Jury convicts all 8 defendants in Clay County vote-buying case
By Bill Estep
FRANKFORT — Some of the most powerful politicians in Clay County corrupted the election process in recent years, buying and stealing votes in pursuit of power and money, a federal jury ruled Wednesday.
After deliberating for more than 9 hours over the past two days, the jury convicted all eight people on trial, including former Circuit Judge R. Cletus Maricle and former school Superintendent Douglas C. Adams, on a racketeering conspiracy charge. That charge was that they used the county election board as a tool to rig elections, appointing corrupt precinct officers to help with vote-buying.
The jury convicted several of the defendants on other charges as well, including mail fraud, extortion and laundering money that was used to buy votes.
They face up to 20 years in prison, though their sentences will likely be less under advisory guidelines.
Those charged in the case are Maricle; Adams; county Clerk Freddy W. Thompson; Magistrate Stanley Bowling; Charles Wayne Jones, a former Democratic election commissioner; William Stivers, a former election official; and William Bart Morris, who owns a garbage-transfer company, and his wife Debi Morris, who owns a beauty shop.
They allegedly used the county board of elections as a vehicle to buy and steal votes between 2002 and 2007 so they could get power, jobs and contracts.
The verdict was the latest in a series of torpedoes that have blown a hole in the power structure that held sway in Manchester and Clay County for years.
Several once-prominent officials went to prison in earlier phases of the federal investigation on corruption and drug charges, including a longtime mayor of Manchester, an assistant police chief, city council members, a county clerk and magistrates.
And the case involving Maricle and Adams raised the possibility that there could be more charges. Prosecutors and witnesses said several other public officials in Clay County took part in vote-buying during the same period covered in the charges against Maricle.
The eight residents were charged with scheming to buy or steal votes in the local elections in 2002, 2004 and 2006.
The indictment charged that Maricle and Adams were political bosses who used their powerful positions to head up the effort. The others allegedly played various roles, such as choosing corrupt election officers to help with buying votes; paying voters; and lining up people to sell their votes.
The eight wanted to control elections so they could get power and enrich themselves and friends in a place where jobs are scarce, according to the charges and arguments in court.
In addition to jobs, there were city and county contracts at stake for Bowling's excavation company and Bart Morris' business, prosecutors argued.
"In Clay County, if you're not in politics or in with the clique, you don't get nothing," Kenneth Day, a convicted drug dealer and professed vote-buyer, testified.
The scheme to buy votes allegedly worked with practiced efficiency.
Participants checked lists of voters to identify those who would take bribes and lined up people to drive them to the polls, where precinct workers made sure they voted correctly and gave them a sticker or ticket to redeem for their payment, according to the indictment and testimony.
Candidates banded together in slates and pooled their money to buy votes, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in some elections, witnesses said.
Testimony indicated that vote-buying has been widespread and chronic in Clay County.
After Eugene "Mutton" Lewis, a convicted drug dealer who said he'd bought votes for decades, testified about a candidate giving him $1,000 and asking for help, a defense attorney asked if there weren't ways to help a candidate besides buying votes.
"Not that I know of," Lewis responded.
The May 2002 primary — the first election cited in the indictment — was allegedly a high-water mark of vote fraud in the county, largely because of a bitter race for county clerk.
In that race, Thompson challenged incumbent Clerk Jennings B. White in the Republican primary.
The Whites had been a powerful political family in the county for years, holding the offices of mayor, school superintendent, county clerk and state representative at one point, with allies in other offices.
But in 2002, Adams decided to whip Jennings White, Adams' attorney, R. Kent Westberry, told jurors.
It was personal — one of Adams' daughters had a drug problem, and White was close to Day, a large-scale drug dealer, and other local officials who were protecting drug trafficking, Westberry said.
The election was a volatile, violent affair. White used his connections to have a Thompson supporter arrested and staged a shooting of his own van, which then-Sheriff Edd Jordan, an ally of White's, said could have been carried out by Thompson's supporters.
Thompson said his house was shot into, and a man who had dug up dirt on White was shot from ambush.
The candidates and their allies allegedly put up several hundred thousand dollars to buy votes in the election, which Thompson won after precinct workers White thought were in his pocket allegedly abandoned him.
The FBI got complaints about the election and collected records that showed a high number of people asked for assistance in voting, said FBI special Agent Timothy Briggs.
Election officers go into the voting booth with people who request assistance, so that's one tactic vote-buyers use to make sure people vote as they were paid to vote.
Briggs said 78 people asked for help in that election because they were blind, but investigators found nearly 40 had a license to drive. Many drove to London after the FBI asked then to come for interviews, Briggs testified.
The FBI at first couldn't get people to cooperate in the election investigation, but that changed in 2005 after federal agents arrested dozens of people in a multi-state drug case, including Day, who had been a county Republican election commissioner and said he'd bought votes for years.
Defense attorneys did not argue there was no vote-buying in Clay County.
In fact, Maricle admitted buying votes for a circuit-judge candidate he supported in 1983 — though he said he hadn't bought votes since — and Thompson's attorney acknowledged people bribed voters for him in 2002.
But Maricle, Adams and the others argued that they had not bought votes during the time covered in the charges. They also said they didn't band to rig elections, and in fact had been on opposite sides in some races.
For instance, Adams, Stivers and Jones supported Thompson in the 2002 race, while Bowling and the Morrises supported White, defense attorneys said.
Those charged also said many of the witnesses against them — several of them convicted felons -- had reason to lie for prosecutors in hopes of getting help with their own legal troubles.
One key witness for the prosecution was D. Kennon White, who had been city manager of Manchester under his father, Mayor Daugh White, before admitting he extorted $67,000 in kickbacks from Bowling on city contracts.
Another was White's wife, Wanda, who also had worked for the city before Daugh White lost his bid for an eighth term in November 2006 while under federal investigation.
Kennon and Wanda White had been friends with Maricle, but after they got in trouble, they wore hidden tape recorders in 2007 to tape conversations with him and others.
Labels: Avarice, Crime, Democracy for sale, Greed, Kentucky politics, Punishment