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Md. lawmaker found guilty of misdemeanor theft

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Local,Maryland

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A jury found Maryland Delegate Tiffany Alston guilty on Tuesday of misdemeanor theft and misconduct in office for using state money to pay an employee in her law firm by representing the worker as a legislative employee.

The jury in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court reached its verdict in less than an hour after gathering for the second day of deliberations. The jury had deliberated for more than three hours on Monday.

The convictions mean Alston, D-Prince George's, could eventually be forced from office. However, her attorney, Raouf Abdullah, said the freshman delegate has no plans to step down. He said he plans to request that Anne Arundel Circuit Court Judge Paul Harris, Jr., overturn the convictions for lack of evidence. Abdullah also said he plans to ask for a new trial within 10 days.

"This is not a settled matter," Abdullah told reporters after the verdict.

Jurors declined to comment to reporters after the verdict.

Alston was accused by state prosecutors of paying an employee in her law office about $800 in state funds by saying the employee was a member of her legislative staff.

State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt said he was pleased with the verdict.

"Elected officials are entrusted with public resources and they're not for personal use," Davitt said.

Her attorneys say the employee performed legislative work and that prosecutors have failed to prove otherwise.

Alston also is accused in a separate case of using campaign funds to pay for wedding-related expenses. The judge declined to set a sentencing date, noting that the pending case was scheduled for October.

The state's constitution says any state official who is convicted of a misdemeanor related to the lawmaker's public duties and responsibilities that involves moral turpitude and carries a penalty of incarceration will be suspended without pay or benefits from the elective office. The constitution notes that if the conviction becomes final after judicial review or otherwise, the official will be removed from elective office

The lawmaker's suspension would not be triggered until she is sentenced. That means Alston can remain an active lawmaker until she is sentenced. Consequently, she could participate and vote in a special session that could be called next month to take up proposals to expand gambling in the state.

The long period of time in which Maryland public officials can continue to hold office — even after a jury finds them guilty or they plead guilty — prompted legislators this year to approve a proposed constitutional amendment that would remove an official from office upon a finding of guilt. The matter will be on the ballot for voters to decide in November.

Last year, Leslie Johnson, a member of the Prince George's County Council, returned to the council after she pleaded guilty to destroying evidence in a federal case against her husband, former Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson. She had planned to stay in office until her sentencing at the end of the year, but she resigned under pressure from county officials.

Alston faces up to 18 months of incarceration on the theft charge. The penalty for the misconduct in office charge is an unspecified sanction that is up to the discretion of the court.

The judge did not set a sentencing date.

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