No jail time for Alston after ‘no contest’ plea -- Gazette.Net


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This story was updated on Oct. 9, 2012.

A Prince George’s County delegate accused of using campaign funds to pay for her wedding will avoid jail time as part of a plea agreement that resolved — for now — two sets of criminal charges against her.

Del. Tiffany T. Alston (D-Dist. 24) of Mitchellville pleaded no contest Tuesday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court to fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary and was given three years of unsupervised probation before judgment.

Four other charges relating to allegations that she used money from her campaign account to pay for her wedding, pay a clerk at her law firm and draw $1,250 in cash for unspecified purposes were dropped as part of the agreement between Alston and the Office of State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt.

The agreement also included sentencing provisions stemming from charges that Alston used General Assembly money to pay the clerk at her law firm. A jury convicted Alston of those charges in June, but Judge Paul Harris delayed sentencing until after the resolution of the second matter.

For a charge of misconduct in office, Alston was given a suspended sentence of one year in prison, followed by three years of supervised probation and 300 hours community service. She also was ordered to pay $800 in restitution to the General Assembly.

Once Alston meets those conditions, she can request probation before judgment, which could result in her conviction being expunged.

Before Harris finalized the sentence, the 35-year-old delegate, who was elected in 2010, offered a tearful statement that was both apologetic and defensive. She said that “careless accounting mistakes” were to blame for the errors.

“There was no malicious intent on my part,” Alston said, adding that she believed prosecutors knew there was no criminal intent behind her actions. She also said that she had loaned her campaign account $8,000 of her own money.

Harris offered a stern rebuke, arguing that Alston’s actions violated the public trust. “It just shows an incredible arrogance on your part,” he told her.

Davitt told reporters he was pleased with the outcome of both cases, and said that the facts that were read into the record as part of the plea proved that the charges against Alston were not politically motivated. The inappropriate use of campaign money had been brought to his office’s attention before Alston was even sworn in as a delegate, he said.

Alston’s attorneys had argued earlier this year that the charges were punishment for a vote against same-sex marriage in 2011 and her criticism of a redistricting plan introduced by Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Alston’s fate as a member of the General Assembly remained unclear as of Tuesday afternoon. The state constitution calls for any elected official who is convicted of — or pleads guilty or no contest to — a felony or “a misdemeanor related to his public duties and responsibilities and involves moral turpitude for which the penalty may be incarceration” to be automatically suspended from office. But that provision doesn’t take effect until the conviction becomes final, usually at sentencing.

Davitt said that as best he understood the law, Tuesday’s agreement meant that Alston was now automatically suspended from office. Alston herself told reporters that she believed that because her conviction from the first trial could eventually be expunged, it was still under judicial review and was not yet final.

The Office of the Attorney General is reviewing the plea agreement and declined to comment Tuesday afternoon.

dleaderman@gazette.net