GREENBELT, Md. (AP) — A former Maryland delegate and county councilman has pleaded guilty to federal charges for taking bribes, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday, and the U.S. attorney said "more than one legislator" now in office remain under investigation — casting a cloud over the Maryland General Assembly just ahead of its annual 90-day legislative session.
William Alberto Campos-Escobar pleaded guilty Jan. 5 to conspiracy and bribery charges. The plea was unsealed Tuesday.
Campos-Escobar, who goes by Campos, was elected to the Prince George's County council in 2004 and the General Assembly in 2014. The Democrat from Hyattsville resigned in September 2015.
Prosecutors said the 42-year-old Campos conspired to solicit and accept bribes in exchange for favorable actions. Prosecutors say he faces prison time and will pay restitution of at least $340,000. Prosecutors said the bribery charge carries a 10-year maximum prison sentence while the conspiracy charge carries a maximum 5 years in prison.
"The evidence in this case shows that William Campos treated the taxpayers' money as if it were a literal slush fund," Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein said at a news conference. "His recorded comments reveal that he was cavalier about taxpayer money."
Barry Levine, an attorney for Campos, said the pleas marked a difficult time for his client.
"He has transgressed and he acknowledges his wrongdoing," Levine said. "He is deeply remorseful and accepts full responsibility for his profound error."
Rosenstein sentencing guidelines call for a sentence of about seven years in federal prison.
When prosecutors announced charges last week against two liquor board officials and two business owners in a bribery scheme, they disclosed that two Maryland lawmakers, including one now out of office, were expected to be charged. Rosenstein told reporters he couldn't elaborate, because the case is ongoing. He said prosecutors only made information about the case public last week, because an official had started alerting potential targets of the investigation.
"Some of those folks will be charged. Others are still under investigation, and so all I can tell you is that this is an ongoing investigation," Rosenstein said, adding: "they're also a number of private citizens who I anticipate are going to be charged before we're finished with this investigation."
"There are plenty of honest politicians in Annapolis," Rosenstein said. "They've got nothing to worry about, right? It's only folks who have been involved in corruption that should be concerned that we may come knocking on their doors."
A 17-page plea agreement says on multiple occasions Campos accepted cash bribe payments of several thousands of dollars each. Some of the allegations involve a businessperson who was a confidential source for law enforcement officials and an undercover FBI employee who was posing as a businessman.
While Campos was a council member in 2012 and 2013, the agreement says, he received money from the confidential source and agreed to funnel the person county money through nonprofits. After being paid, Campos allocated grant money he was given as a council member to the nonprofits, which were to share it with the source. At one point, Campos and the source discussed money in code, by referring to "slices of pizza," the document says.
In a 2014 exchange, Campos asked the undercover FBI officer posing as a businessman to contribute $2,000 to another candidate and then agreed to write a letter supporting the man's company on county letterhead in exchange for another $2,000, the document says. When the man later gave Campos the money, the document says Campos responded, "I told you, you were a bad influence."
The undercover FBI officer responded: "Oh man. You can always say no. You say no to me right now. You say no, you walk away."
Campos responded: "I'm a mortal man — that's the problem."
The document also says that Campos got cash from the undercover FBI employee at a fundraiser. He also acknowledged being paid bribes for testimony before the liquor board in 2007 and for help with a zoning matter.
Rosenstein said the illegal activity happened when Campos was a councilman, not when he was a state delegate in Annapolis.
Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch, a Democrat, declined to comment on the case Tuesday during a luncheon in Annapolis, because he wasn't aware of the facts of the case.
"The FBI is going to have a probe. I have no input into that and, you know, former Delegate Campos had resigned. I don't know what his role is, but obviously they're going to go forward with their investigation," the speaker said.
Associated Press Writer Jessica Gresko contributed to this report in Washington.