Ex-Breathitt sheriff pleads guilty in federal vote-buying case

bestep@herald-leader.comJune 13, 2012 

A former Breathitt County sheriff pleaded guilty in a vote-buying scheme Wednesday in federal court.

John L. Turner admitted he distributed money to be used in buying votes in the May 2010 primary, according to his plea agreement.

Former county schools Superintendent Arch Turner provided the money and directed him to pass it on to a vote-buyer involved in the conspiracy, John L. Turner said in his plea deal.

Arch Turner is charged with conspiracy, providing money to buy votes, trying to get a witness not to give information to authorities, and lying to an FBI agent. He maintains he is innocent, his attorney has said. Arch Turner faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

John Turner could get up to five years in prison when he is sentenced in September. His attorney was not available for comment.

John Turner cooperated with authorities earlier in an investigation of whether the former schools chief violated his pretrial release conditions by having improper contact with a co-defendant.

A judge ruled Arch Turner was a risk to try to improperly influence witnesses and revoked his bond. He has to stay in jail until his trial, scheduled to begin July 30.

Federal authorities began investigating the May 2010 election in the county after an abnormally large number of people cast ballots in early voting, according to court documents.

That can be a red flag that voters have been bribed.

So far, 10 people have been charged in three separate indictments with taking part in vote fraud in that election.

John L. Turner is the ninth to be convicted or plead guilty, according to a news release from U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey.

Only Arch Turner still faces charges.

The vote-buying in the election was part of a fight between two factions for control of the county, an attorney for one man charged in the case said in a court document.

Witnesses have said they were paid anywhere from $20 to $75 to vote for a slate of candidates, according to court records.

Some voters who took payoffs falsely said they were disabled and needed help in the voting booth, which allowed people involved in the fraud to go in with them and make sure they voted as they were supposed to, according to court documents.

Michael Salyers, who ran for magistrate in the election, testified that vote-buying was common in the county and that people came to the store building he owned and offered to sell their votes, while members of the conspiracy sought out other voters, according to one court document.

John Turner said in his plea deal that before Election Day, Arch Turner gave him an unspecified amount of cash to use in buying votes. Soon after, Arch Turner told him to bring it to a meeting at a county elementary school, Turner said.

At the meeting, attended by a number of men, Arch Turner directed him to give cash to a man to buy votes in a particular precinct, John Turner said.

Arch Turner quit as superintendent after his pretrial release was revoked.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1

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