9 Charged In L.A. Election Fraud Scheme Where Homeless Were Paid With Cigarettes And Cash

A homeless person sleeps on the street in Skid Row, downtown Los Angeles, California on October 16, 2018. - Unsanitary conditions of street encampments for the homeless population is believed to have contributed to a recent outbreak of Typhus, a bacterial
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

Nine people have been criminally charged after a Los Angeles election fraud scheme was busted by undercover officers.

Hundreds of homeless people on skid row were targeted and given cash and cigarettes in exchange for fraudulent signatures on voter registration forms or ballot initiatives this year and during the 2016 election cycle, reports the Los Angeles Times.

"They paid individuals to sign the names," said LAPD officer Deon Joseph of the defendants. "That's an assault on our democracy."

In Los Angeles, you can earn up to $6 a signature on proposed ballot initiatives. "People hired to help qualify initiatives for the ballot are often paid per signature collected, typically $1 to $2, but officials said a recent slew of proposed ballot initiatives had pushed the rate as high as $6 a signature," says the report. You cannot, however, pay people for signatures.

Such election fraud schemes aren't "widespread" within the state, Joseph said, though he did note that skid row can be especially susceptible to such malice.

In one apparent scheme, allegedly perpetrated by 38-year-old Kirkland Kauzava Washington, a table was set up right outside a homeless shelter. The Times reports:

Los Angeles police Capt. Marc Reina said officials used undercover officers and security camera video before arresting Kirkland Kauzava Washington, 38, one of the nine individuals charged by prosecutors. Washington allegedly set up a card table outside the Midnight Mission, where homeless people line up for meals and shelter, Reina said.

"Two other people arrested at the same time as Washington were either homeless or living in a single-room-occupancy apartment on skid row, but neither of them were among the nine defendants charged by L.A. County prosecutors," notes the Times. In fact, zero homeless people were charged in the bust.

"We didn't charge any homeless people," district attorney spokeswoman Shiara Davila-Morales said.

L.A. County elections chief Dean Logan said he was worried about "any activity that causes voters to lose faith in the process."

The nine defendants — Washington, Harold Bennett, 53, Louis Thomas Wise, 36, Richard Howard, 62, Rose Makeda Sweeney, 42, Christopher Joseph Williams, 59, Jakara Fati Mardis, 35, Norman Hall, 61, and Nickey Demelvin Huntley, 44, — were charged with crimes including voter fraud, circulating a petition with fake names, and registering a fictitious person.

If convicted, they could face up to four years and eight months behind bars.

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