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Witness at Maryland Delegate Alston’s trial testifies pay was legit

ANNAPOLIS — The woman whom Delegate Tiffany T. Alston is accused of paying illegally with state funds testified Wednesday that she received the money for legitimate work as a legislative clerk and not for work at the delegate's law firm as prosecutors claim.

Rayshawn Ford was one of several witnesses called to the stand in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court on the second day of the trial of Ms. Alston, a Prince George's Democrat who faces charges of misconduct in office and misdemeanor theft of less than $1,000.

Prosecutors say that Ms. Alston, 35, gave Ms. Ford, who worked for the delegate's law office, a no-show job as a legislative aide for eight days in January 2011, during which Ms. Ford was paid $800 in state funds as compensation for legal work.

Defense attorneys insist that Ms. Ford earned the pay while working as an aide in the delegate's district office — located at her Lanham law office — where Ms. Ford performed clerical duties in the early days of Ms. Alston's first year in office.

J. Wyndal Gordon, an attorney for Ms. Alston, argued that the charges are political payback against his client after she bucked Democratic leadership last October by opposing a redrawn congressional map.

Early last year, she also withdrew her support and co-sponsorship of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.

"We find it to be more than a coincidence that these things occurred in such close proximity," Mr. Gordon said Tuesday.

This trial likely will be the first of two this year for Ms. Alston, who is scheduled to be in court in October on charges that she used more than $5,000 in campaign funds in 2010 to pay for her wedding, compensate a law firm employee and cover other personal expenses.

Those charges include one count of felony theft, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

On Wednesday, state prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt painted a picture of Ms. Alston as a cash-strapped lawyer who had struggled to pay employees and bounced several checks before coming up with the idea to pay Ms. Ford for work done at a nonexistent district office.

Prosecutors argued that Ms. Ford admitted as much to them, but that she became increasingly tight-lipped because of fear of retaliation from Ms. Alston's family.

"After the initial information she provided, she has been very reluctant," said John Poliks, an investigator for the state prosecutor's office.

Ms. Ford, 25, admitted Wednesday to being reticent, but offered different reasons. She said Ms. Alston — whom she called a mentor and friend of 20 years — did nothing wrong, and claimed that state investigators used threats of arrest to intimidate her into testifying.

Ms. Ford said she spent a few months as a volunteer in the law office, receiving occasional pay for gas or college textbooks. She then spent eight days on Ms. Alston's legislative staff before quitting after an "altercation" with Ms. Alston's mother.

Ms. Ford said she didn't recall many details of her testimony last fall before a grand jury, during which prosecutors say she acknowledged never working in Annapolis.

Defense attorneys argued that the admission is meaningless because Ms. Ford was working from Lanham, and that she was never explicitly asked during the testimony whether she worked for the General Assembly in any capacity.

The prosecution will continue calling witnesses Thursday.

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