Clay duo helped fix many elections, prosecutor says

bestep@herald-leader.comJanuary 1, 2010 

A former circuit judge and a former superintendent in Clay County who are facing federal vote-fraud charges helped fix elections for decades before they were indicted, a federal prosecutor alleges.

R. Cletus Maricle, a longtime judge, and former school Superintendent Douglas C. Adams began working with drug dealers more than 20 years ago to buy votes and control local politics, according to a court motion filed this week.

In a 1983 race for circuit judge, for instance, Adams gave drug dealer Kenneth Day $30,000 to buy votes for one candidate, while Maricle bought votes for the opposing candidate, the motion claims.

"During Election Day, Maricle asked Day how much money it would take to get him to go home," the motion says.

Two years later, Maricle and Adams bought votes for the same candidate for magistrate, and Day helped, according to the court document.

Maricle's attorney David Hoskins said the allegations in the motion are false: "We absolutely deny that," he said.

Witnesses have lied about Maricle, and drug dealers named as witnesses in the new motion are trying to curry favor with prosecutors in hopes of getting their sentences reduced, Hoskins said.

R. Kent Westberry, an attorney for Adams, said he "categorically" denies the claims.

Day is serving an 18-year sentence in federal prison.

The motion by the prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen C. Smith, seeks to present evidence against Maricle and Adams from a period not covered in the indictment against them.

The two are charged with racketeering for allegedly heading a scheme to buy and steal votes from 2002 to 2007 so they could hold power.

The others charged with them are county Clerk Freddy W. Thompson; Magistrate Stanley Bowling; Charles Wayne Jones and William Stivers, who were election officers; and Bart and Debra Morris, who own a waste-hauling company. All eight have pleaded not guilty.

They are scheduled for trial beginning Jan. 19.

Former election officer Paul E. Bishop was initially charged in the case but pleaded guilty. Bishop said that at a meeting in his garage days before the 2002 primary, people pooled $150,000 to $250,000 to buy votes.

The motion by Smith, the prosecutor, argues that jurors should be able to hear about alleged illegal activity by Maricle, Adams and others from before 2002 because that will help explain how the racketeering scheme developed.

The prosecutor wants to introduce a 1989 television interview in which Maricle said marijuana was the top cash crop in Clay County, that pot growers influenced elections and that 30 percent of the votes in the county could be bought.

That shows Maricle's knowledge of how elections could be manipulated with drug money, the prosecutor argues.

The motion says a drug dealer named J.C. Lawson formed relationships with Maricle, Jones and Bowling and gave thousands of dollars in the 1980s to buy votes.

Lawson gained widespread notoriety after talking openly with the Herald-Leader in 1987 about being a pot grower. He posed for a photo with a big pot plant and bragged about making $1 million in a few months.

He was later convicted on drug charges. After his release, he was charged again with growing pot and is serving a 10-year sentence.

The prosecution motion says Jones also was involved in the marijuana business for years with a man named Eugene Lewis when Lewis was an election officer — a position he took in the late 1970s at Maricle's request, according to the motion.

Maricle and Jones brought candidates to Lewis with money to buy votes, and Maricle told Lewis he would help him if he needed anything, the prosecution motion says.

The drug trade and the scheme to control politics were mutually beneficial, and jurors should be able to hear that evidence, Smith's motion argues.

Attorneys for Maricle and Adams, however, said they will oppose the move to introduce evidence of alleged illegal acts from before 2002.

In a separate motion, prosecutors are trying to exclude comments Maricle and others made in secret recordings that tend to show their innocence — but on the other hand, prosecutors want jurors to hear irrelevant information from convicted felons, Hoskins said.

"They're really trying to have it both ways," Hoskins said.

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