Defense seeks to have prosecutor disqualified in Clay vote-buying case

bestep@herald-leader.comJuly 17, 2009 

A former Clay County sheriff said he would try to influence a federal prosecutor's handling of a corruption case that involved prominent county officials, according to a court motion.

That allegedly happened in 2007, but defense attorneys included information about it this week in a motion seeking to disqualify the prosecutor.

Edward Jordan, who was Clay County sheriff from 1989 to 2006, told a witness in the case that he was related to Preston Smith, father of Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen C. Smith, the motion said.

Jordan said he would talk about the case with Preston Smith, a former Knox County jailer, according to the motion.

"I cannot go talk direct to him (Stephen C. Smith), but I can go to his dad and then maybe get something done," Jordan said while being secretly tape-recorded by a witness.

"Preston will talk to him," Jordan said later in the conversation, according to the motion.

Attorneys for former Clay Circuit Judge R. Cletus Maricle included excerpts from the undercover recording in a motion asking that Stephen C. Smith be disqualified from prosecuting Maricle and others charged in an alleged vote-buying conspiracy.

Jordan was talking about trying to help a person charged in an earlier phase of the corruption investigation in Clay County, not the current charges against Maricle and others.

However, attorneys for Maricle said Smith should be disqualified because of the family relationship with Jordan, a potential witness in the case.

It's clear from the taped conversation that Jordan "believed he had significant influence over who would be charged and who would receive leniency," said the motion by Maricle's attorneys.

The motion does not claim that Smith did anything wrong as a result of any contact between Jordan and his father.

The motion was filed late Wednesday. The government has not had a chance to respond in court.

Smith has been the prosecutor as related FBI investigations led to convictions or charges against more than a dozen prominent officials in Clay County since 2005.

Those charged in the latest indictment in the case are Maricle; Douglas Adams, who recently retired as school superintendent; county Clerk Freddy Thompson; Charles Wayne Jones, the county's Democratic election commissioner; William Stivers, who has been an election officer; Magistrate Stanley Bowling; and William Bart Morris and his wife Debra, who own a waste-hauling company.

They allegedly used the county board of elections as a tool to corrupt elections from 2002 to 2007 by buying and stealing votes so they could gain power.

All eight have pleaded not guilty.

Jordan was on the board of elections during most of the alleged vote-fraud scheme, and there have been implications earlier in the case that he took part in vote-buying.

However, Jordan has adamantly denied buying votes and has not been charged.

The tape-recording cited in the motion to disqualify Smith was made April 30, 2007, as Jordan talked to two witnesses.

The witnesses aren't named, but Jordan called one Kennon — apparently D. Kennon White, who was city manager of Manchester for a time under his father, longtime Mayor Daugh K. White.

D. Kennon White had pleaded guilty three days earlier to taking kickbacks from a city contractor, but the charges against him and his plea remained sealed for months as he cooperated with investigators.

Jordan said on the tape he didn't care what happened to some people charged in the corruption case, but planned to tell Preston Smith he didn't want one person to go to prison for something that others "basically forced him to do."

"I'm gonna talk to Preston and I'm gonna tell him, I'm gonna say, 'Preston, here's what I want you to do to keep that old man out of prison,' and I'll say we'll cooperate with him, anything he wants about the election as long as he'll take care of the ones coming over there and sits down and tells the truth," Jordan said, according to the motion.

Jordan said he didn't want to approach Stephen C. Smith directly because "I don't know him that well even though he's my kinfolks," according to the transcript.

Daugh White, who was in his mid-70s, was facing charges in the case, but the "old man" Jordan referred to was not named in the part of the tape cited in the motion.

Daugh White pleaded guilty to charges that he took part in extorting kickbacks from a city contractor and had residents' driveways paved for free in order to get votes.

He was sentenced to 84 months in prison.

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