Lincoln commissioner sentenced to 21 months for vote fraud - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Lincoln commissioner sentenced to 21 months for vote fraud

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The investigation into the 2010 primary election fraud scheme in Lincoln County is over with the sentencing of former Lincoln County commissioner Thomas Ramey Jr., U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin announced Nov. 15.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston sentenced Ramey to 21 months in prison, which was more than the two others involved in the scheme.

"This sentence is meant to send a message back to Lincoln County and southern West Virginia. Election fraud in Lincoln County and southern West Virginia must stop," Johnston said.

Ramey, 32, pleaded guilty earlier this year to the single-count information charging him with lying to a secretary of state agent investigating Lincoln County voter fraud.

"I apologize to my family, friends and the people of Lincoln County. As I was growing up, I had an interest in public office. It was hurtful to me that Lincoln County had such a negative image. I strived to make it a better place when I ran for office," Ramey told the court.

"Never did I want to be in a position where I would cause the negative attention I've been so opposed to in Lincoln County. I'm ashamed for my crime I did commit and I am sorry and remorseful and would never do that again."

The information also asserts Ramey caused a "known person" to alter absentee ballot applications.

Johnston described Ramey as an idealistic young man trying to make a difference."

"That's a great thing. … Yet, idealism yielded to corruption at some point," Johnston said, later adding, "Youth and being new to politics is no excuse. I, too, was a young, eager man to public service, and I was idealistic. … But even though I was young and new to politics, I knew it was wrong to cheat elections."

Former Lincoln County Sheriff Jerry Bowman and Lincoln County Clerk Donald Whitten also were involved in the scheme.

Bowman, who was charged with conspiracy in illegal absentee ballots, was sentenced to one year and one day in prison. Whitten, who was charged with making false statements in an investigation of the fraud, was sentenced to 18 months.

"When votes are bought or sold, our democracy is in peril," Goodwin said in a news conference following Ramey's sentencing. "They stuffed the ballot box by abusing absentee ballots. … This type of hijacking will not be tolerated."

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who also was in attendance of the sentencing, said while the judge wanted to prove a point with the harsh sentence, her office has sent the message long before now.

"We began the investigation in 2010 before the primary. We didn't give up on the investigation, and we continued so that the public could have confidence in the election process," she said, later adding, "What we are doing differently than any other secretary of state's office is that we are working hand-in-hand with election officials in those counties. … We are there as a resource."

Ramey's attorney, Gregory J. Campbell said it has been his position since the beginning that Ramey had no role in the conspiracy. In fact, Campbell said it had been his understanding that there was no factual basis to prove any different.

Campbell said Bowman, another individual and Ramey met before the election to talk about campaigns. According to the sentencing memorandum filed by Campbell, Bowman recalled the other individual saying people did not need an excuse to be eligible to vote an absentee ballot. The memorandum says Whitten reinforced this idea later when he told Bowman that it is OK as long as the number 1 or 7 is marked.

The memorandum continues that Whitten advised this to Ramey in a meeting with all three of them.

"It was Thomas' belief that voting absentee was a part of the no excuse early voting process, which required no excuse," Campbell wrote.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby said the government did not "buy this argument" that Ramey was unaware.

Ramey said Bowman and Whitten said absentee ballots were a way to get people who couldn't vote to do their civic duties. He also said Bowman told him that voting absentee is "no excuse."

"I never agreed to be part of the conspiracy. I never agreed to be part of it. If I knew it was illegal, I wouldn't have been friends or even have gotten involved."