Felony charges related to election fraud have touched the 2008 race for the highest office in the land.
Prosecutors in South Bend, Ind., filed charges Monday against four St. Joseph County Democratic officials and deputies as part of a multiple-felony case involving the alleged forging of Democratic presidential primary petitions in the 2008 election, which put then-candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on the Indiana ballot.
The officials are accused of taking part in a scheme to fake signatures and names on the primary petitions needed to run for president. Court papers say the plan was hatched by local Democratic Party officials inside the local party headquarters.
Among those charged is the former long-time chairman of the St. Joseph County Democratic Party, Butch Morgan, who allegedly ordered the forgeries. He was forced to resign when the allegations were first made public last October, even though his lawyer, Shaw Friedman, told Fox News at the time that Morgan did not do anything wrong.
The St. Joseph County Board of Voter Registration's Democratic board member, Pam Brunette, Board of Voter Registration worker Beverly Shelton and Democratic volunteer and former board worker Dustin Blythe also face charges.
According to affidavits, St. Joseph County Voter Registration Office worker Lucas Burkett told investigators that he was part of the plan that started in January 2008 "to forge signatures on presidential candidate petitions instead of collecting actual signatures from citizens."
The documents state that Burkett told investigators that “he was heavily involved in St. Joseph County political activities with the local Democratic party," and that "he had, in fact, personally forged several such signatures," and had attended meetings at the local Democratic party headquarters, where it was agreed to forge the petitions. Morgan, the County Democratic Chairman, allegedly "instructed Mr. Burkett, Pamela Brunette, Beverly Shelton, and Dustin Blythe to forge ballot petitions for presidential candidates," and that "all of them agreed to follow these instructions" by copying names and signatures from old election petitions.
According to affidavits, Burkett told investigators it was his job to "forge petitions for candidate Barack Obama," Shelton "was assigned to forge petitions for candidate Hillary Clinton" and Blythe "was assigned to forge petitions for candidate John Edwards." When Edwards dropped out of the race at the end of January 2008 and Burkett refused to continue the forgeries, Morgan allegedly ordered Blythe to then forge petitions for Barack Obama.
Indiana State Police investigators identified a total of 22 petitions that appeared to be faked, yet sailed through the Voter Registration Board as legitimate documents. The signature of the board's Republican supervisor, Linda Silcott, which is required for legal certification, appeared to be rubber stamped on the documents. She told investigators that she did not remember signing or authorizing her rubber stamp to be used.
Silcott also told investigators that she recognized the handwriting on the alleged forged Obama petitions as that of Blythe's.
The South Bend Tribune and independent political newsletter Howey Politics Indiana have reported that a handwriting analyst concluded last fall that Blythe's handwriting matched some of the alleged Obama fakes. When Fox News caught up to Blythe as he left the Voter Registration Board last November and asked him if he forged any signatures or faked any petitions, he repeatedly replied, "I don't have anything to say."
The case raises the possibility that the president's campaign and that of Clinton’s, could have been legally challenged in Indiana if the alleged forgeries were discovered during the race.
Under state law, presidential candidates need to qualify with 500 signatures from each of Indiana's nine congressional districts. Indiana elections officials say that in St. Joseph County, which is the 2nd Congressional District, the Obama campaign qualified with 534 signatures; Clinton's camp had 704.
But the signatures, which were certified by the elections board, were never challenged. If the number of legitimate signatures for Obama or Clinton fell below the legal requirement of 500, they could have been bounced from the state ballot. Reports have previously put the number of phony signatures for both candidates at about 150, but state investigators plucked names from the petitions at random and cited only 20 individual alleged forgeries as part of their case. They say their investigation of the petitions continues.
Multiple voters, including Indiana's former Democratic Gov. Joe Kernan, told Fox News that their names and signatures were phonies.
"That's not my signature," Charity Rorie told Fox News as she sat in her kitchen in Mishawaka, Ind.. The mother of four was stunned that her name and signature, and those of her husband, appeared on one of the Obama petitions. She said they "absolutely" were fakes and was troubled that personal details such as their address and birthdays were also included.
"It was shocking," she said. "Why did they do that, and where did they get it from?"
"I did not sign for Barack Obama," Democratic voter Robert Hunter told Fox News as he stared at the Obama petition that included his name and purported signature supporting the candidate. While he observed that the scrawl looked "very close" to his real one, it was not.
"I always put 'Junior' after my name, every time... there's no 'Junior' there," Hunter told us. "I don't like anybody using my name for anything other than myself."
"It's scary," Charity said. "A lot of people have already lost faith in politics and the realm of politics and that solidifies our worries and concerns."
As for Burkett, a 26-year-old lifelong Democrat, "he is the whistle-blower in this," his lawyer, Andrew B. Jones, told Fox News.
"Lucas really is the hero in this situation. He is someone who stood up for good government, and has cooperated with the state police and will continue to do so."
If you suspect voter or election fraud where you live, tell the Fox News Voter Fraud Unit: firstname.lastname@example.org
Eric Shawn, a New York-based anchor and senior correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC), joined the network when it launched in 1996. He anchors "America's News Headquarters" on Sunday mornings from 10 a.m.-11 a.m. and 12 p.m. to 1 pm. ET. Shawn also regularly reports from the United Nations. Most recently, he was live from Boston to report on the Boston Marathon bombing. He also reports on politics and terrorism, and provided live coverage from both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions during the 1992, 1996, 2004 and 2008 elections. He also uncovered new evidence in the murder of Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa, based on the claims of hit-man Frank Sheeran, who admitted to Shawn, and in his biography, that he shot Hoffa in a house in Detroit where Shawn found a blood pattern that supports Sheeran's story.