Clay officials accused of reaping $4 million

Steered contracts, jobs, agents say

bestep@herald-leader.comMarch 10, 2010 

FRANKFORT — People who took part in a scheme to buy votes in Clay County benefited from the fraud through a total of more than $4 million in salaries and contract payments since 2002 and gained control over jobs, federal agents testified Tuesday.

The testimony relates to a key part of the charges against the eight people — that they rigged elections to enrich themselves and others. One charge in the indictment is the money they made was laundered because it resulted from illegal election activity.

"These salaries were just fruits of the crime," testified Jeff Sagrecy, an investigative agent with the Internal Revenue Service.

If those charged are convicted, the government plans to try to collect millions from them.

The eight people on trial in federal court in Frankfort are former Circuit Judge R. Cletus Maricle; former Clay County school superintendent Douglas Adams; county Clerk Freddy W. Thompson; Thompson's father-in-law Charles Wayne Jones, a former county Democratic election commissioner; William Stivers, also a former election official; Magistrate Stanley Bowling; and William "Bart" Morris and his wife, Debra, who allegedly paid voters.

They are charged with conspiring to commit vote fraud from 2002 to 2007, the year Maricle left his full-time job to become a senior judge.

The eight have strongly denied they took part in vote fraud or money laundering.

Sagrecy said the city of Manchester paid Bowling's company, B&B Excavating, just over $1 million from 2002 to 2006 for work such as installing water and sewer lines, and he said the county bought a piece of heavy equipment from him while he was magistrate.

Sagrecy said he found no evidence that the city solicited bids on much of that work.

The two local governments paid Bart Morris' company, B&J Transfer, a little more than $1 million from 2002 to 2009, Sagrecy said.

The company operated a facility to take in garbage picked up in the city and county and truck it to a landfill.

Bart and Debra Morris took part in vote-buying to help city council candidates get elected so they would in turn give the company business, Sagrecy said.

Maricle was paid more than $639,000 during the alleged conspiracy, while Adams made $704,736 from 2002 to mid-2009 and Thompson got $499,336 in salary, expenses and incentive payments from 2003 to 2009, Sagrecy said.

Bowling's salary as magistrate from 2003 to 2009 was more than $135,000, Sagrecy said.

Money was a motivation for Maricle, Adams and the others to commit election fraud, but they also wanted power, including control over jobs, Sagrecy said.

As school superintendent, Adams headed the largest employer in the relatively poor county, federal agents said.

"That power over the largest employer in the county is very helpful in elections," Timothy S. Briggs, lead FBI agent on the case, testified.

People in the conspiracy traded favors by providing jobs for people close to others who were involved, Sagrecy and Briggs said.

There has been earlier testimony that factions in the county picked slates of candidates and that the candidates kicked in money to buy votes.

That pool of money could reach upwards of half a million dollars, the IRS agent said.

Defense attorneys pointed out in their questions that salaries for Maricle and Thompson were set by state law, while Adams' salary was set by the school board and was in line with other superintendents' pay.

Bart Morris' attorney, Jerry Gilbert, pointed out that Morris got contracts with the city through a bidding process. When Morris first got the garbage contract with the city, he underbid the company that had the contract at the time, Gilbert said.

However, the contract included an increase a year later that put the amount above what the city had been paying, Sagrecy said.

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