A Prince George's County lawmaker used public dollars to pay an employee of her law office after the bank closed her law firm's depleted account, the state prosecutor told a jury Tuesday in opening remarks in the criminal trial of Del. Tiffany Alston.
But Alston's attorney countered that the employee did work as a legislative clerk last January for the freshman delegate and that politics are driving the charges.
State prosecutors allege that Alston, a Bowie Democrat, paid the employee $800 in state money, and the worker didn't set foot in Alston's office after filling out state employment paperwork.
Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt told the jury that Rayshawn Ford, who is expected to be a reluctant prosecution witness, worked in Alston's law office in Lanham, and that the bank shut Alston's law firm's account after checks bounced.
"Several checks in the preceding nine months to a year had been returned due to insufficient funds," he said.
Alston, 35, is fighting the charges of theft and misconduct in the trial before Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Paul F. Harris Jr. Her lawyer has said the employee's legislative work was conducted from the law office.
J. Wyndal Gordon, one of Alston's lawyers, told jurors that the case was brought "because of her position on certain issues, because they don't like her, I don't know." He had said before the trial opened that Alston's positions on the hot-button issues of congressional redistricting and same-sex marriage could have played a role.
But an investigator with the prosecutor's office, who was the first witness, told the jury the investigation kicked off when Ford, already in touch with prosecutors on another matter, contacted the prosecutor's office.
Jurors have not been told about that other matter: charges that Alston withdrew more than $5,000 from her campaign account, writing checks to cover wedding-related expenses, to an employee of her law firm and to herself. That trial is scheduled for this fall. She has denied the allegations.
Before the trial began, Gordon said the investigation was opened within two days of Alston's move to stall a state Legislative Black Caucus vote on Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed redistricting plan, and he said the state prosecutor's office, which brought the charges, can act "on the behest of the governor."
That prompted Harris to say the trial, expected to continue into next week, is not about Alston's politics.
She opposed the redistricting plan; her support for the same-sex marriage bill wavered.
Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for O'Malley, said the governor doesn't tell the state prosecutor what to do.
"The governor has no influence whatsoever with the state prosecutor. He is independent," she said.