A former Maryland state delegate facing federal corruption charges was confronted last year by FBI agents in a hotel room decorated with poster-size surveillance photos purportedly showing him collecting bribes — a meeting that occurred the same morning he allegedly accepted a $5,000 cash kickback bundled up in a rubber band.
The new details in the Prince George’s County liquor board scandal emerged after attorneys for Michael Lynn Vaughn filed a court motion in his ongoing case arguing his statements from the hotel room meeting should be barred at trial because he was not properly informed of his rights during the interrogation.
Federal prosecutors contend the April 12, 2016, meeting at a Holiday Inn in College Park was voluntary and Vaughn didn’t need to be told his rights because he was not officially in government custody at the time.
Vaughn, who was a Democratic legislator from Prince George’s County until he resigned in January citing health issues, was one of eight people arrested in connection with a wide-reaching bribery scheme involving the county liquor board, liquor store owners, lobbyists and lawmakers. He is the only one of the eight who plans to go to trial.
In the hotel room, one FBI agent asked Vaughn if he had received something during a breakfast meeting that day and if so, “would Vaughn like to give it to” the agent.
“Vaughn then reached into his pocket, pulled out a bundle of cash wrapped in a rubber band (which contained $5,000), and handed the cash” to the agent, the government’s court filings state.
A judge is set to consider the recent filings Thursday morning at a motions hearing in federal district court in Greenbelt.
Almost a year after the meeting in the hotel, a federal grand jury indicted Vaughn on eight counts of wire fraud, conspiracy and bribery in connection with actions that occurred during his time in office between 2012 and 2016. The government accuses Vaughn of accepting more than $10,000 in cash from liquor store owners in the county in exchange for official actions that would boost their sales. Authorities also accuse Vaughn of misusing campaign funds to cover his personal expenses.
The government alleges liquor store owners paid Vaughn and former state delegate and Prince George’s Council member Will Campos (D) thousands of dollars in exchange for favorable votes on legislation that would help their businesses in a case the government calls Operation Dry Saloon.
In the court documents filed Nov. 22, Vaughn’s attorneys argue that FBI agents told Vaughn they were taking him to a hotel room to “explain the evidence gathered against him” five days after obtaining search warrants for his house, office and social media accounts. When Vaughn arrived, he found the hotel room was “decorated in evidence gathered by law enforcement, including among many items, poster-size surveillance photos of Mr. Vaughn purportedly taking bribe money.”
The photos were an effort to intimidate him while he was being interrogated, Vaughn’s attorneys assert in court filings. They say he was then interrogated and kept in custody but denied access to a lawyer.
“Specifically, Mr. Vaughn was not advised that he had a right to an attorney prior to speaking to the agents. Notably, part of the planned enforcement action included having an attorney waiting at the United States District Court in Greenbelt, Maryland,” the court filings state. Vaughn’s attorney William B. Purpura “waited four hours after having been appointed to represent Mr. Vaughn. The agents did not inform Mr. Vaughn he had appointed counsel, nor did they contact Mr. Purpura to allow access to Mr. Vaughn.”
Vaughn then spoke to agents without being warned of his right to remain silent, a violation of his Fifth Amendment rights, his lawyers argued.
“A statement taken at a familiar location such as a home is one factor, but not the determining factor in evaluating the totality of the circumstances,” Vaughn’s attorneys wrote. “Mr. Vaughn was taken to a hotel, an unfamiliar location designed and decorated to intimidate him with evidence of his guilt.”
Vaughn’s lawyers did not respond to a request seeking comment on the recent filings.
Assistant U.S. attorney Menaka Kalaskar argued in a court response filed Dec. 11 that Vaughn was not in official government custody at the hotel. FBI agents said they wanted to “explain some of the evidence gathered against Vaughn during the course of an ongoing FBI investigation,” court documents from prosecutors state.
Vaughn, the government argues, was told he could leave at any time at least five times and was offered food, water and bathroom breaks during the interview.
“The defendant knew that he was not in custody, knew that he could leave at anytime, but instead consented to an interview in which he gave incriminating statements,” the government wrote. “Any claim to the contrary is just buyer’s remorse.”
A motion Vaughn’s attorneys filed in June also asked that a judge suppress information collected from wiretaps of his phone numbers and a number associated with state Sen. Doug J.J. Peters (D). Peters has not been charged in the case or named as an investigative target. The motion does not indicate why Peters’s conversations would be of interest.
Bruce Marcus, an attorney representing Peters, said he does not know why Vaughn’s attorneys named his client in the motion.
“There’s no reason for us to know,” Marcus said. “Public defenders are representing Michael Vaughn and they are slinging as much mud as they can sling. As to why they would write stuff, I have no earthly idea.”
Asked if Peters is a target in the investigation, Marcus said that he has “not received any kind of letter or notification to that effect. They don’t really involve us with what their plan is or what their investigation outline is.”
Vaughn is scheduled to go to trial in February.
The payments in the broad bribery case were made through former Prince George’s liquor board director David Son, the government has said.
Liquor store owners Young Paig and Shin Ja Lee, Hyattsville lobbyist Matthew Gorman, Rockville accountant Felix Ayala, Son and Campos have all pleaded guilty in their cases. Former liquor board commissioner Anuj Sud pleaded guilty in the case on Dec. 15.
Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report