There wasn’t much prison time handed out today in connection with a high profile election fraud case in St. Joseph County—but there was some.
The so-called ringleader and mastermind—Butch Morgan—was handcuffed in court today and began serving a sentence of one year in the care of the Indiana Department of Correction.
Morgan is the former chairman of St. Joseph County’s Democratic Party who allegedly gave orders that others followed out of a fear that they would lose their jobs.
Morgan and three others were convicted of forging names on petitions needed to get Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the 2008 Primary Election ballot.
While Morgan received the harshest sentence, even his punishment wasn’t as bad as it sounded.
“I think probably the sentence is generally cut in half so I think it means he'll serve six months in the Department of Corrections and six months back here,” said Special Prosecutor Stanley Levco.
Morgan’s prison term will be followed by one year in community corrections, which could include a work release situation or day reporting.
The two women in the case are both in their 60’s, both are grandmothers with absolutely no criminal pasts.
Both Pam Brunette and Bev Shelton pleaded guilty and testified for the state. Both were ordered to spend two years on probation.
In this case, the terms of probation prohibit the defendants from having any involvement in party politics. They cannot attend a political event or gathering, and they are banned from joining a political organization.
Probation also means no alcohol and no firearms.
“What is incredibly unusual, as the judge pointed out, is to have four defendants convicted of felonies and not one of them have a criminal record,” said Stanley Levco. “That's, that's really unusual.”
In the end, the judge reasoned that the forgery scheme made no difference in the 2008 Indiana Primary. At worst, Barack Obama may not have made the ballot without the fake names, but he lost the primary anyway.
The judge said that Democrats, as opposed to voters in general, were the only victims of the crimes.
“You know as kids on the ball field we learn that the game doesn't work if people don't follow the rules,” said Jake Teshka, Executive Director of the St. Joseph County Republican Party. “It may not be voter fraud in the sense that votes were cast to elect an official this way This was to get somebody on a primary ballot, so I agree with him there, but it is what I would call election fraud and I would also say that the public trust was violated.”
The remaining defendant, Dustin Blythe was sentenced to one year in community corrections to be followed by two years of probation.
In court today Butch Morgan offered an apology for a “lack of leadership” that allowed this to happen.
Morgan also pleaded for punishment that would allow him to continue to care for his elderly mother, who requires two dialysis treatments per day.