Drug money funds voter fraud in Kentucky…. About $50/Vote Common Practice

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Published July 25, 2012

FoxNews.com

 

Voter fraud has a shocking new meaning in eastern Kentucky.

That is where in some cases, major cocaine and marijuana dealers admitted to  buying votes to steal elections, and the result is the corruption of American  democracy. The government continues to mete out justice in the scandal, as two  people convicted in April in a vote-buying case face sentencing this week, and  another public official pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy.

“We believe that drug money did buy votes,” Kerry B. Harvey, U.S. attorney  for the Eastern District of Kentucky, said of a separate vote-buying case.

He described a stunning vote-buying scheme that includes “very extensive,  organized criminal activity, involving hundreds of thousands of dollars, and in  many cases that involves drug money.”

Harvey has led a recent string of federal prosecutions exposing the  widespread and accepted practice of vote buying in eastern Kentucky. The  soft-spoken federal prosecutor, along with his team and state authorities, are  waging a battle against what he characterizes as a vote-buying culture embedded  in many of the communities for generations.

He says the problem is rooted in economic woes, which is why votes are  routinely for sale. In that part of the state, jobs are scarce and poverty  is high. Controlling local government means controlling jobs.

“These folks go out and hijack the local elections for their own purposes and  then they use those jobs to enrich themselves and their confederates. It really  is a terrible problem and it has to be stopped,” Harvey explains.

In Clay County, according to court testimony, some of the funds to purchase  votes came from massive cocaine and marijuana drug trafficking operations.

“They did use drug money to buy votes, and drug dealers felt they would be  protected,” Harvey said.

Prosecutors say more than $400,000, part of it drug proceeds, was pooled by  Democratic and Republican politicians over several elections, and spent to buy  the votes of more than 8,000 voters, usually at $50 apiece.

One voter was even able to bid up the cost of his vote to $800.

In the Eastern District of Kentucky alone, more than 20 public elected  officials and others have either been convicted or plead guilty in various  vote-buying cases just in the last two years.

On Tuesday, former Breathitt County School Superintendent Arch Turner pleaded  guilty to conspiracy during the 2010 primary election, admitting he handed out  money to buy votes. On Thursday, two others will be sentenced after they were  convicted of vote-buying-related charges in the same contest.

Vote buying “really has a corrosive effect on the very foundations of the  freedoms that we enjoy,” Harvey said as he sat with Fox News in his office in  Lexington. “It’s hard to imagine a more serious problem that would have a more  pernicious effect across the whole community.”

“When it comes to vote buying, it’s an everyday thing. … It’s pretty much  like jaywalking,” admits former Breathitt County magistrate candidate Michael  Salyers, who is now serving time in jail for buying votes in his 2010 race.  While the funds in his case did not involve drug money, he describes how he was  given $500 and ended up buying about 10 votes. He would meet people seeking to  sell their votes in the back room of a local store.

“The sellers in this situation would come to me and ask how much was I paying  for votes, and ask me if I was buying votes or whatever, and I told them the  most I could pay is $25,” Salyers described to Fox News. “They would go into the  machine and cast their vote…They were supposed to vote for me. They would come  back to me and I would pay them for going to vote.  I had one gentleman  come to me and say ‘Mike, I have four votes,’ so he took them to vote and I gave  him $100, $25 a vote.”

Salyers says vote buying has been so blatant that, “you used to be able to go  behind the voting machine with voters, to make sure that if you bought their  vote, that they would vote the way you wanted to.” But the laws were  strengthened, and now vote buyers have to trust that the people they pay to cast  their ballots vote as they say they will.

He blames what he calls “the excitement of competition” for spurring him to  buy his votes, but it turned out to not be money well spent. He lost the  election.

“It’s been going on ever since I was a young boy,” says 54 year-old voter  Richard Moore, who admitted he sold his vote to Salyers for $25. “As soon as you  become the age to vote, you have people hounding you to buy your vote.”

Moore sat on a sofa in the house where he lives with his mother in Jackson,  Ky., and described what happened.

“I knew Mike didn’t have a chance of winning, and if he was wanting to give  money away like that, then I was going to get some of it,” Moore explained. He  says the lack of jobs in eastern Kentucky also spurs people to make money  through voter fraud.

“I don’t feel good about it,” he told us. “I wish I’d never done it. … I  think they ought to do something about it and fix it, so they can’t sell votes.  They should have some ways of doing things differently where people can’t buy  votes.”

In the Clay County case, former Circuit Court Judge Cletus Maricle, 67, and  seven others were convicted in 2010 in a massive vote-buying scheme that ran  through several elections. Maricle, who was sentenced to more than 26 years  behind bars, is appealing his conviction. Several convicted major drug dealers  testified during the trial about just how easy it was to spread many thousands  of dollars around to buy votes.

‘I always bought votes,” Kenneth Day testified.

The 60-year-old was serving 18 years in federal prison for  multimillion-dollar drug trafficking. Prosecutors say he dealt in “millions of  dollars in drugs, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine” and “had developed  one of the most successful drug trafficking businesses in the whole entire  region.”

Day admitted on the stand to “selling tons of marijuana” and hundreds of  thousands of dollars of cocaine every other week. He also dealt in votes.

“I bought my first vote with half a pint of liquor,” Day testified. He  described how that mushroomed to a seemingly routine method to buy protection  from politicians and win their elections. He said he even bought votes for the  sheriff.

“That showed people on the ground who had the power and who had the money to  buy the votes,” Day testified. “As time went on, $5 a vote, $10 a vote. I have  paid as high as $800 a vote. … Election after election, day in and day out,  every election I ever worked, it went on.”

Day was not only an admitted drug trafficker, but he also had served as the  longtime Clay County Republican commissioner of the Board of Elections.

Democratic Board of Elections Judge Eugene Lewis, 70, also a convicted  cocaine trafficker and marijuana dealer serving a 12 years prison sentence,  described how easily he bought votes over a period spanning three decades.

“I’ve also bought, traded, bought votes for different candidates,” he  testified. “I would pay them right in the booth. … You would not believe the  percentage of people, from school teachers down, that I have bought their vote  from. It’s unbelievable.”

J.C. Lawson, another convicted marijuana and cocaine dealer, also explained  the process of buying votes. The 55-year-old testified that he helped win  elections by giving candidates “voters and people and money.”

“Where did that money come from?” U.S. Assistant Attorney Stephen C. Smith  asked.

“From drug dealing I made,” Lawson testified matter-of-factly.

He said he even gave the sheriff about $20,000 for his race, in exchange for  protection.

In court, Smith described how Clay County public officials were “working to  protect drug dealers” and that “voters were lined up in lines who had been  bought and bribed by the group.”

“The drug dealer (was) bringing them in,” Smith said. “Lining them up. Pay to  play, boys. How much is it gonna take? Show who’s got the strength, who controls  this county.”

“Once you had the county clerk and once you had the Democratic commissioner,  you had control,” he said.

Lewis testified that in his case, he did not tell Maricle that the money he  contributed to his campaign came from selling drugs, but that people “might have  suspected it.”

Since the convictions last year, prosecutors have continued to bring  additional vote-buying charges and say they will pursue even more.

“The good news is, I think it is changing,” Harvey, the U.S. attorney, said  .He vows to continue the crackdown until the vote buying can one day be  eliminated and elections run cleanly.

“When you think about how we honor people in past generations who have made  great sacrifices to secure the freedoms for us, and of course the foundational  freedom is the right to elect your officials in free and fair elections,” he  notes. “The fact that we would have people who would so willingly and so  completely corrupt that process is just reprehensible. … They deserve exactly  what they are getting.”

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan  Grimes, both Democrats, have established an election integrity task force and  special hotline to try to prevent voter fraud.

“I think we’re making a dent in it,” Conway told Fox News. “We are doing our  best to make sure there are free and fair elections throughout the Commonwealth  of Kentucky.”

As Conway sat in a conference room in the ornate capitol building in  Frankfort, he described how investigators have been placed across the state to  investigate vote buying, and he decried the toll voter fraud has on the  integrity of the election system.

“If you sell your vote, you are selling the heart of democracy. If the  government belongs to someone who is out there buying votes, rather than the  free will of the people, then it doesn’t belong to everybody,” he said. “It is  very central to our democracy, so I think this work is very important.”

Since starting the task force, Conway says there has been progress. He notes  there were “only two allegations of vote buying” reported during the recent May  primary.

“Our vigilance has stepped up,” he said. “I want elections to be free and  fair. I am an elected official. I am grateful that voters have placed their  trust in me. I can’t imagine being at the local level thinking that you got your  office by something other than a free and fair election.”

It is a message that Salyers now accepts.

He told Fox News that he regrets buying votes, for which he is now serving 60  days in jail. When he is released next month, Salyers will then spend six months  in home detention.

“I made a mistake, and what I done I should have been punished and I have  been punished. But even if I had got no jail time and walked off scot-free, I  still brought shame on myself and on my family. And you talk about punishment,  that’s punishment,” he said. “I lay in bed at night a lot of times just thinking  what I’ve done to them, the community and so forth. You know the only thing I  can say to the community and the citizens of Breathitt County is, I’m,  sorry.”

“When I look at someone like Mike Salyers, I don’t see a bad person,” his  attorney, Jeff Rager, said. “Mr. Salyers is a good person with a good heart, and  part of what he did wrong here is part of the culture.”

Rager is one of the many who say the dire economic conditions mean selling  your vote is a quick and easy way to make some extra money.

“We have a culture down there with a ton of poor people at the bottom and  very few people with money and power at the top,” Rager said. “And whenever you  have a situation like that, those people in power will do whatever they can do  to maintain that power, to keep the spigot open, to keep the money flowing. And  that’s why they can get people… to say, hey, ‘do you want to make some  money?'”

“I’m not sure who is more culpable in a situation like this,” he said. “Whether it is the person buying the vote or the individuals who are actually  selling them. On one hand, you have a person who is buying a right, and on the  other hand you have somebody who has that right, that people have fought and  died for, that this country is based upon, that is selling it for $25 or  $75.”

Richard Moore, who sold Salyers his vote, thinks despite the best effort by  authorities, vote buying will never be fully eradicated.

“I don’t think it will stop. They might slow it down some, and I hope they  do,” he said, but he doubts it.

Vote buying, he says is “where the money’s at.”

Meredith Orban contributed to this report. If you suspect voter fraud  where you live, tell us: VoterFraud@Foxnews.com.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/07/25/drug-money-funds-voter-fraud-in-kentucky/#ixzz21r751ec2