Maryland Del. Michael L. Vaughn’s resignation on Wednesday, minutes before the start of the 2017 legislative session, stunned lawmakers at the State House in Annapolis even though it had been rumored all week.
Vaughn, a Democrat who had represented Prince George’s County since 2003, had a letter delivered to House Speaker Michael Busch at 11:15 a.m., announcing his decision to leave immediately to deal with unspecified health issues.
And just as immediately, Vaughn became the talk of a capital already abuzz over the recent news that a former legislator had pleaded guilty to a long-running bribery and corruption scheme, and the declaration by a federal prosecutor that more than one current lawmaker was involved.
There was no indication in Vaughn’s letter that his decision to leave the legislature was connected to the probe, in which former Prince George’s County Council member and state delegate William A. Campos (D) has pleaded guilty to accepting bribes in exchange for official favors.
But several Democrats openly speculated about a possible link as they went through the rituals of the first day of the annual 90-day session, citing descriptions in court filings that appear to match Vaughn’s legislative record and saying they were unaware of any health problems the delegate was having that would have precluded him from serving.
“Whatever the circumstances may be, and we all know what’s been out there, it’s very unfortunate,” said Del. Dereck Davis (D-Prince George’s), who has served in the General Assembly during Vaughn’s entire career. “When we all assume these seats and take these oaths, there’s a certain contract we make with the public that we will serve to the best of our ability and not violate that trust.”
Vaughn, 59, has not returned repeated messages over the last several days. No one answered the door Wednesday at his home in Mitchellville, and he did not reply to texts, phone calls or emails.
Campos’s guilty plea was announced Tuesday. Last week, federal authorities reported the arrests of a Prince George’s County liquor board commissioner, the executive director of that board and two liquor store owners, who are accused of paying bribes to influence state legislation and secure grant money and favorable regulatory decisions.
The court filings from last week said that one elected official accused of accepting bribes, who is not named in the documents, voted in a 2015 House Economic Matters Committee hearing for a bill expanding alcohol sales in Prince George’s.
Eighteen members of the committee voted in favor of the bill, including Vaughn. Vaughn was the only Prince George’s lawmaker to vote yes. The court papers do not specify the lawmaker’s jurisdiction.
Vaughn has listed on state ethics disclosures that he receives income from the Joseph Smith & Sons scrap yard in Capitol Heights, Md., one of several locations where FBI agents searched for evidence last week.
A spokeswoman for Busch declined to say whether Vaughn’s resignation was linked to the investigation. In a statement released Tuesday night, after Campos’s guilty plea was announced, Busch said that he was “painfully disappointed that any member of the House of Delegates would compromise this institution and the public trust.”
“There is no room for this type of behavior in the House of Delegates,” his statement said.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) went so far as to tell a group of reporters that it appeared Vaughn “recognized whatever he did was wrong and he’s prepared to pay the price and not drag this out and so he stepped up and resigned.”
Jake Weissman, a spokesman for Miller, said later that the senate president did not have any direct knowledge of whether Vaughn was involved in the federal probe.
Vaughn’s abrupt departure means there are two seats open in the House of Delegates as the session gets underway. On Monday, Busch canceled the planned swearing-in of a Baltimore Democrat who had been tapped to fill a vacancy, but then was charged with violating campaign finance laws by making illegal donations to Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D).
“The vast majority are doing the right thing, doing what’s in the best interest of the people,” Del. Barbara Frush (D-Prince George’s) said of politicians who serve in the State House. “Occasionally you will have people who will step across the line, and that puts an onus on all of us and makes us all look bad.”
Vaughn was born in Tuskegee, Ala. He attended DuVal High School in Prince George’s County before receiving a bachelor’s degree from Southern University in Louisiana.
Before being elected to the House, Vaughn worked in banking and finance, according to his official House of Delegates biography. He came under scrutiny for falsely claiming on his campaign website that he played football for the Dallas Cowboys for three years, which he retracted in 2010 after questioning from a Washington City Paper reporter.
He also worked in sales for Marriott and Hilton’s Embassy Row Hotel in Washington. Vaughn currently owns ADDR Properties, a real estate company in Mitchellville, according to Maryland assessment records.
Since taking office in 2003, Vaughn has served on the Economic Matters Committee, which deals with bills that regulate alcohol, as well as banking, economic development, insurance and utilities. He has chaired the business regulation subcommittee for economic matters since 2007. In 2006, he was House deputy majority whip.
Vaughn supported 2015 legislation authorizing Sunday liquor sales in Prince George’s County, and a follow-up bill in 2016 that limited an expansion in the number of Sunday licenses to five.
The federal investigation unveiled last week accused David Son, a longtime Prince George’s liquor regulator who worked for his county’s senators in 2015, of arranging bribes from two liquor store owners to two elected officials for their work on the bills.
Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s) said Wednesday that he plans to introduce a bill that would revamp the structure of the liquor board and the way licenses to sell alcohol are awarded.
Del. Jay Walker (D-Prince George’s), the chairman of the county’s delegation, said in a statement that the lawmakers were “deeply disappointed” in the federal allegations of corruption and the assertion that current or former lawmakers were involved.
“The Prince George’s Delegation strives to meet the highest standard of legislative ethics,” Walker said. “These allegations should not reflect on the hard working members of the Prince George’s Delegation who are deeply committed to representing their constituents with integrity and independence.”
Walker said that he has not spoken to Vaughn in recent days.
Although the resignation letter was delivered Wednesday, it was dated Tuesday. Lawmakers who share the same parking garage as Vaughn said that when they arrived for the session’s first day, Vaughn’s nameplate had already been removed from his parking space.
Arelis R. Hernández, Josh Hicks, Fenit Nirappil and Cheryl W. Thompson contributed to this report.