A former Democratic Party official is accused of funding an organized voter fraud ring busted earlier this month that targeted elderly and incapacitated voters in north Fort Worth.
In court documents filed Tuesday, state prosecutors allege former Tarrant County Democratic Party executive director Stuart Clegg funneled money to Leticia Sanchez, one of four paid campaign workers arrested and charged with submitting false and forged mail-ballot requests in an organized criminal voter fraud scheme.
The documents say Sanchez, her co-defendants, Clegg, and others collaborated to cast mail-in votes for down-ballot candidates in the 2016 Democratic primary “without the voter’s knowledge or consent.” The state claims Sanchez used funds from Clegg, now a campaign consultant, to pay her three co-defendants and others for their part in the illegal mail-ballot harvesting scheme.
Sanchez, her daughter, and two other women are charged with a total of 29 felony voter fraud counts. Sanchez’s charges include one count of illegal voting and 16 counts of providing false information on a ballot application. The court notice filed Tuesday implicates Sanchez in hundreds more crimes for which she hasn’t yet been charged.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office said the charges “are in connection with the 2016 Democratic primary, but the case has connections with the 2015 city council election.”
Prosecutors haven’t said which candidates the fraudulent ballots were cast for, but the court notice connects Sanchez to former Fort Worth City Council member Sal Espino, a candidate in the 2015 city council election. Espino, a Democrat, is identified in the notice as owning a fax machine used by Sanchez to submit fraudulent mail-ballot applications, though he’s not accused of being involved in the scheme. Espino won his 2015 council race by 26 votes. He received nearly twice as many mail-ballot votes as his opponent, 255-136.
Aaron Harris, head of the government watchdog group Direct Action Texas that first uncovered evidence of the Fort Worth voter fraud ring, believes fraudulent mail-ballot votes helped elect Espino and State Rep. Ramon Romero (D–Fort Worth). Based on the evidence his team collected, Harris filed an election fraud complaint that sparked the AG’s investigation.
“We have previously shown that the fraudulent applications in these cases were faxed from the law offices of Sal Espino,” Harris said following the arrests of the voter fraud suspects. “Shortly after we first announced our complaint, Sal decided to not seek re-election.” Harris added:
“These activities and the actors in them are well known to members of the local community. When I first knocked on Leticia Sanchez’s door in 2015 she came to the door wearing a Sal Espino for FTW City Council shirt. Once I explained why I wanted to talk to her, she said she would have to get clearance from Sal Espino and Ramon Romero.”
Harris says the four indicted harvesters share something else in common: they’ve all worked campaigns where collection agency Linebarger Goggin Blair & Sampson, LLP had a financial interest—“mostly city council and school board races where Linebarger is the major player in collecting unpaid property taxes.” Government collections contracts are worth millions, so electing favorable candidates is valuable to vendors like Linebarger.
Clegg, Espino, and Linebarger representatives have denied any wrongdoing.
Harris told Texas Scorecard after the arrests of Sanchez and others in the voter fraud ring that he hopes “those responsible for these activities, not just the lowly harvesters, are held accountable.”
Mail-ballot vote harvesting is a profitable cottage industry in Texas for low-level campaign workers like Sanchez. But to find out who is really profiting from organized voter fraud, it pays to follow the money.