Plea implicates others in Clay case

bestep@herald-leader.comMay 30, 2009 

Public officials and candidates in Clay County pooled hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy votes in the 2002 primary election and bought votes in 2004 for a slate that included a state representative, a former election officer has admitted.

Paul E. Bishop, a former Republican precinct judge, pleaded guilty Friday to helping buy votes.

His plea agreement included new allegations in an investigation that has already shaken the county's longtime power structure.

For instance, Bishop said that in 2004, Clay County school Superintendent Douglas C. Adams gave him $2,000 to bribe voters. Bishop said he paid an estimated 100 voters about $20 each to vote for a slate of candidates that included state Rep. Tim Couch.

Couch, a Hyden Republican, had defeated Rep. Barbara White Colter in the 2002 GOP primary and was running for re-election in 2004.

Couch said Friday that he did not ask or tell anyone to buy votes for him and that if it happened, he had no knowledge of it.

But Couch said in an interview that people might have bought votes for him.

"That's a possibility that they included me on it," he said of the slate. "I know there was things that went on over there that I didn't want to be no part of."

Colter had been part of a group that a drug dealer was asked to buy votes for in May 2002, according to a court motion filed in an earlier phase of the investigation.

Colter told the Herald-Leader earlier that she heard in 2002 that for a certain price, candidates could join a slate for which votes would be bought, but said she refused.

Couch and Colter have not been charged in the case.

In the latest phase of the investigation, Bishop is charged along with Adams; former Circuit Judge R. Cletus Maricle; county Clerk Freddy Thompson; Charles Wayne Jones, the county's Democratic election commissioner; William Stivers, the county Democratic Party chairman; and Bart and Debra Morris, who own a waste-hauling company.

The eight allegedly took part in a racketeering scheme from 2002 to 2007 to buy and steal votes so they could hold on to power and enrich themselves and associates.

Court documents charge that people in the scheme used lists of voters to figure out who to bribe; picked a slate of candidates to buy votes for; and monitored the polls to make sure voters cast ballots for the right candidates.

Bishop is the first of the eight convicted. A trial for the others, who have pleaded not guilty, is scheduled in September.

Bishop said people involved in the scheme pooled $150,000 to $250,000 at a meeting in his garage days before the 2002 primary election. The jailer running for re-election, Charles Marcum, came in with about $10,000 in a bread bag and tossed it on the table, Bishop said.

Bishop said others at the meeting included Adams, Thompson, Stivers, Jones and Roy Morgan, a well-known businessman who has been active in county politics.

Marcum and Morgan have not been charged, and neither could be reached for comment Friday.

A woman who answered the phone at Marcum's house Friday night said, "That's ridiculous. No comment," when told of Bishop's allegation.

Adams, who called the 2002 meeting at Bishop's garage, instructed Bishop how to use some of the cash to buy votes for a slate of candidates that included Marcum and Thompson, who was running for county clerk in the Republican primary against incumbent Jennings B. White, according to the plea agreement.

Bishop said he bribed about 100 people to vote for the slate at about $20 each.

Bishop said he and Stivers, the Democratic election judge, worked inside the absentee polling place, making sure people voted as they were supposed to.

The two understood that a former magistrate, Mike Hooker, was outside paying voters, according to Bishop's plea deal.

Hooker would either call Bishop on a phone in the polling place to tell him which voters had gotten cash, or gave each of the people a piece of paper or a ticket so Bishop would know which ones to watch, the plea agreement said.

Hooker, who was no longer a magistrate in 2002, said he did not take part in buying votes then.

"That ain't right, 'cause I work 15 hours a day" and did so in 2002 as well, said Hooker, who has not been charged.

Bishop's plea document said Adams also sent about $2,500 to Bishop before the 2002 primary by way of Yancey White and Morgan, who is White's father-in-law.

White, a lawyer, declined to comment on the allegation. He has not been charged.

The 2002 primary in Clay County was a bare-knuckle fight, with Thompson and Jennings White each claiming people shot at them. A supporter of Thompson's said someone shot him six times after he delivered documents related to an old criminal charge against White.

And the slate Thompson was on wasn't the only one allegedly buying votes.

The faction headed by Jennings White pooled $490,000 to buy votes in the election, which he lost to Thompson, according to a court document filed earlier in the case.

Jennings White pleaded guilty to laundering money for a drug dealer and has cooperated with investigators, court documents show.

Bishop, a disabled former school-bus driver, faces up to 20 years in prison. His sentence will probably be much lighter than that under advisory guidelines, however.

U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves scheduled sentencing for October.

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