December 3, 2005
Using a Cooperating Witness to Run for Political Office as Part of an Undercover Corruption Investigation in West Virginia Triggers Prosecutorial Misconduct Claim
A Washington Post article (here) describes how the former mayor of a small town in southwestern West Virginia ran for office as part of an undercover FBI investigation to ferret out political corruption. Logan County has been famed in West Virginia for its corrupt politics, in which votes were bought for small amounts of cash or a bottle of whiskey, and seemed to be impervious to outside investigation because everyone pretty much knew each other, so no outsider could penetrate the local web of connections.
Thomas Esposito was on the ballot for a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates while secretly working with the FBI after entering into a plea agreement for paying a bribe to a local magistrate. As part of the sting, Esposito gave $2,000 in cash to Perry Harvey and Ernie Ray Magnus to purchase votes in the upcoming primary. Harvey has been charged with conspiracy to buy votes, while Magnus has received immunity. Harvey's attorney attacked the government's conduct as "outrageous," but the district court rejected the claim. U.S. District Judge David Faber noted that corruption in Logan Country had been around "for longer than living memory." The government noted that it had Esposito withdraw from the primary two days after the payment and publicized the reason for his withdrawal, but Esposito still drew more than 2,000 votes.
There is something vaguely troubling about using a cooperating witness to run for political office as a sham, but then the FBI's ability to investigate public corruption often requires that it use the mantle of government office and the public trust to discover improper use of office or voting fraud. (ph)
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