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Deliberations begin in state delegate's trial

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Jurors are scheduled to resume deliberations Tuesday in the trial of Tiffany Alston, a Prince George's County delegate charged with using General Assembly funds to pay an employee at her private law practice.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys wrapped up arguments Monday in the case of the freshman Democrat, who is charged with theft and misconduct in office, and jurors deliberated for more than two hours.

Prosecutor Shelly S. Glenn said in closing arguments that Alston dipped into legislative funds for $800 in January 2011 "because she was broke, because her law firm was broke."

During four days of testimony last week before Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Paul F. Harris Jr., a bank official said that the firm had bounced 49 checks in 2010. The bank closed the account.

The defense has maintained that Alston, of Bowie, located a district office in a suite of offices in Lanham where she had moved her law practice. Defense lawyers called past and current legislative aides to bolster their assertion that the employee, Rayshawn Ford, did legislative work in the district office, not in the state capital.

Defense attorney Raouf Abdullah called the case a "rush to tarnish someone's reputation," and told jurors that the prosecution pulled together a weak case short on evidence.

"Where is the evidence that Rayshawn Ford was doing legal work?" he said, pointing out that law firm documents were not subpoenaed by prosecutors.

If convicted, Alston faces the possibility of losing her General Assembly seat. The state constitution provides for the suspension of a delegate convicted of certain types of crimes, including those related to elected office, and it allows the governor to appoint a temporary replacement while appeals are pending.

Alston did not testify at her trial.

Jurors were not told that Alston faces another set of criminal charges. But they have heard that Alston was already under investigation when Ford called the Office of the State Prosecutor to say she was paid in General Assembly funds. Ford stopped cooperating with prosecutors within days of making the allegation last fall, prosecutors said.

Alston is facing a fall trial on charges that she illegally raided her campaign coffers to pay for her wedding and other expenses.

She has other legal troubles as well. The state's Attorney Grievance Commission argued last week for the Court of Appeals to suspend her law license indefinitely for reasons unrelated to the criminal charges.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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