Former Clay official to change plea in vote-buying case

bestep@herald-leader.comMay 29, 2009 

A former Clay County election officer plans to plead guilty to a charge that he took part in a vote-buying scheme with prominent public officials.

The attorney for Paul E. Bishop filed a motion Thursday seeking a hearing for him to plead guilty to one count of racketeering.

That charge alleges that members of the conspiracy used the county Board of Elections as a vehicle to corrupt voting between 2002 and 2007 so they could hold on to power and enrich themselves and others.

U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves scheduled a Friday hearing for Bishop.

Motions such as Bishop's often come as part of an agreement for the person to cooperate in investigating and prosecuting other people, though that's not always the case.

Bishop's attorney, Kathyrn A. Walton, declined to say whether Bishop had agreed to testify against people charged with him.

Those co-defendants are:

■ Former Circuit Judge R. Cletus Maricle.

■ School Superintendent Douglas Adams.

■ County Clerk Freddy Thompson.

■ Charles Wayne Jones, the county's Democratic election commissioner.

■ William Stivers, who was an election officer.

■ Bart and Debra Morris, who own a waste-hauling company.

T. Scott White, who represents Jones, said it's not unusual for one person among several charged in the same case to plead guilty.

There is no way to know at this point whether Bishop's agreement to plead hurts or helps particular other defendants, White said.

"This is not unusual, and we are looking forward to having our day in court," he said.

Bishop could be a key witness for prosecutors, though court documents show that others with alleged knowledge of the conspiracy also are cooperating with the government.

Bishop would be the first of the eight charged in the case to plead guilty.

Participants in the conspiracy allegedly went through lists of voters to determine which ones would sell their ballot in the 2002, 2004 and 2006 elections.

According to court documents, some worked at polling places, making sure people voted for candidates they were supposed to and then giving them stickers or tickets, which the voters then showed at other locations to get cash from others involved in the conspiracy.

The indictment said Bishop, a Republican election officer in the Manchester precinct in 2002 and 2004, hosted meetings at his house where candidates for office pooled money to use in buying votes.

He also bought votes at the polling place, giving voters a mark or ticket so they could get paid later, the indictment says.

Bishop and Stivers also used OxyContin to buy votes at the direction of Adams in 2002, former Manchester assistant police Chief Todd Roberts told investigators, according to another court document.

Roberts is one of several onetime public officials who have gone to prison in earlier stages of the federal corruption investigation in Clay County that has been going on for several years.

Others include longtime Manchester Mayor Daugh White; former city council member and 911 director Vernon Hacker; former city Councilman Darnell Hipsher; and Jennings B. White, a two-term county clerk.

Daugh White's son Kennon, who was city manager, has pleaded guilty but hasn't been sentenced.

The racketeering charge against Bishop carries a top sentence of 20 years, but his sentence would probably be much less under advisory guidelines.

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