Former Abscam congressman Ozzie Myers pleads guilty to Philadelphia election fraud charges | #phishing | #scams

A former Pennsylvania congressman convicted in the 1970s Abscam investigation pleaded guilty Monday to new charges he’d bribed a poll worker to stuff ballot boxes in local elections.

Former U.S. Rep. Michael “Ozzie” Myers — who had been working as a campaign consultant since his release from federal prison in the 1980s — admitted to a federal judge he paid two South Philadelphia elections officials to fraudulently add votes for candidates who had hired him for their races from 2014 to 2016.

His decision to plead guilty to counts including bribery, obstruction of justice, falsification of voting records and illegally voting in a federal election — the most serious of which carries a maximum penalty of 20 year in prison — came just hours before he was set to stand trial.

“If even one vote has been illegally cast or if the integrity of just one election official is compromised, it diminishes faith in process,” said U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams. “Votes are not things to be purchased and democracy is not for sale.”

Myers, 79, and his attorneys did not immediately return calls for comment Monday afternoon. But his case has drawn national scrutiny since he was indicted in 2020 as Republicans, led by former President Donald Trump and others, pointed to the case to assert without proof that Trump had lost reelection due to cheating in places like heavily Democratic Philadelphia.

No evidence has surfaced of widespread voter fraud that has swayed any recent election. In Myers’ case, despite the seriousness of the allegations, prosecutors have not alleged that the fraudulent votes were enough to tip the balance of any race in the affected ward, let alone the entire city.

Prosecutors have not identified the candidates whom Myers’ bribes supported.

Myers spent three years in federal lockup in the early 1980s for his involvement in Abscam, a sprawling FBI investigation that involved agents posing as representatives of a sheikh offering cash in exchange for political favors.

The probe netted bribery convictions against seven members of Congress, a New Jersey state senator, three Philadelphia city councilmembers, and the mayor of Camden.

It ended Myers’ electoral career and led to his expulsion from Congress, where he had served as the representative of the 1st Congressional District since 1976. His career as a lawmaker is best known for the most enduring line to emerge from the sting operation.

“Money talks in this business and bulls— walks,” he told the agents on a 1979 FBI recording while accepting a $50,000 bribe.

Since his release from prison in 1985, Myers had refashioned himself as one of the go-to political consultants for candidates looking to navigate the intricacies of ward politics in South Philadelphia.

He’s advised clients ranging from judicial hopefuls to Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, whose work with Myers drew scrutiny from federal agents as part of the 2016 investigation that led to the corruption indictment of labor leader John J. Dougherty. The union paid paid Myers more than $400,000 in recent years for his services, records show.

Operatives like Myers hold influence with ward leaders and committee people across the city and can often make the difference on whether candidates in down-ballot races, like judicial elections, show up on sample ballots of endorsed candidates distributed at polling locations.

Several of Myers’ past judicial clients, interviewed earlier last year, said that while they weren’t sure what he did with the money they paid him, and they were advised it was helpful to put him on their campaign payroll.

Specifically, Myers admitted Monday to paying thousands of dollars to former two judges of election in deep South Philadelphia’s 39th Ward — Dominic DeMuro, who oversaw voting for the ward’s 36th division, and Marie Beren, a former staffer for City Councilmember Mark Squilla, who oversaw voting in the 2nd division.

The former congressman’s connections to the 39th Ward run deep — especially in the 36th Division which DeMuro oversaw, which lies east of Broad Street to 12th Street from Oregon Avenue to the Schuylkill Expressway.

Myers’ brother, Matthew, is the Democratic leader of Ward 39B. His nephew Jonathan “J.R.” Rowan holds the same position in Ward 39A and ran unsuccessfully for the state House in 2018.

Prosecutors have described the alleged “ballot stuffing” scheme served as yet another mechanism by which Myers bolstered his control over his family’s political fiefdom.

It “enabled him to take credit for the electoral successes of his Philadelphia-based clients and preferred candidates, secure his standing in local party politics that enabled him to control and influence the 39th Ward, and influence the distribution of local patronage jobs,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric L. Gibson wrote in court filings.

DeMuro, who pleaded guilty to election fraud charges in March, has been cooperating with the FBI ever since agents confronted him in 2016 and recorded Myers during two election cycles as they discussed what the former congressman described as “ringing up votes.”

In excerpts of those conversations quoted in court filings, Myers allegedly instructed DeMuro on how to hide the bribes he was receiving — including providing fictitious names to be put on checks.

“I’m gonna get you a couple checks, there’s no question about that,” the former congressman told DeMuro in one conversation quoted in court papers. “If you want to give me a different name than Domenick DeMuro, that’s your business.”

Myers also allegedly explained that he wouldn’t be able to pay the bribes until the deadline had passed for his clients’ last campaign finance report prior to primary election.

“You don’t want to be on any [candidate’s campaign finance] report May 7 when the election is May 16,” the indictment quotes him as saying.

In one case described by prosecutors, Myers cut a $1,000 bribe check made out to DeMuro’s wife during the 2017 Democratic primary campaign. Little did he know DeMuro was working for the feds at the time.

The money was later listed as payment for “get out the vote” efforts on the campaign finance reports of Viktoria Kristiansson, who was running for the spot she now holds as a Common Pleas Court judge.

Kristiansson paid Myers $5,000 for campaign consulting work that year — one of at least five judicial candidates who hired him to do so, according to campaign finance records.

Prosecutors have not named her or any of the other Myers clients who benefitted from his bribery scheme in court filings or suggested that any of them have committed a crime.

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