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Pa. State Senator LeAnna Washington Charged With Illegal Use of Staff

By Tony Romeo

HARRISBURG, Pa. (CBS) -- A longtime state lawmaker from the Philadelphia region has been charged with using her legislative offices for campaign purposes.

State senator LeAnna Washington, a Democrat who represents portions of Philadelphia and Montgomery counties, turned herself in to authorities this afternoon in Abington, accompanied by her son.  She was released on her own recognizance, charged with theft and conflict of interest.

A statement released by the attorney general's office says the heart of the case involves an annual campaign birthday fundraiser and Washington's alleged use of state-paid staff and equipment in her district offices to organize it.

The statement claims that Washington used intimidation and verbal abuse to pressure staff to do campaign work even though they knew it was illegal, going so far as to cut salaries or fire staffers who expressed concerns about what was going on.

A grand jury presentment alleges some state senate staffers spent almost all of their time in the weeks and months leading up to the fundraiser working on the event.

Washington's lawyer released a statement late Wednesday afternoon, vowing to fight what he calls "thin and specious" charges:

"We are disappointed that the Attorney General has decided to file charges in this case. We were hopeful of a resolution short of a criminal complaint. We do not believe that the facts give rise to any criminal conduct by Senator Washington. For twenty years Senator Washington has tirelessly represented her constituents and her community. She will now do for herself what she has done for her constituents all these years. She will fight. We plan to vigorously contest these thin and specious charges in court."

Authorities say the loss to the commonwealth is estimated at between $30,000 and $100,000 but could be higher.

KYW's Brad Segall contributed to this report.

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