A federal grand jury has indicted a former Prince Georges County state delegate on bribery, conspiracy, and wire fraud involving his campaign finances, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced.
Michael Lynn Vaughn, a Democrat who had served on the House Economic Matters Committee for 13 years before abruptly resigning on Jan. 11, faces eight counts, mainly involving his relationship with Prince George's County Liquor Board member (and later chief inspector) David Dae Sok Son, with whom he allegedly conspired to influence a legislative bill allowing Sunday alcohol sales.
Vaughn allegedly took more than $10,000 in bribes from liquor store owners Young Jung Paig, Shin Ja Lee and others, according to the indictment. He voted in favor of legislation that would benefit the store owners, who have also been charged.
The indictment also says Vaughn diverted campaign donations to his personal use, which is illegal. It also charges him with leaving some $11,000 in donations off the campaign finance report "in order to conceal the scheme" from the campaign itself, and other donors.
Vaughn, who used to falsely claim on his campaign bio that he'd played for the Dallas Cowboys, faces a 20-year sentence on each of three wire fraud counts. That's more than the 10 years each on the four bribery counts.
And that's interesting, because the wire fraud counts all concern the campaign account, Friends of Michael Vaughn (in the indictment shortened to FOMV). The most serious charges involve what appear to be ATM withdrawals, or something similar: "A wire communication sent outside of Maryland regarding a $3,000 cash withdrawal from the FOMV account," reads Count 8, dated July 9, 2015.
And this indicates that, should it please them, the feds could make the lives of many Maryland legislators, including former Senator (now Mayor) Catherine Pugh, very uncomfortable.
Some state campaign finance reports have been notoriously sloppy for decades, with multiple restatements and (occasionally) small fines paid for late or non-filing (by those in political favor, at least). A decade ago, mayoral spokesman Anthony McCarthy was himself sued civilly over a campaign finance matter. The case, involving a $4,000 off-the-books expenditure, was withdrawn almost immediately.
Most of this is honest error. Campaigns move fast, money is raised and spent, and it's a bear to keep track of it all.
But some of it is not honest error, and gets by mostly because all that honest error shrouds it. If federal forensic auditors made a regular habit of examining state campaign reports, who knows what irregularities they'd uncover?
The Office of State Prosecutor is currently investigating Pugh's mayoral campaign and has indicted Pugh's former Senate aide, Gary Brown, alleging that he funneled cash illegally into the campaign via straw donors. On the state charges, Brown faces a year in jail and a $25,000 fine—hardly the sort of sentence that guarantees cooperation.
It is as yet unclear where that cash ($18,000 in Brown's case) originated. It's illegal to give more than $6,000, officially. And you're supposed to do it under your own (or a legitimate corporate) name—something many of Pugh's donors (or maybe one very large one?) did not do.
In the months ahead it will be interesting to compare the mayor’s case with that of the former state delegate.