P.G. lawmaker likely to lose seat after theft conviction

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Local,Maryland,Crime,Brian Hughes

A Prince George's County lawmaker on Tuesday was found guilty of stealing taxpayer money to pay for an aide's expenses, likely forcing the freshman legislator out of office and providing yet another example of government misconduct in a suburb besieged by public corruption.

Maryland Del. Tiffany Alston was handed guilty verdicts for misdemeanor theft and misconduct in office after an Anne Arundel County jury concluded that she paid an employee in her law office with about $800 in state money.

And more legal troubles are on the horizon for Alston, who faces another trial in October for allegedly using campaign dollars to pay for her wedding expenses, among other costs.

Raouf Abdullah, an attorney for Alston, said the delegate had no plans to resign and added that he would seek a new trial because of a lack of evidence against his client. Alston contended that her assistant was performing legislative duties rather than private business.

Under state law, any official who is convicted of a misdemeanor that is tied to his or her job and carries a jail sentence faces suspension. Once the conviction is finalized, the public official is removed from office.

Maryland voters will weigh in on a proposed constitutional amendment in November that would force out a lawmaker once a guilty verdict is rendered.

Alston's case was hardly unique to the Prince George's political environment as of late.

County officials watched helplessly after former Councilwoman Leslie Johnson stayed on the job despite a guilty plea in June 2011, for charges of conspiracy to commit federal witness and evidence tampering. She admitted to flushing a $100,000 check and stuffing $79,600 in cash in her bra and underwear at the instruction of her husband, then-County Executive Jack Johnson.

She eventually succumbed to pressure from the County Council and County Executive Rushern Baker and resigned in July, weeks after pleading guilty.

Alston faces up to 18 months in prison for the theft charge, but the judge did not set a sentencing date, citing the upcoming trial about the lawmaker's use of campaign funds.

For their part, prosecutors called the guilty verdicts an affirmation of the checks and balances in place to ensure public officials don't misuse their positions of power.

Warned State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt, "Elected officials are entrusted with public resources and they're not for personal use."

bhughes@washingtonexaminer.com

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