The documents allege that Gaines told contributors the money would go to her reelection campaign and to help her maintain her leadership positions. Instead, she is accused of using the money for herself. The charge involves a “wire communication sent outside of Maryland regarding a $125 cash withdrawal from the FTPG PayPal account,” the documents say.
Court filings show that Gaines is expected to appear at an Oct. 17 hearing to enter a guilty plea, though a plea is not final until entered in court and approved by a judge. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
Through her lawyer, Gaines declined an interview request.
“As elected officials, we have an obligation to uphold the public trust, both in office and in our campaigns,” House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) said Monday morning in a statement announcing Gaines’s resignation from the legislature. “We cannot sacrifice that trust for personal gain for ourselves or our family members.”
Gaines, who had served in the General Assembly since December 2001, is at least the fifth Democratic politician from Maryland — and the third from Prince George’s — to face criminal charges related to financial misconduct in the past two years.
In 2018, former delegates Michael Vaughn and William A. Campos, also from Prince George’s, were sentenced to four and 4½ years in federal prison, respectively, for a pay-to-play bribery scheme involving liquor licenses.
Also that year, former state senator Nathaniel T. Oaks, of Baltimore City, was sentenced to 3½ years for a bribery scheme related to a developer.
In 2017, Gary Brown, also of Baltimore, was sentenced to probation for illegally bypassing state campaign finance limits while working for then-Baltimore mayoral candidate Catherine E. Pugh. He was charged days before he was scheduled to take the oath of office to fill a House seat that became vacant as a result of Pugh being elected mayor.
Gaines had built a reputation as a hard-working and thoughtful legislator during her 18 years in the General Assembly. When Jones became speaker this year, after a bitter intraparty battle, she put Gaines in charge of negotiating how to spend the state’s $2 billion capital budget.
“Del. Gaines has had a long and distinguished career serving the people of Maryland,” said her attorney, William C. Brennan Jr. “She did not want to embarrass the Maryland House of Delegates in any way, so she chose to resign and deal with this criminal charge in an appropriate fashion.”
The announcement of her resignation surprised colleagues, who said Gaines loved being in state government. “I was shocked, to put it mildly,” said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), who represents the same district.
When he learned that the resignation was tied to alleged campaign finance impropriety, Pinsky added: “I was even more taken aback. She has probably been one of the least-prolific fundraisers.”
But Gaines had repeatedly flouted campaign finance rules over more than a decade. Regulators had cited her 13 times since 2006 and fined her more than $2,000 for bookkeeping errors in her campaign finance reports, records show. The infractions included failing to file, filing late or not responding to audits. In 2016, she was referred to the Office of State Prosecutor, the state agency that oversees corruption.
In the legislature, Gaines was praised as a strong advocate for investing in transportation and in Prince George’s County. She served as deputy majority whip from 2003 to 2007, as vice chair of the Prince George’s House delegation from 2007 to 2008 and as assistant majority leader in 2015.
Gaines began her political career as a member of the Berwyn Heights town council in the late 1990s. She was the first African American elected to the council, and in 2000 she became the first woman to serve as mayor.
After being appointed to a vacant House seat in 2001, Gaines was elected to a full four-year term in 2002. In 2009, she received a distinguished legislator award from the Maryland Municipal League. In 2015, she was given the Casper R. Taylor Jr. Founder’s Award, which honors a delegate who serves with integrity and a focus on public service.
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City) worked for years alongside Gaines on the powerful panel, which examines state spending. McIntosh said Gaines demonstrated “an incredible grasp” of complex state government agencies, a mind for numbers and a demeanor that made her a pleasure.
“Tawanna was tiny, but she was mighty,” McIntosh said of the petite former lawmaker. “She was such a wonderful member of the House. . . . Every person I’ve talked to is stunned and sad. It’s across the board.”
Jones, who is a close friend, said in her statement, “I wish Delegate Gaines the best during this challenging time.”
Lynh Bui contributed to this report.