FEBRUARY 01, 2007
The mayor of a tiny Virginia coal town was sentenced to prison for operating a major vote-rigging scheme that helped him steal an election and create a conspiracy in local government.
Once the most powerful man in Appalachia, a remote town of about 1,800 residents, Ben Cooper was brought down by a federal investigation that uncovered Virginia’s worst case of election fraud in half a century. A total of 14 people – including city workers and police officers – have been indicted of nearly 1,000 charges relating to the massive corruption. Cooper has pleaded guilty to 243 felonies.
Elected officials and their supporters stole absentee ballots from the mail, voted repeatedly for themselves and forged the names of voters whose names appeared on ballots. One housing project resident was offered cigarettes and a bag of pork rinds for her vote and the little Virginia town near the Kentucky border became the subject of jokes on nationally televised talk shows.
At his sentencing this week, the disgraced mayor, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Air Force, sobbed and wiped tears from his eyes. He got of easy with only a two-year prison sentence and an additional two years of home arrest. The sentencing judge said his actions stab at the heart of our country because he “disenfranchised every person in Appalachia that had a right to vote in that election.”
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