Monday, December 11, 2017
Politics

In Madison County, Florida's longest absentee-voter fraud case

MADISON — Florida's longest-running case of absentee voter fraud reads almost like a novel.

Call it The Ballots of Madison County.

The FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents swooped into this tight-knit North Florida town after a 2010 election in which a winning School Board candidate reaped a suspicious-looking bounty of absentee votes.

The trouble began when School Board candidate Ricky Henderson beat rival Abra "Tina" Johnson at the polls and in early voting. But she topped him in absentee votes by nearly a 3-1 ratio and won the election by 28 votes.

Henderson filed a fraud complaint with the state, citing a "gross disparity" in absentee ballot voting. Investigators picked up the trail.

"Odd circumstances and intelligence information suggested fraudulent activity may have played a part in Johnson's victory," an FDLE report said.

After a yearlong investigation, eight people were charged with multiple counts of elections fraud, a third-degree felony. County Elections Supervisor Jada Woods Williams was charged with 17 counts of willful neglect of duty and was suspended from office by Gov. Rick Scott.

Johnson also was suspended from office and Scott appointed a replacement. She and her husband, Ernest, a local firefighter, are accused of asking voters to get absentee ballot request forms and then writing in different mailing addresses where the ballots were to be mailed.

Agents found that people were allowed to pick up more absentees for nonrelatives than the two allowed by law and that 80 ballots were mailed to nine addresses, including the apartment of Judy Ann Crumitie, a friend of Johnson's, who faces four fraud counts.

Four voters said their ballots were mailed to Crumitie's home without their consent.

"People were allowed to pick up more ballots than they were supposed to," FDLE agent Craig Riley said in a deposition.

• • •

Madison, near the Georgia border about 60 miles east of Tallahassee, is a picturesque place that exudes history with its gently rolling fields, elegant homes with wrap-around porches and towering oak trees. What matters here is family, God and football — and not always in that order.

Official business came to a halt one recent morning as Madison held its homecoming high school football parade, and smiling cheerleaders rode on the hoods of shiny new Dodges.

Madison is home to Colin P. Kelly, America's first World War II hero. A stately granite monument in the center of town is dedicated to "Our Confederate soldiers."

The voter fraud case is the talk of Madison — no other such case in the state involves so many people — and has taken on racial overtones. (The county population is about 40 percent black.)

All nine defendants are African-American and all but one are women. They've been fingerprinted, photographed and had their police mug shots shown on local TV. The local NAACP held a rally on the steps of the county courthouse, protesting the arrests.

"A lot of these women had no criminal history whatsoever. They never felt they committed a crime," said attorney Benjamin Crump, who represents Crumitie. "It has turned their lives upside down."

In a motion to dismiss the charges against his client, Crump argued that Crumitie did not demonstrate fraudulent intent because the four voters whose absentee votes she procured all wanted to vote for Johnson.

"The evidence presented in this case does not support a finding of fraud," Crump argued.

Crumitie, like other defendants, declined to comment. "I don't want to," she said.

In January, Crump and Crumitie summoned the media to the governor's office and said they were suing FDLE, accusing the state of a "violent voter suppression campaign" aimed at blacks in Madison. But no lawsuit has been filed.

"We want to deal with the criminal case first," Crump said.

"Their employers and their preachers are telling them to go ahead and admit their crime and do the time," said Crump, who also represents the family of Trayvon Martin. "But they say, 'We didn't do anything wrong.' "

Crump said prosecutor Willie Meggs tried to negotiate plea deals, but they refused and have filed motions to dismiss all charges.

The motions cite the fact that the Republican-controlled Legislature changed the law last year to allow absentee ballots to be sent to any address specified by the voter.

Meggs, who was assigned the case by the governor, declined to discuss it in detail, but said fraud is always a possibility when one person can obtain multiple absentee ballots.

"I'm convinced that the election laws were violated," Meggs said.

• • •

The voter fraud case has yet to be tried — every defendant has asked for a separate trial — but life goes on.

In a recent edition of the Madison Enterprise-Recorder, a front-page headline said: "Pre-trial Hearings Continued Until December."

Henderson, the losing candidate whose fraud complaint broke open the case, often sees the defendants around town.

"It's no problem, to be honest," he said. "I wave at them and they wave back at me."

Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

Comments
Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority plays beat the clock on GOP tax bill

Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority plays beat the clock on GOP tax bill

TAMPA — With the Republican tax bill poised to eliminate the opportunity, the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority on Monday said it had refinanced a big chunk of its debt to save money in the future.The authority borrowed $152 million from the bo...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Alabama Senate race, unlikely nail biter, races to finish line

Alabama Senate race, unlikely nail biter, races to finish line

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In a blur of television ads, conflicting polls and presidential tweets, Doug Jones and Roy Moore raced Monday to make their final pleas in Alabama’s special election for the Senate, with both candidates focused on turning out their...
Updated: 3 hours ago
As tax plan gained steam, GOP lost focus on the middle class

As tax plan gained steam, GOP lost focus on the middle class

The GOP tax plan on the cusp of becoming law diverges wildly from the promises President Trump and top advisers said they would deliver for the middle class — an evolution that shows how traditional Republican orthodoxy swamped Trump’s distinctive br...
Published: 12/10/17

Same income, but not taxes, in GOP plan

In most places, a dollar is a dollar. But in the tax code envisioned by Republicans, the amount you make may be less important than how you make it.Consider two chefs working side by side for the same catering company, doing the same job, for the sam...
Published: 12/09/17
Updated: 12/10/17
Democrats fighting math and history in Alabama

Democrats fighting math and history in Alabama

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Renegade Republican Roy Moore may be plagued by scandal, but it will take more than that to convince the voters of 44th Place North to show up for Democrat Doug Jones on Tuesday. In a state where Democrats are used to losing, the m...
Published: 12/09/17
 ‘He believes passionately that the liberal left and the media are out to destroy him’: A look inside Trump’s day-to-day

‘He believes passionately that the liberal left and the media are out to destroy him’: A look inside Trump’s day-to-day

WASHINGTON — Around 5:30 each morning, President Donald Trump wakes and tunes into the television in the White House’s master bedroom. He flips to CNN for news, moves to "Fox & Friends" for comfort and messaging ideas, and sometimes watches MSNBC’s "...
Published: 12/09/17
Why Democrats decided Sen. Al Franken had to go

Why Democrats decided Sen. Al Franken had to go

  It seems like a distant memory now, but Al Franken’s arrival in the U.S. Senate eight years ago marked the very moment when Democrats’ control of Washington reached its highest point in a generation. After an eight-month recount, the ...
Published: 12/07/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Rep. Trent Franks to resign after broaching surrogacy with subordinates

Rep. Trent Franks to resign after broaching surrogacy with subordinates

WASHINGTON — Rep. Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican who is among the most conservative members of the House, said Thursday he would resign his seat in a statement where he acknowledged discussing surrogacy with two former female subordinates.Franks...
Published: 12/07/17
Sen. Al Franken says he’s resigning amid fresh accusations

Sen. Al Franken says he’s resigning amid fresh accusations

WASHINGTON — Minnesota Sen. Al Franken announced Thursday he will resign from Congress in the coming weeks following a wave of sexual misconduct allegations and the collapse of support from his Democratic colleagues, a swift political fall for a once...
Published: 12/07/17
Amid reports of rapes, beatings, cover-ups, grand jury to probe juvenile justice abuses

Amid reports of rapes, beatings, cover-ups, grand jury to probe juvenile justice abuses

Disturbed by stories about the rape of teens by supervisory staff, a pandemic of sometimes savage force, brutal beatdowns ordered by youth care workers and policies that permit the hiring of violent offenders, Miami-Dade’s state attorney wants to kno...
Published: 12/07/17