Alston suspended from House after plea agreement

Local,Maryland,Crime,Matt Connolly

The Prince George's County delegate who admitted to misusing public funds was suspended without pay or benefits Wednesday, according to a letter from the Maryland General Assembly's legal counsel.

The letter, sent from Counsel Dan Friedman to House Speaker Michael Busch, comes one day after Democrat Tiffany Alston pleaded no contest to charges that she misused campaign funds for personal expenditures, including an attempt to use more than $3,500 in campaign funds to pay for wedding expenses. In June, she was found guilty of using $800 in state money to pay an employee of her law office.

There was confusion in the agreement's aftermath when State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt said Alston should be suspended immediately and Alston's attorney said she was free to retain her seat.

"The suspension under the state constitution has to take place immediately upon conviction," Davitt said. "They're hanging their hat on there not being a conviction."

Under Maryland law, an elected official who is convicted of or pleads no contest to a misdemeanor that is tied to his or her job and involves "moral turpitude" is suspended. The official are then removed from office if the conviction is finalized after a judicial review.

Raouf Abdullah, an attorney for Alston, said the lawmaker is going to fight the decision because Judge Paul Harris has not yet completed a final review of the guilty ruling.

"We believe that the action is premature and not in compliance with current law," Abdullah said. "We intend to utilize whatever processes there are to request that the assembly not take any action until Judge Harris has ruled on the motion for reconsideration."

Alston was found guilty of abusing her office in June after a jury dismissed her story that a staff worker had been performing legislative duties when she was paid with state funds. Faced with allegations of writing two checks from her campaign fund to pay for her wedding, she said she had merely used the wrong checks. The lawmaker was given a suspended sentence of one year in jail and placed on three years' probation. She must also perform 300 hours of community service and pay $800 in restitution to the General Assembly.

According to state law, the Democratic Central Committee for Prince George's County has 30 days from Tuesday to send a list of potential temporary replacements to Gov. Martin O'Malley. The governor must then choose a replacement within 15 days.

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