Pubdate: Tue, 22 Oct 2002
Source: Oklahoman, The (OK)
Copyright: 2002 The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
Contact:  http://www.oklahoman.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/318
Author: Sheila K. Stogsdill, The Oklahoman
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/corrupt.htm (Corruption - United States)
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/meth.htm (Methamphetamine)

DRUGS USED TO GET VOTES, CHARGES SAY

STIGLER -- A two-year investigation into a Haskell County sheriff runoff 
election has resulted in charges in what is alleged to be the state's first 
drugs-for-votes scandal, authorities said Monday. And the county's Aug. 27 
election is under investigation for possible irregularities. Eddy Kay 
Copeman, 49, of Keota, and Sammy Dwight Copeman, 32, and Charles Copeman, 
Jr., 28, both of Stigler, all were charged Monday with one count each of 
conspiracy to commit a felony.

Romonia Blunt, 29, -- Eddy Copeman's common-law wife -- was charged with 15 
counts of false notarization of absentee ballots and one count of 
conspiracy to commit a felony.

The arrests were made after an investigation into claims that Haskell 
County residents were offered either money or drugs for their absentee 
ballot packets, said Kym Koch, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma State Bureau of 
Investigation.

The agency routinely investigates voter fraud, but this is the first 
investigation suggesting that drugs were exchanged for absentee ballots, 
Koch said.

Questions about absentee ballots -- an unusually high number -- have led to 
an OSBI investigation into the most recent Haskell County elections, 
District Attorney Jim Bob Miller said.

"Oklahoma law says that one to one-and-a-half percent of absentee ballots 
in an election is normal," Miller said. "In Haskell County in the last 
election, absentee ballots made up 20 percent of votes cast."

Miller said a number of ballots were mailed to and from the same mailbox. 
Some absentee voters did not have property or a residence in Haskell 
County, he said.

Miller said Kay Lynn Free, former district attorney, recused herself from 
prosecuting the case. He said he was not at liberty to discuss the reasons 
behind the recusal.

In the apparently unrelated election irregularities alleged during the 2000 
sheriff runoff election, then-Sheriff Charles Carry allegedly had told Eddy 
Copeman, who "had a reputation of selling illegal drugs," that if he was 
re-elected, Carry would "leave him alone," a probable-cause affidavit states.

The affidavit also states Carolyn Gibson told OSBI agents that Eddy Copeman 
recruited her to solicit absentee votes for Carry. Gibson said she was told 
to offer voters either $20 or a "quarter paper of crank" for their absentee 
voter packets, according to court documents. Authorities said "a quarter 
paper of crank" or methamphetamine is equivalent to a quarter ounce of the 
drug.

Gibson said she approached people living in the Keota area, offering them 
money or crank. Gibson told authorities she gave the same people 
applications for absentee ballots and helped some individuals fill out the 
application.

No charges were filed against Carry, Koch said.

Koch said an OSBI agent obtained a blank absentee ballot packet from the 
county election board. He signed another person's name, altered the ballot 
and put the ballot in the affidavit envelope, but did not vote or mark the 
ballot.

The unmarked ballot was delivered to Sammy Copeman's house and Charles 
Copeman accepted the absentee ballot, Koch said. The absentee ballot later 
was mailed to the Haskell County Election Board, Koch said.

Authorities obtained the agent's absentee ballot and discovered the ballot 
had been marked and Romonia Blunt had notarized the signature on the 
affidavit, Koch said.

An audit of the absentee ballot affidavits used in the Sept. 19, 2000, 
primary runoff election revealed that Blunt notarized 48 affidavits.

Authorities contacted some of those named on the absentee ballots, and 19 
people said Blunt was not present when they signed their affidavit and none 
of them knew Blunt. Fourteen people said Blunt was present when they signed 
their affidavit and two individuals said they did not sign their 
affidavits. Koch said Blunt is Eddy Copeman's common-law wife.

In the runoff race, Manuel Ballard defeated Carry by 87 votes.

Ballard was unavailable for comment.

Carry said, "I don't really know Sammy Copeman and I don't know if I could 
pick him out of a line-up. If he's saying I talked to him, he's lying."

Carry said he didn't talk to Eddy Copeman throughout the race, but that he 
knows Charles Copeman, and another Copeman brother lives in an apartment 
above one of his businesses. Carry declined to identify the brother.

Marcia Gogg, Haskell County Election Board secretary, said that of the 
4,033 votes cast, 822 were absentee.

The number of absentee ballots seemed a normal amount, she said.

Rob Barris, an Okmulgee County assistant district attorney appointed last 
year to the post by the attorney general's office, said Blunt could face a 
prison sentence of up to 40 years, while the brothers face a 10-year sentence.

All four defendants remain in the Haskell County jail on $10,000 bail each.
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