Charges Filed Against Omaha Senator Brenda Council

By: WOWT, The Associated Press Email
By: WOWT, The Associated Press Email

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Posted Monday, September 17

Nebraska State Senator Brenda Council will appear in Lancaster County Court Tuesday afternoon on charges that she used campaign funds at a Kansas casino. Monday night -- for the first time -- she appeared on television to apologize for her gambling addiction.

For the last week, Council has declined interviews and allowed her written apology to speak for itself.

On the eve of her court date, she addressed the issue right away at a candidate forum on public access television Channel 22. "I have a gambling problem. I didn't deal with it appropriately. Instead it
caused me to commit a grave error in judgment."

The other two candidates for District 11 -- former senator Ernie Chambers and write-in candidate Susan Smith weren't asked about the topic.

Two people either phoned in or emailed questions asking for clarity. Council says she wouldn't still be in the race if she didn't believe she would recover. "My service has not been affected and that I'm seeking treatment would enhance the reputation."

In closing statements, Chambers had the last word. "I've always told the truth. I've never done anything for which I have had to apologize because it was outside the law."

The forum lasted for two hours.

The majority of the debate focused on other issues including getting guns off the streets and bringing jobs to the district. The three also discussed the death penalty and education.

An investigation by the Attorney General found Brenda Council withdrew $63,000 from her campaign account and put some of it back. She could not account for a $26,000 gap.

She is expected to plead guilty to the charges on Tuesday.

Posted September 11

Misdemeanor charges were filed Wednesday against Nebraska State Sen. Brenda Council of Omaha for campaign finance violations. Council says she's getting professional help for her gambling addiction and vows to stay in the legislative race.

Attorney General Jon Bruning said during an afternoon news conference that Council will plead guilty next Tuesday in Lancaster County court to two counts of abuse of public records. "I believe these charges are appropriate and fair."

She withdrew $63,000 from her campaign funds and never reported the withdrawal to Accountability and Disclosure, or reported the $36,000 she put back. This happened between January 2010 and July 2012. Bruning said Council intends to pay the $26,000 difference back to her campaign.

Bruning said Council misused campaign cash at casinos and filed false reports concealing that. Bank records indicate hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on gambling, including Council's personal funds. Bruning said it's clear Council has a gambling problem. Council has decided to attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings.

"We subpoened casino records," said Bruning who, acting on a law enforcement tip, examined casino video and bank records.

He says Council spent a lot of time at the slots and tables at the Sac and Fox Casino in northeast Kansas.

Bruning said he would not seek jail time for Council, adding the senator did not deny the allegations, that she was contrite and cooperative during the investigation.

In 2005, the addiction was bad enough, Brenda Council banned herself from all Iowa casinos. But a month later she was back and ticketed for trespassing.

Council later released this statement:
"I made an error in judgment and I take full responsibility for that error. My error was to borrow money from my campaign funds and failing to report that the money had been borrowed and failing to report the repayments. There was no malicious intent on my part. I borrowed the money with every intention to pay it back and have paid back the bulk of the money I borrowed. I am in the process of paying back the remaining amount. It will all be paid back.

I am truly sorry for my error and I apologize to my family, my contributors, my supporters and to the public. I am currently receiving professional treatment for a gambling addiction. I take full responsibility for my actions and I will not seek any special privileges. I also will not give up or quit fighting for the issues that are truly important to north Omaha - good jobs, strong schools, safe neighborhoods and increased investments in our community.

I will continue to meet and talk with members of the 11th District in my campaign for re-election. I have always and will continue to do what is in the best interest of my community, my district and my state."

Council is running for a second term representing northeast Omaha's District 11. She is facing a challenge from her predecessor, Ernie Chambers, who was the longest-serving member of the Nebraska Legislature.

He says he isn't even thinking about the campaign right now. "I've known her since she was a little girl. For me, this transcends this political contest that involves two people. What she is involved in -- is something that befalls thousands -- maybe hundreds of thousands of people in this country -- addiction to gambling."

Chambers was forced to leave office in 2009 after voters enacted term limits for lawmakers.

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