Sunday, November 02, 2008

Voter Fraud?

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

As early voting ends and Election Day rapidly approaches, charges and counter charges abound. You’d think that you might run into barricades in the street dividing political factions. But alas, it’s only the final reconstruction project on what seems to be the never-ending Interstate Highway upgrades.

One of the hottest topics has been the question of proper registration of people wanting to vote.

Republicans continually call out ACORN, an acronym for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, because of problems with fictitious, forged and fraudulently obtained names. ACORN, just one of many voter registration efforts, admittedly has some problems. They pay people a certain amount for each person that they register. Some of the people they hire are unscrupulous and find the work tiring, frustrating and difficult; they take shortcuts and copy names out of phone books, sports pages or name cartoon characters.

ACORN, in many of their local chapters, monitor registration forms and notify election officials, usually county clerks, of potential problems. They also fire people who are discovered turning in fraudulent registrations.

All forms, questionable or not, are required to be forwarded and it is the election officials’ job to verify the legitimacy of the registrant.

ACORN submitted, “1.3 million voter registration applications from low- to moderate-income communities,” this election year. There are bound to be problems.

The Republicans have picked up on ACORN, in part because of their huge size, success and their ability to effectively reach low to middle income constituents. They provide other services that according to their website include issues ranging from: fair and affordable housing, better schools, fair tax fees, foreclosure assistance, gulf coast storms recovery, health care, immigration, living wage, paid sick days, predatory lenders, utilities service practices, and voter engagement.

ACORN has also taken on court challenges against what they call, “suppress the vote,” efforts by Republicans.

New Mexico State Representative Justine Fox-Young, left, a Republican from the far Northeast Heights, went out front at a press conference last week to decry a number of voter registration cards that the State GOP questioned. Later, the New Mexico Independent published that a private investigator, Al Romero, who reportedly claimed to work for newly elected State Republican National Committeeman and Modrall Sperling law firm’s Lawyer Pat Rogers, right, was questioning and possibly threatening or intimidating individuals named at the GOP press conference.

Rogers has for years been banging the drum of what he calls voter fraud, when in actuality he was talking about voter registration fraud. However, this time Rogers, Fox-Young and the State Republican Party have made the link between the registration cards they questioned and actual primary voters.

Part of their claim is that social security numbers belonged to other people.

I have a standing invitation for Rogers to provide the evidence he claims to hold. I have requested this information for my perusal and posting on this site. To date I have received nothing.

Note:
Early in my law enforcement career, I learned not to solely rely on social security numbers as an accurate form of identification. It seems that social security numbers are not unique; the same number may be issued to more than one person.


The American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund have filed separate lawsuits in State and Federal District courts according to Gwyneth Doland at the New Mexico Independent, in two articles: "MALDEF sues over N.M. voter intimidation case," and "ACLU suing GOP: ‘They broke the law.’"

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Over a year ago, we reported on the efforts to recall and cover the ethics charges made against Albuquerque’s Southeast area City Councillor Don Harris.

I reported that a Harris supporter, Ellen Ward, left, filed a complaint with the City’s Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices against New Mexicans for Democracy, the group that tried to recall Harris and had filed the ethics complaint against the Councillor. Ward complained to the City Clerk that her signature was forged on the recall petition.

Ward’s complaint was forwarded to the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department for investigation.

On June 3 of this year, I did a follow up posting on the investigative status. We found that BCSO White Collar Crime unit Detective Jeremy Guilmette obtained a case number from the Albuquerque Police Department’s Central Records repository, but he had filed no report.

At the time, Bernalillo County Sheriff's’ Department Public Information Officer Erin Kinnard Thompson seemed aggravated by the reporting. However, it appears my reporting had an effect. On June 5, 2008, APD Records received Guilmette’s initial report that had been approved by his supervisor on September 28, 2007. The case, that had stalled on October 12, 2007, started showing renewed activity on June 9 of this year.

Guilmette interviewed a number of people involved and filed a supplemental report on July 25.

Guilmette’s reports are incomplete. They wouldn’t pass muster in my basic report writing class. He was given several leads that he did not pursue. Guilmette limited his investigation to the possibility of only one crime being committed – forgery. He did not investigate the probable election related fraud.

Upon inspection, several things jumped out:
Guilmette named a suspect, Crystal Romero, as the person who gathered the signatures and signed the affidavits on the petitions attesting to having obtained each signature.

Romero identified two other people who had actually been in control of the petitions with names on them. Romero signed the petitions as having personally collected the signatures when she in fact had not.

One of the people was a young woman that Romero identified as Leticia Gomez. The other person Romero identified was a Hispanic man with a hurt back whose name she could not remember. “She knew he worked for the city as some sort of director,” Guilmette’s report states.

Both Romero and Gomez were present when Romero signed the affidavits on the petitions, but did not do so in front of the notary whose name appeared on the documents turned into the City Clerk. The petitions were turned over to Rear Admiral B. James Lowe, U.S. Navy (ret.), who was the leader of New Mexicans for Democracy, which was formed to recall Harris.

Guilmette interviewed Lowe, left, and learned several critical points that were not pursued by further investigation:
Lowe received the petitions with the affidavits signed by Romero and not Gomez, though he knew, because he followed them in his car, that Gomez had collected signatures.

Guilmette asked Lowe if he knew the identity of the man with the hurt back. Lowe said he thought he possibly knew who he was, “but didn’t want to ‘throw him under the streetcar.’” Guilmette did not ask Lowe to identify the possible suspect.

Leslie Drain notarized the documents collected by Romero, Gomez and the unidentified man. “I attempted to contact Leslie Drain to find out whether Crystal was present at the time she notarized the documents,” Guilmette wrote. “I used numerous law enforcement databases, but was unable to contact Leslie.”

It might have helped if Guilmette spelled her name correctly -- Lesley. A quick check using whitepages.com revealed her name, address and phone number. We did not contact her because it has been our position to avoid interference with a criminal investigation. In this case, though it is closed, it shouldn’t be.

Guilmette identified 10 victims, but did not identify Harris as one of them, nor did he interview him. If Guilmette had properly identified the possible crimes that might have been committed, he would have recognized that Harris was also a victim

Guilmette exceptionally cleared the case, which means he claims to have: identified the parties, established sufficient facts, made no arrests, nor made any recommendations about prosecution, and forwarded the case to the District Attorney’s Office for consideration.


Analysis

Guilmette failed to complete an appropriate investigation. He had leads on the man with the injured back, but failed to identify him. He failed to establish whether Lowe accepted the petitions from the people working for him, allowing one, not all of them, to sign the affidavits. It appears that he also allowed them to sign the affidavits outside the presence of the notary. It further seems the notary signed that she observed and had the petition gatherers swear to the facts contained in their affidavits. If true, there are potential felony crimes involved.


My Take

Ultimately, this case falls on the boss, Sheriff Darren White, who is also running as the Republican candidate for the New Mexico first Congressional District seat vacated by Representative Heather Wilson, She unsuccessfully ran against fellow Rep. Steve Pearce for the U.S. Senate seat of Pete Domenici, who is retiring for health reasons after 36 years.

White has made an issue of voter related fraud issues a couple of years ago and called out then U.S. Attorney David Iglesias for not following up on charges brought by Rogers.

The battle between White and his Democratic opponent, former City Councillor Martin Heinrich, has been particularly nasty, with each side trying to out do each other with charges in negative TV attack ads.

We cannot possibly take on each and every fact to check, but several, from both sides jumped out and deserve comment.

White’s Campaign Manager Sara Lister, right, with Heinrich’s Campaign Communications Director Rachel Wolin, left, conversed after White spoke about his back injury, the resultant week’s stay in the hospital and his position on health care.

Later in the day, a White staffer was in the crowd at Heinrich’s own press conference hosting Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, Ill. Emanuel is the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the fourth ranking party member. Both camps used hand held video cameras to capture footage that would be used in the negative ads.


Knowing the background and histories of both men, it is disappointing to have to get out the hip waders to maneuver through this race.

White objects to the history of action brought against him 10 years ago when he was then Gov. Gary Johnson’s Director of the New Mexico Department of Public Safety and was confronted by angry wives of State Police Officers and a substantial vote of no confidence.

White recently has tried to link former Democratic State Senate Pro Tem Manny Aragón with those actions against him as being nothing more than power politics exercised through the police union. Yet the history would show that while DPS Director White did move the Department in the areas of both increasing manpower levels and pay, he experienced some problems in acquiring safety equipment, in particular body armor from the Legislature. He attempted to make this link after Aragón recently entered guilty pleas to federal felony corruption charges.

A couple of things starkly stand out: White, as part of the Johnson administration, with its historic record of more vetoes than any New Mexico Governor, did not work as effectively as he might have and there were political confrontations with Aragón. However, the facts are that White had the police wives and a vote of no confidence against him. No matter how he now spins those events, that he left the State over Johnson’s stance on drug reform, White initially supported the Governor’s plan.

Upon leaving, White, right, was replaced by former APD Captain Nick Bakas, left, who was appointed December 6, 1999, by Gov. Johnson to be Director of the New Mexico Department of Public Safety.

”We increased the New Mexico State Police Department by 40 percent…” Bakas stated in a 2002 interview after being Appointed City of Albuquerque Chief Public Safety Officer by Mayor Martin Chávez.

Though Bakas was a member of the Johnson administration he didn’t bring the same partisan baggage White had. Bakas worked in a low-key manner to accomplish similar increases without all the drama.


As a former law enforcement unionist, I can’t shake the memory of the confrontation that White had with me in an APD hallway in the early 1990’s. He wanted to complain about some position the union had taken in representing an officer through the grievance process. Because I knew he wasn’t a member of the union, I was not then very concerned with his particular issue. I asked why he didn’t come to the union meeting to air his complaint. I encouraged him to join the union. He declined my offer and I tried to disengage, but he persisted.

I asked White how he liked the recent negotiated raise. “It was OK,” he said, “but it could have been better. “Give it back,” I said, the union worked hard at the negotiations table and he had done nothing -- not even paid dues.

I asked why White didn’t join the union. His response was that, to paraphrase him: I don’t believe in unions, have never belonged to a union, will never belong to a union and if I am ever in a position to get rid of a union, I will.

I then walked away. I have no reason to believe that White has changed this philosophy.

I leave to the electorate whether they choose to believe White now or then.


White aired an advertisement called, “The McGrane Family.” Jim McGrane Jr. was a Bernalillo County Deputy Sheriff, shot and killed March 22, 2006, during a traffic stop.

The non-profit organization, "Officer Street Survival Training" Deputy James F. McGrane, is a program designed to provide money for advanced training to New Mexico law enforcement officers. A member of the Board of Directors approached me asking to support their efforts.

Before retiring, I attended two different Street Survival Training courses, have read most of their books, viewed several of their video training tapes, and have personally benefited from them. However, as a police instructor, I came to have some fundamental differences of opinion with the private company that did the teaching.

The vast majority of the training was sound. However, there seemed to have been a mismatch between the teaching and what was being learned. Police officers learned things that were beyond the teaching. Specifically, the teaching was often beyond what many police departments had contemplated and they did not have policies in place that addressed what was taught. This was and actually caused some problems. In Albuquerque, officers relying on what they learned in the courses, had exceeded policy and at least one death occurred when an officer stepped outside both the training and department policy.

Rita McGrane called Heinrich “despicable” for having run an ad questioning White’s dedication to protecting his officers.


These are the sentiments expressed in these ads, “Darren White: Can't Be Trusted in Congress (NM-01),”


... and "Darren White's References," that probably upset the McGrane family.



The problems I have with White’s shameful use of the grieving McGrane family in this attack ad are that Heinrich stated facts:
The wives of White’s DPS officers expressed their opinions that “…endanger the lives of their husbands and fail the citizens,” as reported in a Nov. 10, 1996, Albuquerque Journal article, while a Santa Fe New Mexican article, on Nov. 5, 1996, reported wives called the situation at DPS as, “the lowest morale,” in history.

DPS officers took a vote of no confidence in White 10 years ago.

White’s budgetary situation at the County is drastically different and improved.

McGrane family’s non-profit, in their son’s name, to assist funding advanced training is honorable and fills a void caused by inadequate governmental funding.

There seems to be a slight bit of hypocrisy in saying White will do anything to protect his officers while the McGrane family finds it necessary to raise funds to pay for advanced training, when the Sheriff can’t.


White, in an attack ad, tries to paint Heinrich as having “cut a shady deal,“ put forward a personal agenda in extending the then seven-year-old transportation tax that was scheduled to sunset in a few years. White’s claim was that Heinrich and some other Councillors were bypassing a public discussion and vote.

The fact was that the transportation tax had been put to a public vote even though there was no requirement in the City Charter to do so. Likewise, the Council could extend the tax beyond the sunset date on a majority vote.

Heinrich, right, presided over the Council listening to Councillor Craig Loy, with Ken Sanchez and Issac Benton on Nov. 11, 2006, when there was such a huge public outcry that the Council and Mayor Chávez withdrew the Heinrich sponsored tax extension proposal that included the modern day trolley.

Silvio Dell'Angela, President of Stop Wasting Albuquerque's Taxes, with the sign, was on hand during one of two City Council meetings protesting the possibility of extending the transportation tax. White’s assertion that the public would not have a vote was speculative at best.

Albuquerque had a streetcar that started service after the arrival of the railroad in the mid 1850’s. The remnants are on display at Fourth Street and Central Avenue.

Mass transit is an important component to modern cities, like Portland, above, but there are some specific geographic limitations on allowing streetcars to operate in Albuquerque. Specifically, the West Central hill is too steep an incline for a self-propelled train to climb. San Francisco adopted a cable car system 135 years ago for its hills.
It's not in any plans for Albuquerque.

The State Democratic Party, in support of Heinrich, raised questions of White’s health care proposal and asked in a press release, who paid for his hospital stay after injuring his back? Heinrich had said he wouldn’t make an issue of White’s injury, but that didn’t stop the Party.

Public employees enter into public service with promises from the government to provide certain benefits, including health insurance. Most governments have agreed, sometime reluctantly or begrudgingly, to provide these services. Rarely does the government pay the full fare on such costs. There was nothing wrong with the Party asking if non-governmental workers should also have similar benefits, but they feigned ignorance as to what the costs, rationale and reality of White’s insurance were. It was a cheap shot.

Heinrich’s campaign also raised a couple of law enforcement questions that are just wrong.

Democrats called for a reimbursement of funds that the Bernalillo County Sheriffs’ Department expended escorting President George W. Bush from Kirtland Air Force Base to the North Valley and on May 27, 2008, to hold a private fund raiser for White.

Fact: When the President, or any person under the protection of the U.S. Secret Service, politician or not, comes to our community, they request assistance from local law enforcement. Local law enforcement responds. In the May 27 incident, the BCSO happened to lead the motorcade with one of their new shiny pickup trucks. Was some kind of bragging rights imparted in that? Possibly. However, it doesn’t matter one bit, if it was: APD, State Police or BCSO, all the units would have been utilized, their order is of little matter from the security standpoint, except of course the motorcycles, which came from all over the State. Each jurisdiction picks up their share. The President of the United States, no matter who he is, gets treated with an appropriately higher level of protection. It’s just the price of having an open society. Otherwise, they all pretty much get treated the same.

Heinrich questioned the use of Deputy Sheriffs by the County Clerk to accompany ballot boxes from the polling places to counting location. It is a duty that has existed for a long time and falls under the mandate of "maintaining the peace," as these two deputies', above, provide by their mere presence at the ballot collection site two years ago.

There was a time when deputy sheriffs’ were the “good ol’ boy” buddies hired by the elected sheriff under a patronage system; those days are long gone. Now, with state certification and strict hiring requirements, professionalism is much higher. Further, if a deputy sheriff attempted to highjack a ballot box, the election judges and workers would scream bloody murder. Hyperbole aside, White was correct to defend the professionalism of law enforcement officers.

White has involved himself in questionable legal conduct. When President Bush came for the fund raiser, the primary had not taken place. There is a State GOP rule that is incorporated into the State Election law that prohibits the Party or any Party official from endorsing one Republican primary candidate over another. Bush wasn’t the only Party official to make such an endorsement; Sen. Domenici in the primary endorsed Rep. Wilson for his vacated seat and White for Wilson's Congressional office.

White also held a fund raiser where he invited University of New Mexico’s Head Basketball Coach Steve Alford, above, arriving at the home of UNM Lobbyist Joe Thompson.

In “Can't Trust Martin Heinrich,“ a Republican Party of New Mexico produced attack ad against Heinrich, the announcer, citing Boomantribune.com, stated, “…Martin Heinrich even promised to block funding for body armor, bullets and other critical equipment for our combat troops unless they’re pulled from Iraq….”


Booman Tribune disputes the use of their quote.

On September 17, 2007, Councillor Heinrich voted with the majority: on a five for - two against and two excused vote, on a resolution, “Calling on the United States Congress to Rescind the Iraq Resolution and Pass a Resolution Calling for the Orderly Withdrawal of American Troops from Iraq to Commence Immediately,” (R-07-293).

The resolution went on to read that, "The City Council opposes efforts to cut the funding for our troops as a method of ending the war. As long as American Troops remain in Iraq we support providing all funding requested by military commanders in order to provide the resources necessary to safeguard them as they carry out their mission. These resources include, but are not limited to, food, shelter, body armor, weapons, goggles, heat resistant gloves, armored transportation equipment and communications equipment.”

For: Debbie O'Malley, Sanchez, Benton, Michael Cadigan, and Heinrich.
Against: Sally Mayer, and Loy.
Excused: Brad Winter, and Harris.

Two years earlier, on February 23, 2005, Heinrich voted in the majority: on a five for - none against and four excused vote, on a resolution, “Directing Albuquerque Police Department to Donate any Surplus Body Armor to the NM National Guard and Reserve Units Deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq,” (R-04-197).

For: Winter, Eric Griego, Cadigan, Heinrich, and Loy.
Excused: Miguel Gómez, O'Malley, Mayer, and Tina Cummins.

Heinrich relied on the Journal reporting that was later retracted, about White’s alleged involvement in contacting Department of Justice and White House officials leading to the Firing of New Mexico’s U.S. Attorney Iglesias, left.

White denied contacting anyone other than Iglesias, whom he officially contacted by letter as Sheriff complaining of accusations of voter related frauds.

The GOP ad claims Heinrich smeared a decorated soldier and lawman -- White. The ad went on to use a “do you still beat your wife” statement by saying Heinrich had refused to condemn the Move On.org “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” ad that ran in the A section of the Monday September 10, 2007, New York Times.

In another White ad Heinrich is accused of being an “extreme environmentalist,” as if the phrase means something in the general lexicon. White makes the claim by tying Heinrich with Dave Forman, a former member of Earth First, an environmental group that used radical tactics; they sat on a board together. Forman plead guilty to funding efforts to blow up power lines to a nuclear power plant. White uses the new fear word, terrorist, though Forman paid his debt to society.

White has developed a reputation for demanding people condemn statements that he, personally finds offensive.

In the 1950’s such behavior was rightfully called “Witch-hunting.”

White has his own history of trying to destroy, even fellow officers, for telling a truth and then refusing to take any supervisory action against his offending subordinates. His record on civil rights lawsuits is not very encouraging.

We borrow a quote from the United States Army’s lead attorney Joseph Welch during the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations for Communist activities.

Subcommittee Chairman, Wisconsin Republican U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy was a rabid communist baiter. It was Welch who first took on McCarthy. McCarthy had accused Welch's young assistant, Fred Fisher, who had been a member of the Lawyers Guild; which the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Director J. Edgar Hoover claimed was a communist front.

"Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"


Correction: Erin Kinnard Thompson wrote on Nov. 10, requesting a correction, "I'm not married to Joe Thompson, nor is my husband related to Joe Thompson. Though Joe is a friend of mine, his wife might find your characterization of our relationship somewhat objectionable. My husband might not like it much either. Also, for future reference, Thompson is a pretty common name. We're not all related."

I also misspelled Kinnard in that particular reference. I apologize for the error in reporting to all the Thompsons.

Part of the confusion was I recognized Kinnard Thompson, center, approach Joe Thompson’s North Valley Home during the fund raiser. The man, left, is her husband Russ. The man to the right, blue shirt is Scott Darnell, then NMGOP communications director who was pressed into action as a parking attendant.

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