Former Philly congressman convicted in Abscam sting now charged with election fraud

Election day voters voting booth

A voter casts their ballot on Election Day. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A former Philadelphia congressman who was among the officials convicted in the FBI’s Abscam sting has now been charged with election fraud.

Michael “Ozzie” Myers’ four-year career representing Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional District ended in 1980, when he was sentenced to three years in prison for accepting a bribe and his colleagues in the House voted to expel him from the body.

Since serving his sentence, he has been active in Philadelphia as a political consultant, specifically for candidates seeking judgeships. And when federal prosecutors announced in May that a judge of elections had pleaded guilty to stuffing ballot boxes on behalf of Democratic judicial candidates, one man appeared most likely to have ordered the alleged stuffing: Myers.

According to an indictment unsealed Thursday, Myers, 77, is charged with eight counts related to conspiring with and bribing the former Judge of Elections for Philadelphia’s 39th Ward, 36th Division, Domenick J. Demuro, 73.

U.S. Attorney William McSwain said the ballot box stuffing was the mechanism by which Myers was able to exert control over politics in his ward, and in the city at large.

“According to the indictment, Myers distributed cash payments and supported family, friends and allies for elective office in the 39th ward, and installed ward leaders, judges of elections and Democratic state committee persons,” McSwain said. “Through this alleged scheme, Myers advanced his political and financial interest through fraudulent and corrupt means.”

Prosecutors say in return for bribes ranging from $300 to $5,000, Demuro stuffed ballot boxes on behalf of favored candidates in three separate Democratic primaries in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

According to McSwain, Demuro added fraudulent votes to the machines at his polling place by ducking into booths and manually voting as quickly as possible, then adding those fraudulent votes to his totals and falsely certified that they were accurate. Prosecutors allege Myers directed all of this, and told Demuro “to lie about the circumstances of the bribes and the ballot-stuffing scheme to investigators.”

When he allegedly gave Demuro bribes, Myers was, according to prosecutors, serving as a consultant for several of the judicial candidates for whom Demuro then added fraudulent votes.

The money for the bribes came from fees those candidates paid him.

McSwain did not say whether the alleged vote tampering changed the outcome of any election. In 2014, McSwain said, Demuro added 27 votes to the total. In 2015, he allegedly added 40, and in 2016, he allegedly added 46.

Since a relatively small number of ballots were cast at Demuro’s polling place overall, those allegedly fraudulent ballots made up 22%, 15% and 17% of the votes, respectively.

“These charges, announced today by the Justice Department, clearly illustrate allegations of absolute disregard for the sanctity of our electoral system,” said Leo Hannon Jr., who serves as Director of the Special Investigations Division of the Pennsylvania State Police. “Particularly in the current atmosphere of impending elections, the Pennsylvania State Police prioritize investigations into allegations of voter fraud and public corruption.”

A call to Myers went unanswered.

He has previously said that the Abscam sting for which he was convicted was entrapment, and that he wasn’t a criminal.

Myers was just one of many elected officials investigated and ultimately charged in the sting, but he did provide one of the most famous quotes of the operation when he was offered a bribe by FBI agents posing as representatives of an Arab sheik.

“Money talks in this business and bullshit walks,” he said. Then, he accepted $50,000.

Which way will Pa. vote?

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