SEABROOK – A grand jury has indicted former state Delegate Michael Vaughn on eight counts related to the larger bribery conspiracy involving the county liquor board.
The jury made the indictment March 6 and Vaughn had his first court appearance March 8 in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, where he was released on his own recognizance. The indictment is for four counts of bribery and one of conspiracy, along with three counts of wire fraud.
According to court documents, Vaughn allegedly accepted more than $10,000 in cash bribes, including from business owners Young Paig and Shin Lee, in exchange for voting in favor of two bills: one to allow Sunday liquor sales in Prince George’s County, and the other to expand the number of such sales permits to be issued. Paig and Lee each own a liquor store in the county and benefited from those votes. They were charged in the conspiracy in early January following FBI raids on their stores, as well as the offices of the Board of License Commissioners, commonly referred to as the liquor board.
At that time, officials said the investigation also implicated a current member of the House of Delegates, but would not release any names. Vaughn resigned from his seat representing the 24th District about a week later, on Jan. 10, citing “ongoing health concerns” in his two-sentence letter of resignation.
The indictment was announced by officials from the FBI, the IRS, Prince George’s County Police Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland. Special Agent in Charge Gordon Johnson of the FBI, Baltimore Field Office said during the first wave of charges in January that combatting public corruption is a priority for his agency.
“Public corruption is a critical issue for us at the FBI,” Johnson said Jan. 5. “We devote a significant amount of resources to identifying public corruption and trying to root it out at any level. It goes to the heart of the rule of law, and that’s what we’re here to try to protect.”
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is also pushing for ethics reform in government, and has put forth several proposals designed to increase transparency and ethics in the legislative and executive branches. One of those proposals would reform liquor boards across the state to require background checks for nominees and make them subject to the State Ethics Commission.
Amelia Chasse, a Hogan spokeswoman, said news of Vaughn’s involvement was “disappointing, but not surprising.”
“It highlights the urgent need for the legislature to take action and pass the governor’s robust ethics reform package. The governor vowed to clean up the mess in Annapolis, and that’s exactly what he intends to do,” she said. “Ultimately, we cannot let the actions of the few tarnish the goodwill and positive efforts of the many.”
Vaughn, 59, of Bowie, was first elected in 2002 and had served on the House of Delegates Economic Matters Committee since 2003. From 2003 – 2010, he was a member of the alcoholic beverages regulation subcommittee. Vaughn was unanimously elected as second vice-chair of the Prince George’s County delegation prior to the 2017 session.
The alleged conspiracy involving Paig, Lee, Vaughn and former director of the Prince George’s County Board of License Commissioners David Sok Son went on from January 2015 through April 2016. Documents also allege that from 2012 through 2016, Vaughn was engaged in illegal diverting of campaign funds paid to the Friends of Michael Vaughn (FOMV) campaign finance committee.
“A candidate, such as Vaughn, is prohibited from personally making disbursements from a political committee established to promote his candidacy,” a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland states. “According to the indictment, Vaughn withdrew campaign funds from the FOMV account to use for personal expenses, including electronically transferring money from the FOMV campaign account directly to Vaughn’s personal bank account, making payments to his personal American Express credit card account, and making payments of his personal income tax to the Internal Revenue Service.”
Vaughn also allegedly failed to report some campaign contributions - which he deposited into the account but withdrew for personal use - to the Maryland State Board of Elections.
“The indictment alleges that Vaughn caused the filing of fraudulent campaign finance reports with the Maryland State Board of Elections in order to conceal the scheme from FOMV and the FOMV campaign contributors,” the press release states.
The indictment alleges that “at least 25 checks totaling approximately $11,175” were deposited into the FOMV account but not reported between June 10 and Nov. 10, 2015. The Jan. 14, 2015, campaign finance report submitted for FOMV says the account balance was $64,462.44, but bank records indicate that on that date the account balance was actually only $1,654.36.
Vaughn’s eight counts carry a combined maximum sentence of 105 years in prison if convicted.