A Fort Worth woman recently indicted on voter fraud charges paid others involved in the scheme with funds provided by a former Tarrant County Democratic Party leader, court documents filed this week say.
After learning about a state investigation, Leticia Sanchez — one of four women arrested and indicted on voter fraud charges — allegedly directed her daughter to send a text message to others in the scheme, urging them not to cooperate with investigators, state officials say.
The allegations are made in the state’s notice of intent to introduce evidence in Sanchez’s criminal case, where state officials say she was among those who collaborated to vote for certain down-ballot candidates with a number of north side residents’ mail-in ballots.
The notice, filed Tuesday, states that Sanchez engaged in organized criminal activity in collaboration with her three co-defendants; Stuart Clegg, a former executive director for the Tarrant County Democratic Party; and others.
It also includes allegations that Sanchez faxed applications for mail-in ballots — many obtained fraudulently — using a fax machine belonging to former Fort Worth councilman Sal Espino. The notice does not implicate Espino as being part of the scheme.
This is the latest development in a case the Texas attorney general’s office describes as an ”organized voter fraud ring” in Fort Worth.
Local Democrats say canvassing voters occurs every election cycle. Attorneys for Sanchez say they believe this case is politically motivated and they expect it to eventually be dismissed.
Earlier this month, four women were arrested — Sanchez, her daughter, Leticia Sanchez Tepichin, and Rosa Solis and Laura Parra — after being indicted on more than two dozen felony counts of voter fraud.
Officials allege the women were paid to target older voters on the city’s north side “in a scheme to generate a large number of mail ballots and then harvest those ballots for specific candidates in 2016.”
The notice did not specify which candidates the suspects were allegedly paid to support, but it noted that Sanchez and others marked down-ballot candidates “without the voter’s knowledge or consent.”
AG officials have said these charges “are in connection with the 2016 Democratic primary, but the case has connections with the 2015 city council election.”
AG spokesman Jeff Hillery declined to comment when asked if any other charges would be filed.
This development comes as early voting for the Nov. 6 midterm election is underway. Voters may vote early through Nov. 2. Election Day is Nov. 6.
Voter fraud allegations
The notice said Sanchez distributed payments “from funds received from Stuart Clegg” to more than four women for engaging in “activities” such as “fraudulent altering (mail-in) applications and submitting them again by fax.”
“There was no conspiracy to defraud any election,” Clegg told the Star-Telegram on Wednesday.
Clegg said that, as a consultant, he has hired canvassers through the years to “work legally in Texas elections.” He said workers are trained to follow the law. And, in general, money he received from campaigns that subcontracted with him was used to pay the workers.
“We’ve trained them to follow the law and instruct them as best as we can but, like anything, we’re not with the actual worker the whole time,” he said. “I don’t believe the allegations the attorney general is making.
“I know Leticia. I know that she’s a woman of fine character and I have no reason to believe that she would do anything illegal,” Clegg said. “Obviously, if I thought she was going to do anything illegal, I wouldn’t have hired her and I don’t believe that she did.”
In fact, he said, “I would turn them in myself if I thought that (accusations of vote harvesting) was true.”
The notice states that Sanchez obtained or directed others to obtain signatures from elderly voters under false pretenses and/or intimidation, caused innocent or non-responsible third parties to forge signatures of incapacitated or absent voters and forged signatures on mail-in ballot applications.
It alleges she also maintained a file of 2015 applications, many of them obtained fraudulently, which she then altered and submitted again by fax in 2016, “generating fraudulent mail ballots that the voter did not request.”
One of those voters, an upset Anita Garay, went to Espino’s office to find out why Sanchez had caused her signature to be forged on an application for the 2015 Fort Worth city council election, the notice states.
“Garay had found out that Sanchez used the fax machine/copier at Espino’s office to fax her application to elections,” the notice states.
Espino said he let the election workers use his fax machine at work, then known as Reunion Title.
“That’s allowed by law,” Espino said Wednesday. “All the folks I worked with were always told to follow the law.”
The notice states Garay confronted Sanchez at her home the next day and that Sanchez tried to intimidate the voter by threatening to involve her attorney.
When Sanchez learned that state police investigators were interviewing voters in Tarrant County and members of her “vote harvesting group,” she directed Tepichin to send a text message to the crew “conveying a message from Sanchez and Stuart Clegg to not cooperate with investigators,” the notice states.
The message, sent in Spanish, translated stated: “Hello, there is a group of malicious people investigating our work. We have been told by our boss, Mr. Stuart, that we should not give any information. Just give them the phone number of the lawyer who is in charge of this matter. If anyone has contacted you, asked any type of questions, please tell us immediately so we can let the lawyer know. Notify immediately.”
“I would tell anybody it’s a good idea, before you talk to investigators, to make sure you talk to an attorney,” Clegg said. “Isn’t that just general sense?”
The state’s notice also accuses Sanchez of illegally voting by marking ballots or encouraging others to mark ballots in more than a dozen instances without the voter’s consent or knowledge.
She is only charged, however, with one count of illegal voting and 16 counts of providing false information on an application. She also is accused in the notice of committing, or aiding others in committing, more than 100 counts each of forgery, tampering with a governmental record and providing false information on an application.
Regarding the voter harvesting allegations, Clegg said “when Republicans do it, it’s campaigning. When Democrats do it, it’s harvesting. At the end of the day, what we’re talking about is helping people who want to vote to go vote legally,” he said. “How is that harvesting?”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has weighed in on this investigation, in 2016 tweeting: “Largest Voter fraud Investigation in Texas History Underway in Tarrant County. We will crush illegal voting.”
Attorneys representing Leticia Sanchez Tepichin have said this case — which they note was announced just weeks before the Nov. 6 midterm election — is a political move designed to prevent minorities from heading to the polls this election.
Regarding the new documents, “this is really more of the same,” Greg Westfall, who along with Frank Sellers is representing Tepichin, said in an email. “The document is full of allegations — inflammatory allegations that are intended to appear convincing because they use so many words.
“The fact that this is publicly filed during early voting, I am sure, is no mistake. Just like the indictments they handed down the week before early voting, they will have to one day try to prove it. I can’t comment further because rather than providing discovery, they were apparently working on this document.”
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