Brenda Council may soon be a felon.
The former state senator pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud charges Thursday as part of a plea deal that calls for her to get probation rather than prison.
Council, a former state lawmaker from Omaha, has acknowledged that she used campaign funds to gamble, including the use of a debit card to withdraw money at out-of-state casinos.
The debit card transactions led to the federal wire fraud charge, which carries a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
U.S. District Judge Lyle Strom set a Dec. 5 hearing date for sentencing.
Under the plea deal, prosecutors will recommend probation. Strom has the right to either accept or reject the plea deal. However, such deals typically are allowed to stand.
Council, 59, declined to comment after the hearing. Her husband, Otha, accompanied her to court along with her lawyer, Vince Powers of Lincoln, a longtime trial attorney who is also the chairman of the Nebraska Democratic Party.
Council used more than $63,000 from her campaign funds over a 2 1/2-year period to gamble. The crime came to light last year when Attorney General Jon Bruning and his prosecutors discovered that Council was failing to report her casino withdrawals on her campaign finance reports.
In the state case, Council pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and paid a $500 fine. She also said at the time that she was seeking help for her gambling problems.
Council, who is an attorney, may face other repercussions due to her misuse of campaign dollars. Her law license may be in trouble. Whenever an attorney is convicted of a felony, the state's Council for Discipline with the Nebraska Supreme Court reviews the case.
“If an attorney is convicted of a felony, the first thing we would probably do is see if there is a basis for temporary suspension. We then would file charges against that attorney and it would be up to the (Nebraska) Supreme Court to see if that attorney is disbarred,” said Dennis Carlson, the attorney for the disciplinary council.
Besides her court woes, Council has already paid a political price for her improper use of campaign dollars.
Last year, she lost re-election to the Nebraska Legislature, losing to State Sen. Ernie Chambers.