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Sheriff seizes elections records



Published: Sat, May 4, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The records taken include audio tapes, hearing transcripts and other documents.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- The Mahoning County Sheriff's Department seized records from the board of elections as it continues its investigation into potential election fraud.

"We're gathering some materials that we feel are evidence in our investigation," said Sheriff Randall Wellington. "We're looking at criminal charges. We took documents to help us substantiate the evidence."

If any charges are filed, they will not come until after Tuesday's primary.

Items taken

The sheriff's department took these records Friday:

* Receipt books that list who submitted nominating petitions for Republican precinct committee seats.

* The absentee application and absentee ballot of T. Elliot Hough, a Republican write-in candidate for the 7th District Court of Appeals. Hough has incorrectly listed his address on election documents at least twice, Maj. Michael Budd of the sheriff's department said earlier this week.

* Documents filed by Atty. David Betras regarding a special March 14 elections board hearing for appeals and objections regarding the validity of candidates' nominating petitions. At the hearing, Betras represented candidates of the Republicans for Real Reform movement that is working to oust Mahoning GOP Chairman Clarence Smith.

* Three audio tapes of the March 14 hearing.

* The 173-page transcript of the March 14 hearing.

* A complaint filed by Oscar Walter, a Real Reform committee member candidate in Campbell, questioning the residency of his opponent, Ralph Harris. Harris has moved from that Campbell precinct and withdrawn from the race, said Michael Sciortino, election board director.

The seizing of records by the sheriff's department is a first for Sciortino in his six years at the elections board.

"They came in and confiscated many records," he said.

Prosecution discussed

Based on information provided by the sheriff's department earlier this week, the elections board authorized Sciortino to discuss with the county prosecutor the prosecution of two candidates, including Hough, and a former candidate, who the sheriff's department says do not live at the addresses listed on their candidate forms.

Election fraud is considered a felony, and those convicted of it could receive up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The elections board and Mark A. Hanni, who founded the Real Reform movement, have requested that the sheriff's department investigate election violations regarding Republican precinct committee races.

Residency concerns

Hanni said he has specific concerns about the residency of Harris as well as Quinn Grace, a Youngstown precinct committee candidate.

The sheriff's department is investigating dozens of cases concerning the Republican committee races and has not had an opportunity to pursue the Grace matter, Budd said.

"We've been inundated with requests, and we're trying to put them in order of solvability," he added.

skolnick@vindy.com




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