Homeless people on Los Angeles’ skid row were bribed with cash or cigarettes in exchange for bogus and forged signatures in a “large-scale voter fraud scheme,” state prosecutors say.
Nine people were charged in a plot, which lured hundreds of vagrants into putting down a John Hancock on voter registration forms and ballot petitions during the 2016 and 2018 elections, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office said Tuesday.
“They paid individuals to sign the names. That’s an assault on our democracy,” Los Angeles Police Officer Deon Joseph told the Los Angeles Times.
The charges, which range from voter fraud to circulating a petition with fake names and registering a fictitious person, were filed three weeks ago but made public Tuesday.
People hired to help initiatives qualify for the ballot are often paid as much as $6 a name. But it’s illegal for the collectors to pay people for signatures.
Cops began cracking down on suspected election fraud on skid row earlier this year.
One of the nine people charged, Kirkland Kauzava Washington, 38, allegedly set up a card table outside a mission where homeless people line up for meals and shelter, Los Angeles police Capt. Marc Reina said. He was nabbed in an operation that used undercover officers and security camera footage.
LA County elections chief Dean Logan said it’s unlikely the forgeries eluded his staff, who compare each petition signature with those on registration forms. But he said he’s worried about “any activity that causes voters to lose faith in the process.”
The other people charged include Washington, Harold Bennett, 53, and Louis Thomas Wise, 36, who face up to six years and four months in prison. The others — Richard Howard, 62, Rose Makeda Sweeney, 42, Christopher Joseph Williams, 59, Jakara Fati Mardis, 35, Norman Hall, 61, and Nickey Demelvin Huntley, 44 — face up to four years and eight months in prison.
No homeless people were charged, the DA’s Office said.
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