A months-long investigation into allegations of voter fraud in the deep-blue city of Lawrence, Massachusetts has resulted in charges brought against two individuals, one of whom was recently elected to the city council as a Democrat.
Local officials have charged City Councilor-elect Fidelina Santiago and a female associate with voter fraud after video captured criminals raiding voters’ mailboxes in search of absentee and mail-in ballots which were illegally filled out and signed with forged signatures. While the Essex County district attorney has not confirmed either woman is in the video, the city’s police chief confirmed that the video will be used as evidence against them.
Both women are charged with 16 counts of voter fraud.
The lawbreaking was only discovered after one man whose name was forged appeared in person to vote on Election Day and was told he had already voted. He followed up on the mishap with local election officials, who launched a full investigation.
Candidates who lost to Santiago last month expressed their disappointment with the outcome.
“I’m kind of sad because it never should have happened this way, but I’m glad because this act is from democracy, you know what I mean, keeping me believing in what made me involved in politics,” said Vladimir Acevedo, Lawrence City Council candidate.
“They’re serious indictments but like anything else in our country, you’re presumed innocent. I think it’s wise to let this process go forward before reaching any kind of conclusions,” said City Council President Marc LaPlante.
Despite the development, LaPlante thinks Santiago will still be sworn in.
“I think our city clerk has a responsibility to swear in people who were lawfully elected at this point. Again, there’s an investigation going on. Until higher authorities say that this is unlawful, I would imagine the clerk has a responsibility of swearing in all the folks who won the election in November,” said LaPlante.
Acevedo, who lost to Santiago with 385 votes to her 537, thinks it would be an injustice to swear in his former opponent.
“I’m angry, but I’m happy that the justice is working, you know what I mean, that’s what we believe,” said Acevedo.
The City of Lawrence has a long history of corruption stretching back more than a decade to the administration of former Mayor William Lantigua. During a 2011 federal investigation into corruption and potential wrongdoing, the Democratic mayor married the principal witness prosecutors planned to use against him, his former secretary, thereby granting her spousal privileges to not testify against her new husband.