• Click here for video of Brenda Council's statement after court Tuesday in Lincoln.
LINCOLN — State Sen. Brenda Council of Omaha sought to put a pair of gambling-related convictions behind her after a Tuesday court appearance.
Council, 58, asked to be sentenced immediately after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor charges in Lancaster County Court.
Lancaster County Judge Gale Pokorny fined her $250 plus court costs on each of the two charges. The maximum penalty was six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Council paid the $548 total, then left the courthouse hand-in-hand with her husband, Otha.
She stopped briefly to say she had made “a grave error in judgment” and was seeking treatment for her gambling problem.
“We all fall down, and what I'm doing right now is getting back up,” she said. “I'm looking forward to moving forward and continuing to serve the great citizens of the state of Nebraska.”
The first-term senator faced two counts of abuse of public records for failing to report numerous withdrawals and deposits on her campaign finance reports.
Attorney General Jon Bruning filed the charges Sept. 12, after an investigation revealed that Council had spent more than $63,000 of campaign money at casinos over a 2½-year period.
“Today's guilty plea helps to ensure she is held accountable for her unlawful actions,” Bruning said after the court appearance.
An investigation by his office found that Council had been getting an accelerating number of cash advances from her campaign account at casinos.
In 2010, Council made 36 withdrawals from her campaign fund at casinos. The withdrawals totaled $10,510. In 2011, she made 107 withdrawals totaling $31,726, and during the first seven months of this year, she made 52 withdrawals totaling $20,815.
Most were made at the Sac and Fox Casino near Powhattan, Kan.
She repaid more than $36,000 to her campaign account during that time and has promised to repay the rest.
In a statement read in court, Council apologized to her family, supporters and the public.
“I have a gambling problem,” she told the judge. “I borrowed money from my campaign fund with every intention of repaying it.”
In July 2005, she signed a form voluntarily banning herself from all Iowa casinos. Such bans generally are used by people who want to stop themselves from gambling.
The ban became public after Council pleaded guilty to trespassing at Bluffs Run Casino on Aug. 31, 2005.
Despite the convictions, Council has said she intends to continue her bid for re-election to the District 11 seat representing north Omaha.
Under state law, misdemeanor convictions won't prevent her from running.
She already faced a tough battle against former Sen. Ernie Chambers, who held the seat for 38 years before being ousted by term limits. Chambers outpolled Council by 149 votes in the May primary.
Vince Powers, a Lincoln attorney who is chairman-elect for the Nebraska Democratic Party, joined Council in court as a friend. He said Nebraskans judge people by the totality of their lives, not by one incident.
“We all fight demons,” he said. “Today, this year, the demon won. I'm confident Sen. Council will win again.”
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