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Assemblyman Tim Donnelly has been charged with two misdemeanors for bringing a briefcase containing a loaded .45-caliber firearm into Ontario International Airport last month.

The 45-year-old Twin Peaks Republican was charged Friday with illegal possession of a loaded firearm and possession of a prohibited item in a sterile area.

The two counts against Donnelly carry maximum jail sentences of one year and six months, respectively, although judges are free to impose lighter sentences based on circumstances. Each also carries a potential $1,000 fine.

The San Bernardino County District Attorney's office announced the filing of charges nearly eight weeks after Donnelly's Colt Mark IV was discovered by security screeners as he prepared to board a flight to Sacramento for the Assembly's first session of the year.

Donnelly responded Friday by calling the incident an "innocent mistake for which I have taken responsibility." He complimented law enforcement officials and said he has been candid about the matter publicly, serves his district proudly, and regrets any inconvenience he caused.

"I look forward to moving beyond this incident by continuing to focus on getting Californians back to work and getting our economy back on track," Donnelly said in a written statement.

Donnelly will remain eligible to serve in the Assembly, regardless whether he is convicted of the misdemeanor offenses. Assembly rules cut off pay for members only if they are convicted of a felony.

The second-year lawmaker, who was cited and released at the airport Jan. 4, characterized the incident shortly after it happened as a simple error in which he forgot that he had placed the weapon in his briefcase days prior.

Donnelly said that he tended to arm himself because of death threats received after he launched a referendum campaign - ultimately unsuccessful - to overturn the Dream Act, a new law permitting undocumented immigrants to qualify for state-funded college aid.

Donnelly said the chain of events that led to the citation at the airport began three days prior, a Saturday. He was working in his garage and his wife came home, so he stuck the gun in his bag nearby, he said. He later forgot to retrieve it, even after entering Ontario Airport, he said.

Donelly's gun had four rounds in its magazine, and a spare magazine contained five founds, according to Nico Melendez of the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The charges filed against Donnelly confirm TSA's contention that he did not own a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Airline passengers legally can transport firearms via airline flights, but the weapons must be unloaded and contained in a proper carrying case that is checked into the baggage department, not a carry-on, Melendez said at the time.

Sacramento County Sheriff's Capt. Doug Lee, who oversees policing of Sacramento International Airport, said that a law-abiding citizen who carries a loaded firearm to an airport X-ray machine typically is charged with misdemeanor crime.

Extenuating circumstances could make the offense a felony -- for example, if the suspect belonged to a gang, had a felony record or was not the registered owner of the firearm, Lee said.

Donnelly is scheduled to appear March 15 in Rancho Cucamonga Superior Court, said Christopher Lee, spokesman for the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office.

Separate from any criminal prosecution, a fine of up to $10,000 can be levied by the Transportation Security Administration when guns are confiscated, Melendez said last month.

Asked Thursday whether Donnelly had been fined, TSA officials said they do not disclose information about specific individuals. The average civil penalty for bringing a gun to an airport checkpoint is $3,000, they said.

* Updated at 12:30 p.m. to add Donnelly's response to the filing of charges. Updated at 1:08 p.m. to add the maximum penalties for each charge. Updated at 2:55 p.m. to add court date.


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