Ex-Md. state lawmaker pleads guilty to misusing campaign funds

Former Maryland state Del. Tawanna Gaines, 67, leaves the courthouse in Greenbelt, Maryland, after pleading guilty to wire fraud on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. Her attorney, William Brennan, is with her. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

GREENBELT, Md. (AP) — A former Maryland state lawmaker has pleaded guilty to illegally using campaign funds for her personal benefit.

Tawanna Gaines, 67, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud Thursday morning.

Gaines was accused of using a secret PayPal account to pocket more than $22,000 in donations meant as campaign contributions for her personal use.

In court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom told the judge that had Gaines opted to go to trial, prosecutors would have been able to show that Gaines committed wire fraud and used the campaign funds for things such as fast food, hair appointments, dental bills and a pool cover.

The news about Gaines stunned her colleagues in Annapolis, where she was well-regarded and served as the vice chair of the Maryland House Appropriations Committee.

“I take full responsibility for what I’ve done,” Gaines told reporters outside the courthouse after entering her plea. “I don’t want any of you to judge the Maryland General Assembly by that. There are honorable people working there. I want to apologize to them for putting myself in this position.”

Gaines, who had served in the Maryland State House since 2001, entered her plea in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Maryland. The Democrat from Prince George’s County resigned less than a week before she was charged earlier this month.

District Judge Theodore D. Chuang is scheduled to sentence her Jan. 3.

Under a plea agreement, she could be sentenced to between eight to 14 months in prison, although the judge could give her less time, or could sentence her to the maximum of 20 years.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report from Greenbelt, Maryland. WTOP’s Jack Moore also contributed to this report. 

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