Two local officials in Louisiana have pleaded guilty to federal crimes for their parts in a vote-buying scheme.
The schemes targeted the 2016 and 2020 elections in Amite City, which is north of New Orleans, according to a Justice Department news release.
Jerry Trabona, 72, the former Chief of Police in Amite City, and Kristian Hart, 49, a current Amite City Councilmember, pleaded guilty on Thursday to conspiring to pay and offering to pay voters residing in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, if they voted for them in the 2016 primary and the 2016 general elections.
Hart also pleaded guilty to three counts of paying and offering to pay voters in 2016 and 2020 in connection with his election to the Amite City Council.
Court records show former Amite City police chief Jerry Trabona and current Amite City Council member Kristian “Kris” Hart pleaded guilty Wednesday in New Orleans to charges that they offered to pay people to vote for them. https://t.co/jtuEyT2feT
— KALB News Channel 5 (@KALBtv5) July 22, 2022
“We must have fair elections, free from the taint of corruption, to ensure a fully functional government,” said U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans for the Eastern District of Louisiana. “Safeguarding the voting process is of paramount importance to our office and the Department of Justice.”
“Providing a voter with money or something of value in exchange for voting is a federal crime,” added Special Agent in Charge Douglas A. Williams, Jr. of the FBI New Orleans Field Office.
Both men will be sentenced Nov. 1 and could face five years behind bars on each count.
The two men “solicited and hired individuals to identify potential voters, transported those voters to the polls where they were provided with the names and candidate numbers of candidates, and paid the voters to cast their ballots for candidates,” according to a Justice Department news release.
The documents also alleged that in October of 2020, Hart was paying voters $20 each for their votes.
“Today’s guilty pleas sends a clear message that individuals like former Amite Chief of Police Jerry Trabona and current Amite City Councilmember Kris Hart, who engaged in voter fraud, will be held accountable,” Williams said.
“We thank our partners at the Department of Justice Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana for helping disrupt voter fraud and continuing to protect the right to vote.”
“While this case against Trabona and Hart began as a result of a federal investigation, it was aided substantially by the efforts of the investigators in Louisiana’s Elections Compliance Unit (ECU), as a result of our official review of Emmanuel Zanders III following the 2020 federal election,” Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin told The Bogalusa Daily News.
“Our investigators were alerted to Mr. Zanders’ activities by the Tangipahoa Registrar of Voters, and we quickly developed information that led to his arrest and a guilty plea deal that mandated his resignation from the Amite City Council in January of 2021,” he explained. “I remain committed to keeping Louisiana free of corruption in the voting process and ensuring that our elections are fair, safe, accurate and free of disruption by corrupt actors.”
“The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that illegal voting, including vote buying, has no place in our nation’s electoral system,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
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