Election 2020

L.A. Prosecutors Charge Nine People in Skid Row Election Fraud Scheme

Los Angeles County paramedics evaluate people in the Skid Row section of Los Angeles, Friday, Aug. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Prosecutors have charged nine people in Los Angeles for allegedly bribing homeless people on Skid Row to get their signatures on ballot petitions and voter registration forms, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday.

According to prosecutors, the defendants allegedly offered homeless people $1 and/or cigarettes for false and/or forged signatures on the petitions and voter registration forms.

The alleged offenses played out hundreds of times during the 2016 and 2018 election cycles, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The defendants are facing a dozen felony counts, including circulating a petition with false names; use of false names on a petition; voter fraud, registering a fictitious person; and registering a nonexistent person.

The charges were filed three weeks ago, according to the L.A. Times, but were first made public on Tuesday. The Los Angeles Police Department’s investigation into suspected election fraud on Skid Row began earlier in the year.

“They paid individuals to sign the names,” Officer Deon Joseph told the L.A. Times in September. “That’s an assault on our democracy.”

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. It is illegal for the collectors, however, to pay people for signatures.

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.

The district attorney’s office didn’t say in its press release whom the defendants were working for.

Kirkland Washington, Harold Bennett, and Louis Thomas Wise face up to six years and four months in prison.  Richard Howard, Rose Makeda Sweeney, Christopher Joseph Williams, Jakara Fati Mardis, Norman Hall, and Nickey Demelvin Huntley face up to four years and eight months in prison.

“We didn’t charge any homeless people,” district attorney spokeswoman Shiara Davila-Morales said.