Ex-State Sen. Brenda Council agrees to plead guilty to fraud charge - Omaha.com
Published Thursday, September 5, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 2:51 am
Ex-State Sen. Brenda Council agrees to plead guilty to fraud charge

LINCOLN — Former State Sen. Brenda Council has agreed to plead guilty to a federal wire fraud charge in connection with using campaign dollars to gamble.

Her Lincoln attorney, Vince Powers, said Council's plea deal fits with her determination to admit responsibility for her actions.

“She has never denied anything,” he said Wednesday. “She's going to have a felony conviction, and that can be devastating for her.”

Council, 59, is scheduled to enter her plea Sept. 12 in U.S. District Court.

U.S. Attorney Deborah Gilg confirmed Wednesday that, under the deal, prosecutors will recommend probation for Council. The terms of the probation will be up to the judge.

Wire fraud is a felony that can carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

“We feel it's an appropriate disposition that highlights the seriousness of what she did,” Gilg said. “She violated the public trust and misused money that was donated to her for her campaign. … I think that's a serious case of public corruption.”

Council did not return a message seeking comment.

The federal charge relates to Council's use of more than $63,000 of her campaign funds at casinos over 2½ years. She was charged with wire fraud because she used a debit card at out-of-state casinos.

She used the debit card to withdraw money from the campaign account. Most of the withdrawals were made at the Sac & Fox Casino near Powhattan, Kan.

Council's misuse of the campaign funds came to light last year, when Attorney General Jon Bruning filed two abuse-of-public-records charges in Lancaster County Court.

Those counts involved her failure to report withdrawals and deposits related to the casino spending on her last two campaign finance reports.

Council pleaded guilty to the misdemeanors and paid $500 in fines.

Omaha State Sen. Ernie Chambers, who was running against Council at the time, objected that Council had gotten “a pass” from people wanting to see her re-elected to the Legislature.

He filed complaints of mail and wire fraud with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Omaha.

He also filed a grievance against her law license with the Nebraska Supreme Court's Counsel for Discipline in October. The filing of a grievance is one way to initiate the disciplinary process.

“When public officials violate the public trust, they have to be called to account,” he said Wednesday. “Brenda made her own bed, and now she has to sleep in it.”

This summer, the Counsel for Discipline filed formal charges with the Nebraska Supreme Court. No hearing has been set.

The disciplinary charges allege that she committed professional misconduct by using campaign dollars for her personal benefit and by trying to conceal that use in filing false campaign statements.

The charges also allege that her public records convictions violate the legal ethics code.

Powers said he does not know how a wire fraud conviction will affect the disciplinary process. He said the state high court will have to weigh the conviction against Council's long history of public service and her self-admitted gambling addiction.

Council was elected to north Omaha's District 11 legislative seat in 2008 after serving on the Omaha school board and the Omaha City Council. She lost re-election to Chambers in November. She got her law degree from Creighton University in 1977.

Last year, after pleading to the misdemeanor counts, Council apologized to her family, supporters and the public.

She acknowledged that she had a gambling problem and said she made an error in “borrowing” money from her campaign fund.

Only a small group of Nebraskans have been prosecuted in both state and federal courts for the same crime, Powers said earlier.

Among them are Duane Earl Pope, who shot and killed three people during a 1965 bank robbery in Big Springs, and Raymond Perry, who embezzled nearly $800,000 from the Central Interstate Radioactive Waste Compact, a multistate organization working to build a repository for low-level radioactive waste in Boyd County.

Contact the writer: Martha Stoddard

martha.stoddard@owh.com    |   402-473-9583    |  

Martha covers the Nebraska Legislature, the governor, state agencies, and health, education and budget issues out of our Lincoln bureau.

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