Published February 03, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana's top elections official could lose his job and his freedom after jurors convicted him of multiple voter fraud-related charges on Saturday, leaving in flux the fate of one of the state's most powerful positions.
Republican Secretary of State Charlie White has held on to his office for more than a year despite being accused of lying about his address on voter registration forms.
A Hamilton County jury found White guilty of six of seven felony charges, including false registration, voting in another precinct, submitting a false ballot, theft and two counts of perjury. He was acquitted on one fraud charge.
White expressed no outward emotion as the verdict was read, and later said outside the courtroom: "'I'm disappointed for my family and the people who supported me."
It wasn't immediately clear what would happen to White's elected office. He has resisted calls to resign from Democrats and Republicans, including Gov. Mitch Daniels, but state law bars anyone convicted of a felony from remaining in office.
White's attorney, Carl Brizzi, said he will ask the judge to reduce the charges to misdemeanors because his client has no criminal background and has a long record of public service.
Daniels announced Saturday he had appointed White's chief deputy, Jerry Bonnet, as interim secretary of state.
"I have chosen not to make a permanent appointment today out of respect for the judge's authority to lessen the verdict to a misdemeanor and reinstate the elected office holder," Daniels said in a statement. "If the felony convictions are not altered, I anticipate making a permanent appointment quickly."
Bonnet has worked for the secretary of state's office since 2005, the statement said.
The jury verdict came after a weeklong trial in which White, who had vigorously protested the charges in hearings before a state elections panel, presented no defense.
Prosecutors said he used his ex-wife's address instead of a condo he had with his fiancée because he didn't want to give up his $1,000-per-month Fishers Town Council salary after moving out of that district. He faced seven felony charges, including voter fraud, perjury and theft.
White, 42, has said the charges ignored a complicated personal life in which he was trying to raise his 10-year-old son, plan his second marriage and campaign for the statewide office he won that November. He said he stayed at his ex-wife's house when he wasn't on the road campaigning and did not live in the condo until after he remarried.
Brizzi told the jury during his closing arguments Friday that White's name was on the condo's bills and documents because he was paying for his fiancee and her children to live there, not because he was living at that address.
No sentencing date was set.
Republican special prosecutor John Dowd expressed satisfaction about the verdict.
"We believe it was about someone who violated the law and cheated the system — and gamed the system," Dowd said. "And, obviously, the jury thought the same way."
A Marion County judge has ruled that White should be replaced by Democrat Vop Osili, the man he defeated by about 300,000 votes in the November 2010 election, but that ruling is on hold pending an appeal.
Attorney Karen Celestino-Horseman, who watched the trial and spoke on behalf of Indiana Democrats following the verdict, said the party believes White's conviction further affirms that Osili should be secretary of state.
"(White) has been convicted, but the judge has left it open for misdemeanor sentencing. That's something that's going to have to be examined," she said.
During his closing arguments, assistant special prosecutor Dan Sigler Jr. argued that White knew that he was committing voter fraud but did it anyway for political power.
"If we aren't going to enforce election law against the secretary of state of Indiana, who are we going to enforce it against?" Sigler said.