A young Prince George’s politician who seemed to embody Maryland’s crisis of conscience over approving same-sex marriage was charged Friday with stealing campaign funds, in part to pay for her wedding.
Del. Tiffany T. Alston, 34, a little-known freshman state lawmaker before this spring, is charged with writing herself checks and cashing them to pay for at least $3,560 in expenses for her wedding day. According to the Office of the Maryland State Prosecutor, she also wrote herself checks to help pay the salary of an employee in her law firm.
Alston’s wedding, attended by some fellow lawmakers and sorority sisters, was derided this spring by some gay activists. With whispers and shrugs outside Annapolis hearing rooms, some said it was ironic that so close to the celebration of her own nuptials a lawmaker reversed course and opposed letting gays marry in Maryland.
Now, questions about that wedding threaten to bring down the rising Prince George’s lawmaker as quickly as she burst into public view — and further tarnish a county and a state already racked this year by political scandals.
Among other charges detailed Friday in a five-count indictment filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, Alston faces a charge of felony theft, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $10,000. She also is charged with one count of misdemeanor theft, one count of fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary and two election law violations. The misdemeanor charge also carries a potential 18-month prison term.
In a statement released just before midnight Friday, Alston denied any wrongdoing.
“I emphatically deny any criminal wrong doing and look forward to the appropriate opportunity to address the accusations lodged against me,” she said in the statement.
“My family and I would like to extend our heartfelt appreciation to the hundreds of constituents, friends, colleagues and well-wishers who have reached out with their kind words and prayers. I want them to know that their trust in me will be justified when this process is ultimately concluded.”
Alston, also identified in the indictment as Tiffany A. Gray, married Kendal Gray, who had served as an aide to former Prince George’s County chairman Camille Exum.
A former chief of staff for the commissioner of the state’s prison system, and now a co-owner of a Lanham law firm where she practices family and business law, Alston was one of two county political figures indicted Friday.
Former Capitol Heights mayor Darrell Miller, 47, was charged with personal use of campaign funds. He faces one count of felony theft, one count of fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary and three election law violations.
Miller served as mayor from 2006 to 2010, and before that as a town council member from 2002 to 2006, according to Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth, town administrator for Capitol Heights. Mayor Kito A. James declined to comment Friday on the indictment.
Miller allegedly used a campaign debit card to steal more than $1,000 in campaign funds, according to the indictment.
In an interview, Miller denied wrongdoing. “I have not used any public funds for personal gain,” he said, adding that he had contributed personal funds to his campaign.
Jim Cabezas, chief investigator for the state prosecutor’s office, said a Prince George’s employee tipped off the office to Alston’s alleged wrongdoing.
He declined to provide further details. “Obviously, we’re interested in protecting the identity of that person,” Cabezas said.
In a statement, State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt, a recent appointment of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), said there was “simply no excuse” for candidates not to know the strict rules that govern the use of campaign contributions. “No candidate or committee can possibly be unaware that campaign funds may not be converted to the personal use of an officer or candidate.”
Under state law, Alston can remain in office while she confronts the charges. Longtime state Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George’s) was stripped of his committee chairmanship but served in the legislature this year while under indictment for allegedly steering favors to the Shoppers food chain. He allegedly worked to help the company with a liquor license while he was chairman of the powerful Budget and Tax Committee. Currie’s trial is scheduled to begin next week.
Alston was little known out side of her Prince George’s district until this spring. She co-sponsored a bill to legalize same-sex marriage but then left a hearing room with another lawmaker just before the bill came up for a vote. The two lawmakers later returned, but the disappearance delayed the committee vote and amounted to the first of many setbacks that ultimately derailed the legislation.
Before a subsequent vote, Alston introduced an amendment to water down the bill to authorize civil unions, not same-sex marriages. When that failed, she voted against the legislation, saying her vote was “for my constituents.”
Staff writer Ruben Castaneda and staff researchers Magda Jean-Louis and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.