuming the car was in good condition.

The same day, Rep. Brown bought the car for $3,500, according to state records. It's not clear why her campaign listed the price as $3,907.

The Blue Book suggested retail price is $4,790.

Brown and Covington would not answer questions about the transaction.

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