- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2012

A Maryland jury could decide as soon as Tuesday whether to convict Delegate Tiffany T. Alston on charges that she used $800 in state funds to pay a former employee for work performed for her law firm.

The jury began deliberations Monday afternoon in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court after prosecutors and defense attorneys gave closing arguments in the trial, which began June 5.

Ms. Alston, Prince George’s Democrat, is accused of giving a former employee at her Lanham-based Alston Law Office a no-show job as a legislative aide for eight days in January 2011, during which, prosecutors say, the employee worked for the firm but was paid with state funds.

Ms. Alston, founder and principal lawyer of the firm, faces misdemeanor charges of misconduct in office and theft of less than $1,000.

Defense attorneys contend that the employee was serving as a legitimate member of Ms. Alston’s legislative staff but worked from her district office - located at the law office - rather than at the House legislative offices in Annapolis.

If found guilty, Ms. Alston could face a maximum of 18 months in jail for misdemeanor theft.

The charges that Ms. Alston currently faces came about during the investigation into the possible misuse of campaign funds, prosecutors say.

Rayshawn Ford, the employee whom prosecutors say received $800, testified last week that the pay was legitimate and that she worked as a legislative clerk, helping to set up phone lines and perform other duties shortly after Ms. Alston took office in 2011.

Prosecutors hinged their case on highlighting the financial troubles at Ms. Alston’s law firm and questioning whether she actually had a district office in early 2011.

James Goff, administrator of fiscal operations for the state Department of Legislative Services, testified last week that state records showed Ms. Alston had no officially designated district office at the time.

A bank employee also told prosecutors that Ms. Alston’s firm had a business account that was overdrafted 49 times in 2010 and closed by the bank after it had a negative balance for 45 days.

Defense attorneys say the firm’s money problems are irrelevant to the case and that prosecutors are bringing flimsy, politically motivated charges against Ms. Alston because she has publicly clashed with Democratic leaders over such issues as congressional redistricting and same-sex marriage during her year and a half in office.

These charges are relatively minor compared with felony charges that Ms. Alston will face this fall over allegations that she used more than $5,000 in campaign funds in 2010 to pay for her wedding, pay a law firm employee and cover other personal expenses.

Those charges include felony theft, which is punishable by as much as 10 years in prison.

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