Clay vote-buying included unindicted co-conspirators, prosecutor says

bestep@herald-leader.comFebruary 4, 2010 

FRANKFORT — Some prominent Clay County residents who haven't yet been charged took part in a wide-ranging conspiracy to gain power by buying or stealing votes, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

That revelation came as eight county residents, most of them current or former public officials or election officers, went on trial in federal court in Frankfort. Attorneys gave opening statements Wednesday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen C. Smith said some people who took part in corrupting elections, such as former Clay County Clerk Jennings B. White, have been convicted in previous phases of the case, but some have not.

Smith said longtime Sheriff Edd Jordan, who lost re-election in 2006, is an unindicted co-conspirator in the case.

Jordan was involved in the alleged vote-fraud scheme, but "hasn't been indicted yet," Smith told jurors.

Jordan, a Republican, has filed to try to win back the office this year.

Smith also mentioned Roy Morgan, a businessman and former magistrate, as an unindicted co-conspirator.

Those charged in the current case are former Circuit Judge R. Cletus Maricle; former school Superintendent Douglas Adams; county Clerk Freddy W. Thompson; Magistrate Stanley Bowling; Charles Wayne Jones, former Democratic election commissioner; William Stivers, who has served as an election official; and William "Bart" Morris and his wife, Debra.

A federal indictment charged that Maricle and Adams were political bosses who headed a conspiracy in which candidates pooled large sums of money — $150,000 or more in the 2002 primary, for instance — to buy votes.

The conspiracy included rigging the selection of corrupt election officers to make the operation work, the indictment charged.

The others charged allegedly had various roles in the scheme, including paying voters and making sure they cast ballots as they were supposed to.

The trial is the latest phase in a continuing federal investigation that helped upend the longtime power structure in the southeastern Kentucky county.

Those convicted earlier include people who had served as county clerk, mayor of Manchester, city manager, two council members, an assistant police chief and a magistrate.

Smith said the trial will open a window on widespread vote fraud in Clay County.

Those involved pored over lists of voters to see who they could bribe at $30, $40 or $50 a head, Smith said.

"It's going to be shown that hundreds of voters were bribed," Smith said.

The conspirators' goal was to help themselves or associates, Smith said.

For instance, William Morris wanted contracts with local government for his waste-hauling business, and in 2006, Maricle was trying to help his son-in-law get elected tax assessor, Smith said.

Defense attorneys, however, said that the eight did not take part in a scheme to rig elections and that the case against them is built in large part on lies from convicted felons trying to curry favor with prosecutors in order to get time cut from their sentences.

For instance, one key prosecution witness is Kenneth Day, a one-time election official who also was a major drug dealer. He is serving 18 years in prison.

"He's willing to lie for the government" to get a shorter sentence, said David Hoskins, Maricle's attorney.

Day already has lied, saying in one hearing that Maricle helped fix a money award in a civil trial over which he presided, when in reality he wasn't the judge in the case, Hoskins said.

Defense attorneys also said the allegation that the eight defendants worked together to fix elections — using the county board of elections as a vehicle — doesn't hold water because they are members of different political parties and several were in different political factions.

In the 2002 primary, for example, when Thompson ran against White for county clerk, the Morrises and Bowling supported White, while Adams, Stivers and Jones supported Thompson, who is Jones' son-in-law, attorneys said.

"It just doesn't make sense," Scott White, Jones' attorney, said of the allegation.

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