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Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon convicted of embezzling gift cards

A jury on Tuesday convicted Mayor Sheila Dixon of taking $600 worth of gift cards donated to the needy for her personal use. The verdict throws Baltimore politics into disarray.

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After more than six days of deliberation, a jury convicted Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon of embezzlement Tuesday, sending City Hall into confusion and putting the once-bright political future of the city’s first female mayor into jeopardy.

The conviction was on a misdemeanor charge of "fraudulent misappropriation of a fiduciary." It alleged that the mayor had taken for her personal use more than $600 worth of Target and Best Buy gift cards that had been donated by a prominent local developer for the use of impoverished residents.

The jury, however, acquitted Mayor Dixon of two felony theft charges and another misdemeanor charge. It did not reach a decision on another count of fraudulent misappropriation of a fiduciary.

The verdict throws Baltimore’s political structure into disarray, since it is unclear how long Dixon will be able to stay in office.

Can she stay in office?

According to the Maryland constitution, public office holders are automatically suspended if they are convicted of certain crimes. But the state attorney general has said that Dixon will not be officially “convicted” until she is sentenced – a legal step that might not happen for months, and only if the judge rejects a number of post-trial motions her lawyers have vowed to file.

Even then, legal experts give different opinions about whether her conviction fits one of the criteria for removal: that the offense be related to the office holder’s public duties and responsibilities.

On the one side, lawyers say, the gift cards came through the mayor’s office. But on the other, she could argue that they were not directly related to any of her official duties.

“The distinction might be drawn between embezzling city funds versus embezzling funds from a charity donation kitty that was never part of city funds, and never part of her duties as mayor,” says David Gray, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law.

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