LONDON — A federal prosecutor expressed concern about the potential for intimidation of witnesses in a vote-fraud case involving two former Perry County officials.
The two, former Circuit Clerk Chester Jones and former Judge-Executive Sherman Neace, pleaded not guilty Wednesday.
One witness — a woman who served as secretary of the county Democratic Party Executive Committee — has expressed fear of Jones, and others have concerns about contact with him, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Taylor said during the hearing.
There was no information at the hearing about why one witness fears Jones.
Taylor did say, however, that Jones came to the federal courthouse at a time when the grand jury investigating the case was meeting, even though he wasn't directed to be there, and talked with witnesses.
"They were very uncomfortable with that," Taylor said.
Taylor said no one had expressed concerns about contact with Neace, but he asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert E. Wier to bar both men from doing anything to intimidate or influence witnesses while the two are free pending trial.
Jones' attorney, Brenda Popplewell, disputed the allegation that anyone was in fear of him.
Popplewell and Neace's attorney, Willis Coffey, said the two wouldn't do anything to intimidate witnesses.
Wier told Jones and Neace not to discuss the subject of the case with anyone outside the presence of their attorneys or defense investigators, though he said they could help set up interviews with witnesses.
However, Wier barred Jones from any contact with three specific witnesses: Lisa Weist, the former party secretary; Janet Smith; and Nancy Collins.
Jones, 65, chairs the Perry County Democratic Executive Committee and is a former circuit clerk and state representative. Neace, 68, served three terms as Perry County judge-executive before losing re-election in 1998.
They allegedly diverted $7,500 that the state Democratic Party had given Perry County Democrats for use in efforts to improve voter turnout last November and instead used it to buy votes for themselves.
Neace was running for magistrate in November, and Jones was seeking a seat on the county school board.
Jones signed 75 $100 checks but left the payee information blank, then he and Neace split them, handing out some themselves to buy votes and giving some to others to buy votes for them, the indictment charged.
Coffey said Neace did not want to comment after Monday's hearing.
Popplewell said Jones maintains his innocence.
Jones and Neace face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
The indictment says others were involved in the vote-fraud scheme. Taylor declined comment on whether the government anticipates charging more people in the case.
It's not clear when the two will be tried. The trial is scheduled Sept. 14, but their attorneys said they have scheduling conflicts then.