DECEMBER 01, 2006
The former mayor of a small Virginia coal town pleaded guilty to hundreds of felonies this week for masterminding a scheme to buy votes with beer, cigarettes and pork rinds.
As mayor of Appalachia, a town of less than 2,000 residents in historic southwest Virginia, Ben Cooper rigged votes, stole election records, forged ballots, voted more than once in an election and violated absentee voting procedures. In all, Cooper pleaded guilty to 243 felonies.
The corruption took place during the 2004 town elections in which voter signatures were forged, absentee ballots were intercepted in the mail and many voters were actually prevented from going to the polls. A variety of officials and residents participated in the fraud and have also pleaded guilty.
They include the town’s de facto chief of police, a mail carrier and a man who exchanged drugs for votes. The police chief, who admitted getting paid for doing nothing, was the mayor’s friend and together they planned to take control over the department. The postal worker pleaded guilty to passing absentee ballots to the parks and recreation director and the resident who bought votes with drugs pleaded guilty to fraud.
Additionally, several residents involved in the scheme have pleaded guilty to charges of hindering citizens of their right to vote and entering false information about absentee ballots. One of them, Kevin Sharrett, also pleaded guilty to one count of distributing drugs relating to the election.
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