East St. Louis vote buying case goes to trial
6/2/2005 12:56 PM
(Editor's note: The following report, submitted by Cal Skinner, is reprinted with permission from the Illinois Leader).
East St. Louis Democratic Committee chairman and former city councilman Charles Powell, Jr., three fellow elected Democratic precinct committeemen, and one Democratic precinct worker are on trial for vote buying in U.S. District Court.
The beneficiaries of the alleged scheme were Democrat Presidential candidate John Kerry, Illinois State Supreme Court candidate Gordon Maag and Mark Kern, the Democratic candidate for Chairman of the St. Clair County Board of Commissioners.
The Democrats won two out of three. Maag lost his race for a seat on the state's high court to Republican Lloyd Karmeier. None of the candidates have been implicated in any wrongdoing.
"The race for county board chairman was decided by East St. Louis votes," observed St. Clair County Board Member and Kern opponent Steve Reeb. "It was that close."
It used to be called "walking around money." Now, according to the St. Clair County Democratic Central Committee's reports to the State Board of Elections, it's called, "election expenses." $76,150 was reportedly paid to 51 individuals living in East St. Louis days before the 2004 election.
Cooperating voters were paid $5-$10 per vote, according to a report by the Belleville News-Democrat.
"Powell explained that the amount was based on multiplying the expected number of voters in the precinct times an amount of five dollars each," according to a FBI report obtained by the Belleville paper.
According to the indictment, Powell "explained that each Democratic precinct committeeman needed to determine how much he or she would pay voters in their own precinct." Powell allegedly asked them to turn in "election day budgets...requesting funds from the St. Clair County Democratic Committee to be used during the November 2, 2004 general election."
After discussing "these election day budget requests with members of the St. Clair County Democratic committee, the East St. Louis precinct committeemen received funds" from the county central committee "in most instance to the amount requested" on October 31st, according to one plea agreement.
Powell was a member of the East St. Louis city council until he was voted out of office in April. Two weeks before that election, he was indicted for vote fraud.
In late March three other Democratic precinct committeemen--Lillie Nichols, Leroy Scott, Jr., and Terrance Stith--pled guilty to "knowingly and willfully" paying or offering "to pay voters for voting" during a federal elections.
They agreed to render assistance that, if "found to be complete and thoroughly truthful" (underlining in the plea agreement), could lead to the U.S. Attorney's recommendation of a reduction in their sentences. Democratic precinct worker Sandra Stith, Terrance's wife, entered into a similar plea arrangement.
Standing trial with Powell will be fellow Democratic precinct committeemen Jesse Lewis, Sheila Thomas and Kevin Ellis. Ellis precinct worker Yvette Johnson is also charged.
Ellis is also charged with writing a "threatening and misleading" letter to Republican election judges "in order to intimidate" them "so they would not appear at their assigned polling place."