A few weeks before being sworn in, Alston got married at the University of Maryland’s Memorial Chapel, where 100 guests watched her walk down the aisle wearing a strapless ivory gown embroidered with beads and a flowing veil that reached the floor.
The moment was both joyous and poignant. The man escorting Alston to the altar was her father, who had recently been released from prison.
Her future seemed as bountiful as the newlyweds’ three-tiered wedding cake.
“It was everything I ever dreamed of, a sense of completeness,” Alston recalled. “I felt I had accomplished all of the goals I set for myself.”
Yet it was that celebration, and the way Alston sought to pay for a portion of it, that triggered a searing downward spiral. A state investigation into her spending resulted in charges of malfeasance and misconduct.
Two years after her wedding, Alston’s law license has been suspended, she has shut down her practice, and she has lost her seat in the House of Delegates. At her sentencing hearing, a judge rebuked Alston, telling her that she “broke” the public trust and that she had demonstrated “an incredible arrogance.”
The annals of American politics are rife with examples of politicians forced from office because they misappropriated taxpayer funds. Often, the sums have been far greater than the $800 that a jury found Alston guilty of paying to one of her law firm’s employees.
What makes Alston’s fall distinctive is that she was a rising star in politics, a young African American woman with an inspiring past. In Prince George’s, a county reeling from corruption scandals when she was elected, she was part of a new generation of leadership.
“It’s a tragedy, really,” said state Del. Doyle L. Niemann (D-Prince George’s), who is also a county prosecutor. “Here’s someone who had the values and commitment and vision of changing things for the better, who early on made stupid decisions, and they came back to undo her.
“I think it reflects the way the world works,” he said. “Yes, there are lots of examples where rules are bent or broken. But if you break the rules, you have to be prepared for the consequences.”
During an often tearful and sometimes angry two-hour interview at her home in Bowie, Alston acknowledged making mistakes even as she suggested that she was the victim of a political vendetta and a racially biased justice system. She said she never intended to commit a crime and didn’t deserve to lose her House seat.
Alston has filed an appeal with Maryland’s highest court to reclaim her post, and arguments in the case are scheduled for next month. She said she has not ceased serving her constituents, taking their calls and conveying their concerns.
“My status is I’m a delegate,” she said, even though lawmakers, citing a requirement of the state constitution, stripped her of her title, paycheck and benefits after her conviction.