Ex-State Sen. Brenda Council agrees to plead guilty to fraud charge

Former State Sen. Brenda Council of Omaha with her husband, Otha Council.


LINCOLN — Brenda Council's self-admitted gambling problem continues to exact a cost from the former state senator.

Last September she pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and paid a $500 fine.

A few months later she lost her bid for re-election to the Legislature, based in part on her spending of thousands of dollars in campaign funds at casinos.

Now the attorney and longtime north Omaha community leader faces the potential loss of her law license.

Formal charges against Council's license have been filed with the Nebraska Supreme Court. No hearing has been set.

The charges, filed by the Supreme Court's Counsel for Discipline, allege that she committed professional misconduct by using campaign dollars for her personal benefit and by trying to conceal that use by filing false campaign statements.

The charges allege that her convictions on two counts of abuse of public records also violate the legal ethics code.

In her legal answer, Council admitted to the violations but asked the court to weigh them against her long record of public service.

It also noted that she is getting treated for her gambling addiction and she has repaid “the majority of the funds” taken from her campaign finance account.

“The respondent respectfully requests that a public reprimand be entered herein,” she said.

A public reprimand would be among the lighter types of disciplinary measures, which can range up to disbarment.

This week Council referred questions about the matter to her attorney, Vince Powers.

“There's nothing to talk about,” she said.

Powers said there is no rule about what kind of discipline the state high court may mete out. He said the court considers each case on an individual basis, weighing a person's career against the violations.

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

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

He said an investigation revealed that Council had spent more than $63,000 of campaign money at casinos over 2½ years. Most of the money was spent at the Sac & Fox Casino near Powhattan, Kan.

The criminal counts involved her failure to report numerous withdrawals and deposits related to that spending on her last two campaign finance reports.

Bruning said he could have charged Council with intentional false filing of a campaign report, which would have been a felony, but decided to use “prosecutorial discretion.”

Omaha State Sen. Ernie Chambers, who was running against Council at the time, objected that Council was getting “a pass.”

He filed complaints of mail and wire fraud with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Omaha. Chambers also filed a grievance against her with the high court's Counsel for Discipline. The filing of a grievance is one way that the disciplinary process can be initiated.

No action has been taken on his complaint by U.S. Attorney Deborah Gilg. Jan Sharp, criminal chief in the office, said this week that he could not comment about an investigation.

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