State Sen. Brenda Council has agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges stemming from allegations that she misused more than $60,000 in campaign donations at casinos and filed false reports to conceal it, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning said Wednesday.
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Bank records and casino security videos show that Council withdrew a total of $63,052 at casinos on several occasions and then deposited $36,166 in cash back into the campaign fund. That leaves a shortfall of nearly $27,000 that Bruning said Council will repay.
"It's clear there is a pattern of using campaign money for gambling purposes," Bruning said. "Personally, I do believe she has a gambling problem."
Council did not immediately respond to a telephone message left at her office. She has been charged with two misdemeanor counts of filing false campaign reports that omit the casino withdrawals and cash deposits.
Council is in the midst of running for a second term to represent northeast Omaha's District 11 against her predecessor, Ernie Chambers, who was the longest-serving member of the Nebraska Legislature. Chambers was forced to leave office in 2009 after voters enacted term limits for lawmakers.
"I made an error in judgment and I take full responsibility for that error," Council said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
She said she is receiving professional treatment for a gambling addiction and vowed to continue her campaign.
"I also will not give up or quit fighting for the issues that are truly important to North Omaha," she said.
Chambers, a longtime opponent of casino gambling in Nebraska, said he has known Council since she was a girl and hopes that people will look beyond the campaign and focus on the devastation of gambling addiction.
"What I hoping is that people will see that if that gambling addiction as devastating as it is can bring down somebody with education, intelligence, a successful political career, then it can do it to anybody who has that addiction and doesn't get it treated," Chambers said.
Bruning said the evidence investigators gathered showed she was gambling several hundred thousand dollars of her own money along with the campaign cash.
Bruning said his office began investigating Council earlier this year after law enforcement received a tip about the misuse of campaign funds. Bruning said he didn't believe it would have been appropriate to wait until after the election to pursue charges.
Bruning said Council was cooperative when confronted Monday by prosecutors from his office and didn't deny the allegations. Prosecutors don't plan to ask for jail time.
"She was very contrite and disappointed with herself," Bruning said.
Council, 59, is an attorney and former Omaha city councilwoman and school board member.
In 2005, Council signed an agreement banning herself from all Iowa casinos. Bruning said people who sign that kind of an agreement usually have a gambling problem and are trying to limit themselves.
Most of the gambling investigators found was done at a Kansas casino, Bruning said.
It's unusual for senators in Nebraska's one-house legislature to be charged with crimes, although neither Bruning's office nor the Unicameral keeps track of that. The most recent example Bruning could think of was Kurt Hohenstein.
Hohenstein was elected to the Legislature in 1992 but the following year he pleaded guilty to stealing more than $30,000 from a former law client. He resigned from the Legislature and spent five years in prison.
But other Nebraska officials have occasionally run afoul of the law.
Former University of Nebraska Regent David Hergert was elected in 2004, and then impeached and removed from office for manipulating campaign finance laws. He later pleaded guilty to bank fraud for inflating business assets to keep a $3 million loan.
Former state Treasurer Loralee Byrd resigned because of a financial scandal after pleading guilty to misconduct in office in 2003.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)