Witness describes alleged vote-buying effort in Magoffin

A voting machine in Lexington.
A voting machine in Lexington.

A man who has pleaded guilty in a vote-fraud case in Magoffin County said a magistrate charged in the case told him that Judge-Executive Charles “Doc” Hardin supplied cash to buy votes in 2010, according to a document filed in federal court.

The witness, Scotty L. McCarty, told the FBI and federal prosecutors that he saw an estimated $50,000 to $60,000 in a gun safe at the home of Randy Salyer, a close ally of Hardin, before elections for local offices in 2010.

McCarty said he was told that Hardin had put in $30,000. Hardin, a Democrat, ran successfully for re-election in 2010.

McCarty said he saw the cash at a meeting also attended by county Magistrate Gary “Rooster” Risner and Larry Shepherd, husband of county Clerk Renee Arnett Shepherd.

McCarty’s claims about alleged vote fraud in 2010 are at issue now because Risner and Larry Shepherd face trial this year on charges of buying votes in 2014 for Hardin, Renee Shepherd and Risner.

McCarty was charged with Risner and Larry Shepherd but pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of helping buy a woman’s vote in the May 2014 primary. He will be a witness for prosecutors in return for having other charges dropped.

He did not say in his statement that anyone told him Hardin supplied vote-buying money in 2014. However, McCarty said that Risner gave him $300 to buy votes and that he paid three people, including a teacher.

He gave authorities a statement this year about the alleged vote fraud in 2010, in which he said he took part.

The time limit to charge anyone for crimes that happened in 2010 has passed. However, prosecutors want to introduce evidence about alleged illegal acts in 2010 to support the current case against Risner, Shepherd and others.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Taylor said in a motion that jurors would need the information about what happened in 2010 to fully understand how the alleged 2014 vote-buying scheme developed.

“The testimony of Scotty McCarty portrays a history of collaboration between a group of political operatives in Magoffin County who seek to steal elections through vote buying,” Taylor said in a motion. “It is important for the jury to receive this historical context evidence when evaluating the events of 2014.”

McCarty’s statement was filed in the court record.

In a response, Risner’s attorney, Michael J. Curtis, argued that the government should not be allowed to use information about alleged bad acts in 2010 to prosecute charges from 2014.

The people and circumstances involved in the two alleged conspiracies were too different to justify the use of evidence from 2010, Curtis said.

He also said that McCarty’s statement shows that the government has a very weak case on the 2014 election and that it wants to prop it up with unrelated allegations.

Prosecutors in some instances are allowed to use evidence about acts that occurred outside the time covered in an indictment, but a judge must allow that.

U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves has not ruled on whether prosecutors may use McCarty’s testimony about alleged illegal acts in 2010.

Others charged in the case have not responded in court, but Louisville attorney Jason M. Nemes, who represents Larry Shepherd, strongly disputed McCarty’s claims.

“No lies Scotty McCarty conjures up and tells to save his hide changes the fact that Larry is innocent,” Nemes said.

Shepherd and Risner are charged along with Risner’s wife, Tami Jo Risner, and Mason Daniels with conspiring to buy votes in the 2014 primary and general elections. Risner and Larry Shepherd’s wife won elections that year, along with Hardin.

The four charged in the case have pleaded not guilty.

Hardin has not been charged with vote buying and has strongly denied ever taking part in vote fraud.

McCarty’s statement gives a peek inside allegations of vote buying that have dogged Magoffin County elections for years.

He said that at the Carty Branch precinct in 2010, vote buyers allegedly used a system of red and blue tickets to keep track of who to pay.

People would arrive with a blue ticket, signifying they’d agreed to sell their vote, then be given a red ticket to take back to someone handling the money, who would pay them $50, McCarty said.

Salyer told McCarty that members of the scheme bought 200 to 300 votes during the absentee-ballot process, McCarty said.

Absentee ballots have been a tool for fraud in Eastern Kentucky elections because they can be sold and filled in as the buyers wish.

In 2011, Randy Salyer was convicted in federal court of buying votes in the November 2010 election and was sentenced to 21 months in prison.

After Salyer finished his sentence, Hardin hired him as deputy judge-executive, “effectively earning a reward for not testifying against Hardin” about the 2010 fraud, Taylor said in a court motion.

Hardin has denied the job was a payoff. But McCarty said Hardin and Risner said they gave Salyer’s wife a county job after the 2010 election “because Charles Hardin owed Randy Salyer his life.”