- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Maryland lawmaker accepted a plea agreement Tuesday in two cases where she was accused of misusing state and campaign funds.

Delegate Tiffany Alston, Prince George’s Democrat, was sentenced Tuesday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court to three years of probation, 300 hours of community service and a one-year suspended jail sentence after she was found guilty in June on charges that she used $800 in state funds to pay an employee at her law firm for a no-show, $100-a-day legislative job.

As part of the deal, Ms. Alston also pleaded guilty to charges in a second case where she was accused of using $3,500 in campaign funds to pay for her wedding.

The misdemeanor convictions could force the freshman delegate from office. Her attorneys have said if she completes her community service and other requirements of the deal, they believe she could continue serving.

“We believe that, in the end, the result will be that she will have a clean record, and she’ll be able to come back and serve her constituents,” attorney Raouf Abdullah told The Associated Press.

Mrs. Alston’s attorneys reached the agreement with state prosecutors Tuesday morning, shortly before her second trial was scheduled to begin.

The agreement also requires that she pays back the $800 she gave to an employee.

Mrs. Alston, 35, has served since 2011 in the House of Delegates and has gained a reputation for frequently bucking Democratic leadership.

Last year, she angered prominent Democrats by withdrawing her support and co-sponsorship of an unsuccessful bill to legalize same-sex marriage, and then publicly said party leaders tried to pressure her into voting in favor of the legislation.

She later relented and voted in favor of this year’s successful marriage bill.

Last fall, she was harshly critical of Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley’s plan to redraw the state’s congressional districts, arguing that it purposely diluted the influence of black voters in her county and in Baltimore.

Her attorneys have argued that the charges against her were political payback, but prosecutors disagreed and pointed out that the initial investigation into her use of campaign funds began in 2010 before she took office.

“There was nothing political about this case,” Circuit Court Judge Paul F. Harris Jr. said Tuesday in court. “We can never downplay the importance of the public trust.”

It is still unclear whether Mrs. Alston will be allowed to continue serving in office. The state constitution allows for suspension or removal of public officials convicted of felonies or certain misdemeanors related to misconduct in office.

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, said Tuesday that the speaker is in talks with the state attorney general to determine their course of action.

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