5 indicted in Caldwell vote-buying case

LENOIR – What started out as an investigation conducted late last year by the Caldwell County Board of Elections into alleged vote buying on behalf of the Republican Party and current Caldwell County Sheriff Gary Clark has now resulted in five Caldwell County residents being indicted on federal charges.

Wayne Shatley, Anita Moore, Valerie Moore, Carlos R. “Sunshine” Hood and Ross “Toogie” Banner were indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury in Charlotte on nine counts alleging conspiracy to commit and actually committing vote-buying.

The indictment alleges that the defendants recruited various residents of Caldwell County to participate in early voting at the Caldwell County Board of Elections office prior to the Nov. 5, 2002 general elections.

“The indictment indicates that individuals recruited by the defendants were offered and/or paid $25 to vote the “straight Republican ticket” for all the Republican candidates for state and federal office appearing on the ballot in the general election or, alternatively, to vote for the Republican Party’s candidate for the office of Caldwell County Sheriff (Clark),” stated Suellen Pierce, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney – Western District of North Carolina.

The indictment also alleges that the defendants and others offered to pay and paid persons to register to vote in the 2002 general election.

In the “overt acts” described in the indictment, Banner allegedly paid a persons, “H.M.” and “B.B.,” $25 each to vote on Oct. 29, 2002.

Shatley and Anita Moore allegedly offered “L.C.” $25 for voting and paid “D.L.H.” $10 to register on Oct. 30, 2002. Also on that date, Anita Moore and Valerie Moore allegedly paid D.L.H. $25 to vote and Anita Moore allegedly paid “T.P.” $25 to vote.

Shatley, Anita Moore and Hood allegedly paid “C.H.” $25 to vote on Oct. 30, 2002. The next day Anita Moore allegedly paid “T.P.” $25 to vote, the indictment states.

Pierce stated that, if convicted on all counts, Shatley faces 20 years in prison, Anita Moore – 35 years in prison, Valerie Moore – 10 years imprisonment, Hood – 10 years and Banner – 15 years.

Fifteen people testified before the Caldwell County elections board in December that they sold their votes to a handful of people working at Caldwell County Republican headquarters in the days before the election.

Information presented at the hearing also implied that up to 250 voters sought to sell their votes. The lawyers for the Republican Party’s candidates claim only a handful of votes may have been changed. No one has linked either the GOP’s candidates or the Republican Party to the vote buying.

In the 2002 general election, Clark won the sheriff’s race by 746 votes. Clark received 11,588 votes and former Sheriff Roger Hutchings, a Democrat, received 10,842 votes. Republicans Tim Sanders and Alden Starnes also defeated Democrat Bill Wall in the race for two seats on the Caldwell County Board of Commissioners.

Appeals for a new election by Hutchings and Wall to the N.C. Board of Elections and a N.C. Superior Court judge failed and Clark, Sanders and Starnes were admitted into their elected offices in late February.

An appeal for a new election by Hutchings and Wall is pending in the N.C. Court of Appeals and a decision by the court is expected in October.

Hutchings, who now heads the N.C. Boxing Commission, declined to comment Wednesday as to whether he would run against Clark if a new election is ordered by the court.

Clark, who learned of the indictments from the News-Topic, said he was glad that justice was moving forward in the vote-buying scandal. He said the alleged actions of the conspirators resulted in a four-month delay in him being sworn into office.

“It hurt me and it hurt my family being without a job for so long,” Clark said.

Hutchings also said he learned about the indictments from the News-Topic. He said the alleged vote-buying conspiracy hurt the faith of many people in Caldwell County in the democratic process.

“It was deplorable to a lot of honest people. It hurt people in both parties,” Hutchings said.

Clark and Hutchings both commended the work done by the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Attorney’s office in investigating the matter.

Clark criticized the Hutchings administration for not making arrests and putting an end to the alleged vote-buying scandal as soon as they learned about it.

“The thing that perplexes me is why the old Sheriff’s Department administration did not arrest anybody for buying votes, said Clark. “Why did they let it go on?”

Hutchings said he contacted the SBI about the alleged vote-buying conspiracy as soon as it was detected, about two weeks before the election. He said there was a delay in fully investigating the conspiracy until the District Attorney’s Office realized the scope of the matter.

“We could have made arrests but we would have been accused of making a political issue of it,” Hutchings said. “We did our best to get an outside agency to look into it.”

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