FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 7, 2012
TWO FORMER LINCOLN COUNTY OFFICIALS PLEAD GUILTY TO ELECTION FRAUD CHARGES
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Two former Lincoln County officials pleaded guilty today in federal court before United States District Judge Thomas E. Johnston to felonies in connection with a 2010 primary election fraud scheme, announced U.S. Attorney R. Booth Goodwin II. Former Lincoln County Sheriff Jerry Bowman, 58, pleaded guilty to conspiracy against rights in connection with the election fraud plot. Bowman’s co-conspirator and former Lincoln County Clerk Donald C. Whitten, 62, also pleaded guilty today to making a false statement in connection with the fraud scheme.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin stated, “A citizen's right to vote is at the very foundation of our constitutional democracy. When votes are bought, sold or obtained by fraud, democracy itself is in peril."
Goodwin continued, “I will not tolerate any attempts from individuals who intend to steal or rig an election in the Southern District of West Virginia. My office will spare no effort and no expense to make sure that individuals who do so are punished.”
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.
As stipulated in his plea agreement, 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 faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Whitten faces up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Both defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on June 13, 2012.
Bowman and Whitten have resigned their formerly held county offices as required by their plea agreements.
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 are in charge of the prosecution.
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