Criminal Justice News

Friday, August 31, 2012

Two Former Lincoln County Officials Sentenced to Federal Prison on Election Fraud Charges

Former County Clerk Gets Longest Election Fraud Sentence in Recent Years in Southern West Virginia

CHARLESTON, WV—Two former Lincoln County officials were sentenced to federal prison on felony charges in connection with a 2010 primary election fraud scheme, announced U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. Former Lincoln County Sheriff Jerry Bowman, 58, was sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison, three years of supervised release, and a $5,000 fine. Bowman previously pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy against rights in connection with the election fraud plot. Bowman’s co-conspirator and former Lincoln County Clerk Donald C. Whitten, 62, was sentenced to one year and six months in prison and three years of supervised release and a $5,000 fine. Whitten’s sentence is the longest in recent memory in an election fraud case in the Southern District of West Virginia. Whitten also pleaded guilty in March to making a false statement in connection with the fraud scheme.

“A citizen’s right to vote is the foundation of our democracy,” said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. “A stolen election shakes the public’s faith in government itself. It’s disgraceful for anyone to rig an election and even worse when the criminal is a public official.”

“I won’t tolerate election fraud in southern West Virginia,” Goodwin continued. “My office will relentlessly pursue anyone who tries to manipulate the vote.”

“I appreciate Judge Johnston’s strong stance on the importance of clean elections in this state and everywhere, and I’m pleased with today’s sentences,” Goodwin said.

Bowman admitted that during the conspiracy, he falsified more than 100 absentee ballot applications for voters who did not have any legal basis to vote absentee. After the false applications were processed, Bowman then returned to many of those voters’ homes and was in the room with them while they voted, telling them which candidates he backed. Bowman further admitted that in at least six cases, he himself marked voters’ absentee ballots.

Bowman also admitted that on several occasions, he witnessed a known associate complete absentee ballot applications for voters who had no apparent reason to vote absentee legally. Bowman admitted that during the scheme, he hand-delivered numerous false absentee ballot applications to the Lincoln County Clerk, which he had completed. In addition, Bowman also admitted that he witnessed a known associate hand-deliver numerous absentee ballot applications to the Lincoln County Clerk, which the known individual had illegally completed.

Whitten admitted that on December 7, 2011, he lied to an investigator about his role in the election fraud conspiracy. Whitten further admitted that he told an investigator that he had never provided absentee ballots to a known associate so that the associate could subsequently hand-deliver those ballots to voters. Whitten also admitted that at the time he made the statement, he knew that it was false.

Bowman and Whitten have resigned their formerly held county offices as required by their plea agreements.

Earlier this month, former Lincoln County Commissioner Thomas Ramey, Jr., 32, of Lincoln County, West Virginia, pleaded guilty to making a false statement to an FBI agent in connection to his role in the Lincoln County absentee voting fraud scheme.

Ramey faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced on November 15, 2012, by United States District Judge Thomas E. Johnston. Like Bowman and Whitten, Ramey has resigned his formerly held county office as required by his plea agreement.

The investigation was conducted by investigator Jim Wise of the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Counsel to the United States Attorney Steven Ruby and Assistant United States Attorney Thomas Ryan handled the prosecution.

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