News: CJ Exclusives

Dowless, associates arrested in 9th District election fraud probe

Attorney Cynthia Singletary, left, says her client, McCrae Dowless, will not testify without immunity during the public evidentiary hearing on the 9th Congressional District investigation Monday, Feb. 18, 2019, at the North Carolina State Bar in Raleigh. (News & Observer pool photo)
Attorney Cynthia Singletary, left, says her client, McCrae Dowless, will not testify without immunity during the public evidentiary hearing on the 9th Congressional District investigation Monday, Feb. 18, 2019, at the North Carolina State Bar in Raleigh. (News & Observer pool photo)

Leslie McCrae Dowless, the alleged mastermind of an election fraud scheme in the 9th Congressional District, was arrested Wednesday and jailed in Wake County.

Dowless refused to testify last week at a State Board of Elections evidentiary hearing into widespread election fraud last year in the 9th District.

Dowless is the alleged mastermind behind an absentee-by-mail voting fraud ring in Bladen and Robeson counties during the 2016 and 2018 election cycles. Also indicted were Dowless associates Tonia Marie Gordon, Rebecca Thompson, Caitlyn Croom, and Matthew Monroe Mathis. Kelly Hendrix was named as an unindicted co-conspirator.

The indictments said Dowless directed people under him to commit crimes and encouraged them to give false statements to investigators. His co-conspirators also engaged in a variety of unlawful acts, the indictments said.

“These indictments should serve as a stern warning to anyone trying to defraud elections in North Carolina,” said Kim Westbrook Strach, State Board of Elections executive director. “Today is a new and better day for elections in our state.”

Dowless was a key political operative hired by the Rev. Mark Harris, a Republican, to help get out the vote in his 2018 congressional run. Differing testimony was given during the hearing about who supervised Dowless and what expectations were set for his work.

Harris unofficially won the Nov. 6 election by 905 votes over Democrat Dan McCready, but the State Board of Elections refused to certify the race due to widespread election irregularities.

The elections board ordered a new election. Harris withdrew from the race Tuesday. He cited ill health and pending surgery.

The elections board will meet Monday to set a calendar for the new election.

The elections board announced it will send staff members to Bladen and Robeson counties ahead of a new election to monitor and assist with the elections process in the corruption-marred counties.

Dowless is being held in the Wake County Detention Center on $30,000 secured bond. The cases were placed on the Wake County Superior Court calendar for March 25.

Dowless is charged with three counts of felony obstruction of justice, two counts of conspiracy to commit felony obstruction of justice, and two counts of possession of an absentee ballot stemming from the 2016 and 2018 elections.

Gordon, Thompson, Croom, and Mathis each face one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of possession of absentee ballots. Mathis also faces charges of falsely signing the voter certification on an absentee ballot. The indictments say Croom and Gordon violated election laws in 2016. Thompson’s offenses occurred in the 2018 election. Mathis was charged for his activities in the 2016 and 2018 elections.

That included unlawfully collecting absentee-by-mail ballots from voters who weren’t a near relative or legal guardian; falsifying voters’ names on absentee ballots; signing witness certifications from ballots they hadn’t witnessed; and illegally returning ballots for voters.

All the indictments said the unlawful activity resulted in spoiled absentee ballots being improperly counted. That “served to undermine the integrity of the absentee ballot process and the public’s confidence in the outcome of the electoral process. This offense was done with deceit and intent to defraud and against the peace and dignity of the State.”

The investigation continues. Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman has met with investigators of the State Board of Elections and expects results of their investigation to be forwarded to the SBI within the next 30 days. Those materials will be reviewed to determine what additional investigative work is necessary.  

The elections board commended Freeman, her staff, and the SBI for bringing the offenses to prosecution.

Elections board staff investigated and identified absentee voting irregularities in 2016, and forwarded findings to state and federal authorities. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has been mum on the status of its investigation.