Maryland Del. Tiffany Alston (D-P.G. County) has been indicted on felony theft and other charges and is accused of using campaign funds to pay for personal expenses, including costs associated with her 2010 wedding.
LGBT activists in Maryland consider the development an ironic twist, given that Alston played a prominent role in the defeat of Maryland’s same-sex marriage bill earlier this year. Alston, an early co-sponsor of the bill, later changed her mind and voted against it.
State prosecutor Emmet Davitt announced a series of charges against Alston on Sept. 23, including: one count of felony theft; one count of misdemeanor theft; one count of fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary and two election law violations. The prosecutor alleges that Alston used campaign funds for personal uses, including $3,560 to cover wedding-related expenses. The felony charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
“There is simply no excuse for candidates or their responsible campaign finance officers to flagrantly and repeatedly violate the requirements of the law in the conduct of their campaign finances,” Davitt said in a statement. “We will, therefore, continue to vigorously investigate and, when warranted, prosecute, the candidates, officers and committees who flout these laws.”
Alston responded to the indictment in a brief statement she e-mailed to the news media.
“I emphatically deny any criminal wrongdoing and look forward to the appropriate opportunity to address the accusations lodged against me,” she said.
The investigation leading to Alston’s indictment was carried out by the Maryland Office of the State Prosecutor, an independent office created to fight corruption in government.
James Cabezas, the lead investigator in the case, said the office decided not to place Alston under arrest but instead presented her with a criminal summons instructing her to appear in court in about 30 days, where she will be formally charged.
He said the indictment was handed down by a grand jury in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court because the alleged offenses fall under the jurisdiction of the state Board of Election in Annapolis, where campaign finance documents are filed.
“Del. Alston certainly deserves her day in court,” said Lisa Polyak, a member of the board of Equality Maryland, the statewide LGBT group that coordinated lobbying efforts for the same-sex marriage bill that died in the Maryland Legislature earlier this year.
“But our concern with Del. Alston always was and will continue to be that she made a promise to support equal rights for same-sex couples in Maryland and she’s reneged on that promise,” Polyak said. “We think it’s important that you keep your promises as an elected official and as somebody who represents a group of people who need those legal protections.”
Patrick Wojahn, president of the Equality Maryland Foundation board and an elected member of the College Park, Md., City Council, said that as a Prince George’s County resident he was saddened over Alston’s indictment.
“It doesn’t look well on our county and on our state when things like this happen,” he said. “But I don’t wish any ill will upon her…I hope that maybe someday she’ll come around and be more supportive of equal marriage rights.”
Polyak and Wojahn said they were uncertain over what, if any, impact Alston’s indictment might have on her re-election bid in 2014. A group of conservative black ministers in the majority-black Prince George’s County have taken credit for persuading Alston to drop her support for the same-sex marriage bill.
A coalition of LGBT organizations working with Equality Maryland on the marriage bill say they plan to bolster their efforts to persuade black residents in key legislative districts, including those in P.G. County and in Baltimore, to support the bill when it comes up again for a vote next year.