Bullskin officials accused of defying election code
Two Bullskin Township supervisors are accused of helping voters obtain and cast absentee ballots when the voters, most of whom are elderly, were available to go to the polls in person, according to a grand jury presentment.
In addition, the countywide investigating grand jury found that Thomas Scott Keefer, 58, and William H. Geary, 62, failed to submit required declarations of physical disability with the ballots, according to Jack Heneks, Fayette County district attorney.
Heneks on Friday announced that both men are charged with misdemeanor election-code violations based on recommendations contained in a four-page presentment handed down by the grand jury.
“I think every citizen should have faith that the electoral system be played on an even playing field with the rules being obeyed and, when violated, the violaters be penalized,” Heneks said in making the announcement. “I am hopeful that this presentment and the prosecution of these charges will send a clear message to everyone in Fayette County that the rules are there to protect the system and are used to make elections fair to everyone involved and the violations of those rules have consequences.”
Geary was unavailable for comment on Friday. Keefer, who is also known as Scott Keefer, said he was unaware of the charges and deferred comment to his attorney, Jack Purcell of Uniontown. Purcell said he had not seen the presentment or the charges, which were filed on Friday before Connellsville District Judge Ronald Haggerty Jr.
“Mr. Keefer will vigorously defend against any charges that are brought,” Purcell said. “He asserts he is innocent of any criminal violations.”
Keefer is charged by Trooper David Bayer of the state police's bureau of criminal investigation with five violations of the election code relating to absentee ballots. Geary is charged with seven violations of the same provision.
In addition, both men are charged with one count of unlawful assistance in voting and two counts of conspiracy.
According to the presentment, the grand jury found that Keefer and Geary, as incumbent supervisors during the Nov. 8, 2011, election, “were political allies” in support of Keefer's write-in campaign. Keefer mounted the write-in campaign after losing the Democratic nomination to David Butler.
Keefer won re-election in November, defeating Butler by a vote count of 741-732, according to the presentment.
Heneks initiated an investigation when Butler lodged a complaint and the case was referred to him by the county's Elections Board.
The grand jury, which met in secret, based its findings on testimony from “multiple electors” in Bullskin's 1st, 2nd and 3rd precincts, according to the presentment.
Jurors found that Geary and Keefer visited voters' homes, asked them to obtain applications for absentee ballots and then helped them complete the applications despite knowing that the voters would be available to vote in person on Election Day.
In all, the two men assisted 13 voters with obtaining and completing their ballots, according to the presentment.
“The grand jury finds that many of the voters solicited by Mr. Geary and Mr. Keefer were elderly or otherwise vulnerable members of the community due to lack of knowledge or ability to completely understand the voting process,” wrote jurors in the presentment.
Once they assisted the voters, the men failed to fill out required declarations of physical disability with the ballots, according to the presentment.
Heneks, who was the lead prosecutor when a different grand jury investigated voter fraud in the 1990s, said he is “saddened that we need to address some of those same issues” again.
The earlier investigation centered on allegations of voter fraud at a Wharton Township personal-care home during the 1997 primary.
The panel recommended in May 1999 that charges be filed against three Wharton residents: personal-care home operator Peggy Bouras, former Congressman Austin J. Murphy and ex-Wharton tax collector Shirley Hughes.
The three originally were charged with numerous felony and misdemeanor charges related to absentee ballots submitted by residents of Bouras Personal Care Home, but they entered into plea agreements in which each faced only a single violation of the state election code.
None of the defendants received jail time. All were accepted into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program for first-time, noviolent offenders. Entering the program is not an admission of guilt.
Keefer and Geary will be notified via mail of the misdemeanor charges, Heneks said, before preliminary hearings are scheduled.
Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or [email protected].