Former Del. Tawanna Gaines, a Democrat from Prince George’s County, pleaded guilty Thursday to wire fraud, adding to an already long list of Maryland lawmakers — largely Democrats — who have been convicted, charged or reprimanded for corruption or other ethical issues in recent years.
Gaines, who had represented District 22 since 2001, spent campaign money on personal expenses including fast food, hair styling, dental work, a cover for her swimming pool and an Amazon Prime membership, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom said.
The plea adds her to the growing list of politicians in the state who have either committed crimes or ethical violations.
Oguzhan Dincer, associate professor and director of the Institute for Corruption Studies at Illinois State University, told Capital News Service that when it comes to “legal corruption” — unethical acts without actual criminality — “Maryland is very corrupt” and it is “quite alarming.”
The campaign treasurer listed on Gaines’ candidate committee registration page is Anitra Trona Gaines Edmond. An archived image from TawannaGaines.org shows a photo of the then-delegate with a woman named Anitra Edmond, with a caption saying that she is Gaines’ daughter. Efforts to reach Edmond via email and social media were not returned.
Capital News Service was unable to reach Gaines herself — a phone number listed on her campaign finance page was disconnected and a Hotmail email address bounced back. An attorney mentioned for Gaines in media reports did not respond to requests for comment. The former delegate’s arraignment is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday at the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.
Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, a Democrat from Baltimore County, released a statement earlier this week saying that Gaines had resigned Friday.
“As elected officials, we have an obligation to uphold the public trust, both in office and in our campaigns,” Jones said in the statement. “We cannot sacrifice that trust for personal gain for ourselves or our family members.”
Alexandra Hughes, Jones’ chief of staff, told Capital News Service via email that she isn’t aware of specific plans for ethics bills in the 2020 Maryland legislative session, pointing to the “comprehensive” ethics reform legislation passed in 2017. “Obviously, there are laws on the books to prevent what Delegate Gaines did — which is how she was charged,” Hughes added.
Jake Weissmann, chief of staff for Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat from Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert, declined to comment via email. Arinze Ifekauche, spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party, also declined to comment via email, deferring to Jones’ statement. The Maryland Republican Party did not respond to requests for comment.
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