Del. Tony E. Fulton -- accused of misconduct and pocketing $3,000 in campaign funds -- told a Baltimore Circuit Court jury yesterday that he did not steal campaign money during his 1990 re-election bid.
The case has begun to turn somewhat in the delegate's favor, with three of the six charges against him now dismissed and several of his campaign workers taking the stand to corroborate his story.
"I'm certain that I never took any money," said Mr. Fulton, D-Baltimore, who argued that the money he is accused of stealing was legitimately used as cash bonus gifts to campaign workers.
He also told a special state prosecutor during questioning on the stand that any mistakes he made during his campaign were unintentional and not done as part of a "scheme," as prosecutors allege.
"We knew of the laws; we knew something about the laws. But we were laymen, we're not attorneys," Mr. Fulton said of his re-election campaign staff.
Mr. Fulton is accused of stealing $3,000 from his campaign fund treasury. He is also accused of in effect stealing another $2,920 in state money, which prosecutors say he paid to members of his re-election campaign even though the money was to be used only for legislative purposes.
Prosecutors Dolores O. Ridgell and Scott E. Nevin allege that Mr. Fulton took the $3,000 from the campaign fund by getting three of his workers to each cash $1,000 paychecks. The money, the prosecutors say, was later given back to Mr. Fulton, who they claim was worrying about making campaign budget ends meet.
But the 40-year-old Mr. Fulton said he used the money to pay to loyal campaign workers, and some of the workers took the stand this week to back up that story.
He admitted that he used the workers to cash the checks totaling $3,000.
Mr. Fulton said he resorted to the unusual transactions because he did not want to cash a $3,000 check made out to himself.
"It would give the appearance that I'm doing something wrong. . . . It would put me on the spot," he said.
Mr. Fulton's lawyer, Kenneth L. Thompson, told the jury that public perceptions are important to politicians. "They have to not only do the right thing, but they have to make sure it looks right," he said.
The trial, which began Friday in front of Judge Ellen M. Heller, is to conclude today. Should he be convicted of two counts of felony theft and misconduct, the delegate could receive up to 30 years in jail.
If convicted on any one of the charges, he also would face expulsion from office.
Since last week, three other charges -- each pertaining to violations of state election laws -- have been dismissed. In dismissing two of the charges, Judge Heller said that the prosecution did not show that Mr. Fulton "willfully" attempted to use election laws to his own gain.
The charges that were dismissed related to Mr. Fulton's purchasing of two new campaign vans -- both of which were registered under his own name -- with campaign funds. Strict state laws apply to the use of campaign funds and prosecutors alleged that Mr. Fulton was abusing his political privileges to benefit himself and his re-election bid.
"To use your benefit as a delegate to get yourself re-elected as a candidate, that is misconduct in office," Ms. Ridgell told the jury.