Crime

Clay County businessman, wife sentenced in vote-buying scam

Former Clay County Clerk Freddy Thompson. Photo provided.
Former Clay County Clerk Freddy Thompson. Photo provided. Lexington Herald-Leader

A Clay County businessman, who allegedly took part in vote fraud to help elect officials who could give him contracts, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves sentenced William Bart Morris, 52, Friday in federal court in Frankfort.

Reeves sentenced Morris' wife Debra Morris, 51, to 10 years in prison.

The sentences were the last for eight Clay County residents convicted last year of taking part in a racketeering enterprise that bought several thousand total votes in the 2002, 2004 and 2006 local elections.

The goal of the fraud was to control the county and enrich themselves and associates, prosecutors argued.

In addition to power, salaries and control over jobs, there were contracts at stake.

Bart Morris owned a garbage-transfer company that had contracts with Clay County and the city of Manchester at a time when there were people in office for whom he had helped buy votes, according to trial testimony.

The two local governments paid the company more than $1 million from 2002 to 2009.

Witnesses said Bart and Debra Morris helped handle payments to voters.

Reeves reportedly pointed to incidents of violence in which Bart Morris was involved as one reason for his 20-year sentence, which was above the range in advisory guidelines.

In one of those cases, vote-buyer Bobby Red Sams testified that Morris, who was working for a different candidate than Sams, beat him up in a dispute over a woman who had sold her vote.

The Morrises plan to appeal, said their attorneys, Jerry Gilbert and Elizabeth Hughes.

The other people convicted in the case also plan to appeal.

They are former Circuit Judge R. Cletus Maricle; former school Superintendent Douglas Adams; former county Clerk Freddy Thompson; former Magistrate Stanley Bowling; Charles Wayne Jones, who was the county's Democratic election commissioner; and William E. Stivers, an election officer.

All eight have been jailed since being convicted last March.

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