By RANDALL CHASE, Associated Press
DOVER, Del. (AP) — A judge has rejected a post-trial motion for acquittal filed by a former council president in Delaware’s largest city who was convicted of official misconduct.
Former Wilmington council president Theopalis Gregory was found guilty of the charge in November after being accused of using his government position to secure a city grant for himself and a nonprofit he founded. He was acquitted on a second charge of official misconduct and a related charged of profiteering.
A sentencing date has not been set. He faces a maximum sentence of a year in prison, but a presumptive sentence of up to one year of probation.
Meanwhile, Gregory filed a motion for judgment of acquittal, arguing that using his position as council president to earmark the grant money for himself and the nonprofit did not amount to an “official function.”
The judge ruled Wednesday that, while “official function” is not defined in the Delaware code, the jury is required to apply, and is presumed to have applied, its commonly accepted meaning.
“The jury’s decision to find Mr. Gregory’s conduct to be official was sufficiently supported by the evidence,” wrote Judge Jeffrey Clark. “Frankly, had the jury found it to not be official, its decision would have been unreasonable on this record.”
The judge noted that Gregory, as council president, had sole authority to determine who received money from a $250,000 “discretionary grant fund.”
Gregory also was still serving as council president when he claimed in a November 2016 email to his deputy chief of staff and to his incoming successor, Hanifa Shabazz, that $40,000 had already been earmarked for a nonprofit called Students Disabilities Advocates, or SDA.
SDA was incorporated in 1996 and operated in some capacity until early 1998, according to court records. The entity was dormant for 18 years until Gregory revived it in October 2016, one month after losing a Democratic primary for mayor.
Prosecutors said that because SDA lacked 501(c)(3) nonprofit status at the time, Gregory used the Police Athletic League of Wilmington as a passthrough for the funds. One day after Gregory left office, PAL submitted a grant application that was approved and signed by Shabazz in January 2017, requesting $40,000 for SDA as a pilot program. The grant included in its budget a $20,000 payment to Gregory, who publicly acknowledged receiving at least $15,000 personally.
Clark also noted that, in resolving a Wilmington Ethics Commission investigation, which resulted in a public reprimand, Gregory admitted that he had questioned Shabazz several times about the grant proposal, and that she felt “pressure” and a “constant push” from him to grant the request.
“In Mr. Gregory’s case, his successful attempt to steer money from the fund to SDA had a clear nexus to his office,” the judge wrote.
The April 2019 reprimand notes that Gregory admitted that he violated a Wilmington code provision prohibiting any official or employee from using the influence of his or her office or position “for personal pecuniary gain, or to unduly influence the behavior of others, or to avoid the legal consequences of his or her personal conduct.”
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