A federal judge sentenced former Del. Tawanna P. Gaines on Friday to six months in prison after she pleaded guilty to spending thousands of dollars in campaign contributions for personal use.
Gaines, 67, was also given three years of supervised release upon completion of her prison time, including two months of home detention. She must also pay $22,565 in restitution, the amount of money she was charged with misappropriating.
Federal authorities said Gaines committed the offenses between January 2015 to April 2018, including a withdrawal of nearly $2,000 from her campaign PayPal account that she deposited into her personal bank account.
“Trust in our government officials is dangerously low,” Judge Theodore D. Chuang told Gaines in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. “Corruption is intolerable in a democracy. I wish you well as you complete your sentence.”
Because of Gaines’ track record of helping and working with residents and colleagues, Chuang’s sentence was lower than the eight months sought by prosecutors. In addition, she doesn’t have to surrender to prison until Feb. 24.
Gaines, of Berwyn Heights, who represented District 22 from 2001 until her resignation in October, briefly spoke with reporters after exiting the courthouse.
“I apologize to my family, to the General Assembly and the people of Prince George’s,” she said. “They represented me and loved me forever. I’m quite sure I’ll keep that love.”
Gaines became the second Maryland lawmaker in as many months to resign and face federal charges.
Former Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore City) resigned Dec. 18, five days before federal authorities charged her with wire fraud and bribery for allegedly accepting more than $35,000 in exchange for passing medical cannabis legislation and other offenses between March 4, 2018, and Feb. 11, 2019.
Glenn, 68, who chaired the Baltimore City delegation and served as former chair of the Maryland Black Caucus, has a court appearance and arraignment scheduled for Jan. 22 at U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
Before Chuang handed down Gaines’ sentence Friday, six people spoke in support of her, including former state lawmakers, a social worker and a judge who used words such as “calm,” “intellectual” and “wonderful.” She was also praised as a caregiver for her son and grandchildren.
Michele Hotten, a Maryland Court of Appeals judge, said she met in Gaines in 2010 while serving as a judge in Prince George’s.
“You cannot measure a person from one single incident,” she said. “She is a wonderful member of society.”
Some who couldn’t attend the sentencing wrote letters on Gaines’ behalf, including House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County), who worked with Gaines while both were members of the Capital Budget subcommittee that Jones chaired.
“In addition to our professional relationship, my friendship with Tawanna is something that I continue to value,” Jones wrote. “I have always admired the way that, as important as her political life was, her family was always of paramount importance.”
Gaines’ sisters, son, former colleagues and friends were among her supporters in the nearly filled courtroom. Her family members declined to comment after the sentencing.
In court, Gaines apologized and thanked her family and others for appearing on her behalf. She also asked the public not to hold her actions against current lawmakers in the General Assembly, which convenes Wednesday in Annapolis.
“I don’t want you to judge any elected official from what I have done,” she said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom cited three former Prince George’s lawmakers convicted of corruption in recent years — former County Executive Jack Johnson and former delegates Will Campos and Michael Vaughn — in calling for a prison term for Gaines, saying such punishment is “justified” and necessary to deter people from “stealing money and accepting bribes.”
But Gaines’ attorney William C. Brennan Jr. said there’s “no comparison” between his client and those officials who received longer prison sentences of at least 48 months.
“The other [former officials] sold their political vote,” Brennan said. “She did not compromise her legislative function.”
Meanwhile, federal officials said Gaines’ daughter, Anitra Edmonds, 43, served as treasurer for the “Friends of Tawanna P. Gaines” campaign and pleaded guilty in November to wire fraud. According to court documents, Edmonds, of New Carrollton, used more than $35,000 in contributions for fast food, hair styling, phone bills and other personal use.
Edmonds, released on her own recognizance, will return to court for sentencing Feb. 24.