Nearly two weeks after abruptly resigning from the Maryland General Assembly, former Del. Tawanna P. Gaines of Berwyn Heights pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to a charge of wire fraud.
After the 35-minute hearing at U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Gaines, 67, gave a brief statement to reporters after admitting to misappropriating campaign funds for personal use.
“I take full responsibility for what I’ve done,” said Gaines, a Democratic who represented District 22 in Prince George’s County. “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 admitted in court she used more than $22,000 from the Friends of Tawanna P. Gaines campaign to purchase items such as a pool cover for her house, fast food in Maryland and Illinois, an Amazon Fire TV Stick and Amazon Prime membership.
According to court documents, Gaines withdrew nearly $2,000 from various ATM machines between January 2015 and November 2017 and electronically transferred about $2,060 from her campaign PayPal account to her personal SunTrust bank account.
Gaines responded to a series of questions from Judge Theodore D. Chuang, answering mainly “yes” or “no.”
Gaines faced a maximum of 20 years in prison, three years supervised release and a $250,000 fine.
Because of a plea agreement, Chuang said Gaines could serve a minimum of eight to 33 months in prison. She also must pay restitution of $22,565 for the money she took. Her sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 3.
After Chuang said he can give her a higher or lower sentence, he asked if she understood.
“Yes,” she said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom said Gaines isn’t a flight risk and should be allowed to go home on her own recognizance, but she needed to turn in her passport.
About six family members and several friends appeared in court to offer support for Gaines. The family members declined to comment when leaving the courthouse.
Gaines became the third state delegate from Prince George’s in the past two years charged with financial improprieties. Former Del. Will Campos was sentenced to more than four years in prison in May 2018 for conspiracy and bribery charges while serving as a county councilman between 2004 to 2014.
About four months later, a federal judge sentenced former Del. Michael E. Vaughn to four years in prison after he received nearly $20,000 between 2015 and 2016 in exchange for illegally approving Sunday liquor sales and permits.
U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur held a brief news conference with reporters outside the courthouse. He declined to explain how the case against Gaines started, but warned public corruption won’t be tolerated.
“The FBI and prosecutors in my office, we’re always on the lookout for facts and evidence of wrongdoing,” he said. “These types of cases stand with the proposition that the law applies to everyone. No one is above the law.”
One of Gaines’ last public appearances was Sept. 5 when she sat alongside Govs. Ralph Northam of Virginia and Larry Hogan of Maryland at Oxon Hill Manor for the annual Chesapeake Executive Council meeting.
She received a variety of awards during her time in office, including the Casper R. Taylor Jr. award in 2015 for public service and integrity.
Meanwhile, the county’s Democratic Central Committee will convene a public hearing Oct. 29 at the Prince George’s Park and Recreation building in Riverdale to fill her vacancy. Once the committee chooses a person, the governor must confirm the appointment.