By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN — Omaha Sen. Brenda Council pleaded guilty Tuesday to two misdemeanors in connection with her gambling away thousands of dollars in campaign funds.
Her punishment? A $500 fine, plus court costs.
Council appeared in Lancaster County Court and apologized again for misusing the money supporters gave her Nebraska Legislature re-election campaign. Council is being challenged by Ernie Chambers, the man who held the seat for 38 years before he was forced out by term limits.
The actual crime she was convicted of is abuse of public records for failing to report deposits and withdrawals she made from her campaign account. The misdemeanors carry a maximum penalty of six months behind bars and a $1,000 fine.
Attorney General Jon Bruning said Council withdrew about $63,000 in campaign funds at various casinos, primarily in Kansas, between January 2010 and July 2012, and repaid about $36,000 of it. She has vowed to repay all the money.
But the state attorney general’s office did not recommend a sentence and Lancaster County Judge Gale Pokorny sentenced Council to a $250 fine on each count, plus court costs.
In the courtroom, Council apologized to her family, friends and the state, admitting that she has a gambling problem and borrowed the money from her campaign with every intention of repaying it. She said she’s getting treatment and is “anxious to move forward in my recovery.”
Outside the courthouse, Council’s attorney, Vince Powers, chairman-elect of the state Democratic Party, said he represented her as a friend, and called her a great person.
“Nebraskans judge a person by the totality of their lives,” he told the media. “Sometimes a demon gets the best of you.”
Council said she made a “grave error in judgment.”
“We all fall down, and what I’m doing right now is getting back up,” she said.
Bruning, whose office prosecuted the case, said in a statement released after the court hearing that “Senator Council knowingly filed false campaign finance statements. Today’s guilty plea helps to ensure she is held accountable for her unlawful actions.”
Last week, Bruning said Council could have been charged with a felony, but the penalty likely would be the same and more time and tax dollars would be required to pursue felony charges.
Council is a lawyer and former school board member and city council member.
Contact Deena Winter at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DeenaNEWatchdog.
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