Vote-fraud witness links legislator

Leslie business man testifies in Clay vote-buying trial

bestep@herald-leader.comFebruary 6, 2010 

FRANKFORT — A Leslie County businessman who is now a state representative gave $40,000 to a group of vote-buyers when he first ran for the office in 2002, a witness in a federal vote-fraud trial testified Friday.

Rep. Tim Couch, R-Hyden, ran in the 2002 Republican primary against Barbara White Colter.

Colter's family had long been politically prominent, and she had held the office for several terms, but Couch beat her by a wide margin.

Witnesses in the federal trial have testified it was common for factions in Clay County to back slates of candidates, and that candidates pooled money to buy votes.

Todd Roberts, a former assistant police chief in Manchester, testified that another city police officer, Mike Bishop, told him Couch gave $40,000 to be part of a slate of candidates that a group would buy votes for in the May 2002 primary.

Bishop said he was part of that group and bought votes at a precinct in the Oneida area, Roberts said.

Paul Bishop, Mike Bishop's father and a former election officer, pleaded guilty earlier, saying he bought votes for Couch and others in 2002 with $2,000 provided to him by Douglas Adams, then the county school superintendent.

Mike Bishop said Couch gave the vote-buyers money in 2004 as well, when Colter unsuccessfully tried to take back the seat, Roberts said.

Mike Bishop, who was later interim police chief in Manchester for a period, has not been charged in the case.

Couch was not available for comment Friday. Last year, he said he didn't ask anyone to buy votes for him in 2002 and had no knowledge of it happening.

In an earlier, related case, a court document said Colter was part of a group for which a drug dealer was asked to buy votes. Colter said she'd heard of such a slate, but refused to join.

A convicted drug dealer, Eugene "Mutton" Lewis, testified Friday he had bought votes for Colter in an earlier election.

Roberts was the latest witness in a case that has included testimony about widespread, persistent vote fraud in Clay County dating back decades.

Those charged are former Circuit Judge R. Cletus Maricle; Adams, who was school superintendent for a decade before retiring after he was charged last year; county Clerk Freddy W. Thompson; Magistrate Stanley Bowling; Charles Wayne Jones, a former county Democratic election commissioner; William Stivers, who has served as an election official; and William "Bart" Morris and his wife, Debra.

Maricle and Adams allegedly headed a scheme to hold power through vote fraud, while the others allegedly bought votes or helped rig elections.

They have denied the charges. Defense attorneys have said the case against the eight is built on lies from convicted felons who are trying to get reduced sentences.

Roberts pleaded guilty in 2007 to getting a drug dealer to burn down a vacant building in Manchester so the city could buy the property for construction of a new police station and 911 center, as well as lying to the FBI.

He is serving 87 months in prison. He acknowledged he would like to get his sentence cut, but said his plea deal calls for truthful testimony.

According to Bishop's account of the 2002 primary, Jailer Charles Marcum, who was running for re-election, put $40,000 into the vote-buying pool and Thompson, who was trying to beat incumbent County Clerk Jennings B. White, put in $120,000, Roberts said.

Roberts supported White in that contest, a bare-knuckle fight marred by chaos at the absentee voting booth and gunfire.

Thompson's attorneys have not yet questioned Roberts in court.

In other testimony, J.C. Lawson, a well-known marijuana grower from Clay County, said he used $5,000 from Bowling to buy votes for him at Big Creek in 2002, when Bowling won a race for magistrate.

Lawson, now serving a 10-year sentence, said Bowling paid him $500.

Bowling's attorney, Daniel Simons, said in questioning Lawson that Lawson has given inconsistent statements.

The trial will continue next week.

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