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2 Perry County public officials are indicted in vote-buying case

Two longtime public officials in Perry County diverted $7,500 from the state Democratic Party and used it to buy votes for themselves last November, a federal grand jury charged Wednesday.

The two are Chester Jones, 65, chairman of the Perry County Democratic Executive Committee, and Sherman Neace, 68, who served three terms as Perry County judge-executive before losing re-election in 1998.

The two committed mail fraud by sending a false report to the state election-finance agency to cover the vote-buying scheme, and they conspired to commit mail fraud, the two-count indictment charges.

The mail-fraud charge carries a sentence of up to 20 years. The two were not arrested, but they were summoned to report for arraignment on July 8, court records show.

It's the second federal charge against Neace, a car dealer who was sentenced to 15 months in prison in 2000 after admitting that when he was judge-executive, he sold used cars to the county at inflated prices and routed the transactions through other dealers to hide his involvement.

Last fall, Neace was running for magistrate, and Jones, a former state representative who had also served as circuit court clerk, was running for a seat on the county school board, according to the indictment.

The state Democratic Party sent the Perry County executive committee $7,500 on Oct. 30 for efforts to get out the vote, but Jones and Neace hijacked the payment, the indictment charges.

Jones went to the bank where the local party committee had its account and got 75 counter checks, then filled them out for $100 each, leaving the payee information blank, and had the secretary sign them, the indictment said.

Jones and Neace then split up the checks, handing out some themselves to buy votes and giving some to other people to buy votes for them, according to the indictment.

The two tried to cover the scheme with fake labor contracts that said the person getting the check would work a certain number of hours to canvass for votes or give rides to voters, "when in truth and fact these checks were distributed with no expectation that meaningful GOTV (get out the vote) work would be performed," the indictment said.

Jones told other executive-committee members the $7,500 had been used for efforts to boost turnout, and turned in the bogus labor contracts after the election, the indictment said.

Jones and Neace were not available for comment Wednesday evening. Someone who answered the phone at Neace's house said he was on vacation.

Court records did not list attorneys for the men Wednesday.

The indictment indicates the potential for more people to be charged in the case. It says other people were involved in the vote fraud.