By Ron Gregory
MORGANTOWN — Allegations of knowledge of election law violations by Secretary of State Natalie Tennant highlight an explosive motion filed in Federal court by former Lincoln County Commissioner Thomas Ramey, Jr. Ramey filed the motion to vacate, set aside or correct the term of his sentence in federal custody. Basically, Ramey is asking that his sentence be reduced.
Ramey, a Democrat from Harts, was serving on the County Commission by appointment before allegedly being elected to a term in his own right in 2010. Allegations arose that Ramey and others conspired to rig the 2010 Lincoln County Democrat primary election by the illegal use of absentee ballots. Eventually, Ramey was pleaded guilty on August 8, 2012 to making a false statement to investigators. He resigned from office and has been serving a 21-month sentence at a Federal facility in Morgantown.
Prior to serving on the County Commission, Ramey had been a member of the Lincoln County Board of Education. When a sitting member of the Lincoln Commission, Buster Stowers, passed away in 2009, Ramey was chosen to complete his term in November of that year.
According to a narrative provided by Ramey, who filed the motion on his own behalf, he, Sheriff Jerry Bowman and County Clerk Donald Whitten entered into an arrangement whereby the three candidates would solicit votes from “traditional non-voters.” That group included those who eventually cast absentee ballots.
Although it was determined that Ramey’s Democrat primary opponent was ineligible to run because of a residency requirement, a legal ruling on that matter was not sought, the narrative says.
Abour 750 of the 5,000 votes cast in the election were absentee and the media began to publicize the dramatically increased number of absentee ballots from previous elections, the narrative continues. As media scrutiny increased,the election was held and Ramey lost to his opponent on election day balloting but was declared the eventual winner after absentees were taken into consideration. Two apparently defeated candidates — for County Commission and Circuit Clerk — filed election challenges.
The end result was that Ramey remained the declared winner of the County Commission primary; Whitten was renominated for County Clerk; and Bowman was chosen for Circuit Clerk. After subsequent negotiations, Bowman gave up his claim to the Circuit Clerk nomination and it was awarded to his opponent, incumbent Charles Brumfield.
In early 2011, the narrative says, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began investigating the election. Ramey alleges that Federal agents were “threatening constituents with voter fraud during … interviews.” Ramey claims statewide media sided with his opponent alleging he had “stuffed the ballot box.”
Ramey then outlines meetings he had with Federal agents in an attempt to resolve the situation. In the meantime, Bowman and Whitten pled guilty to election law violations. After Ramey and his attorney rejected one plea offer to him, he eventually entered the guilty plea to making a false statement.
Bowman received a sentence of one year and one day and can never run for public office again as a result of his guilty plea to conspiracy. Whiten was sentenced to 18 months in prison and cannot run for public office in the future because of his guilty plea to making a false statement. Ramey was sentenced to 21 months in prison but he is allowed to run for public office in the future. He self-surrendered to prison on January 29, 2013.
Ramey claims the disparity between the sentences for the three gives rise to his current motion in court. He also argues that his court-appointed counsel gave poor and inappropriate advise, rising to the level of ineffective counsel.
In his narrative, Ramey makes a number of allegations about Tennant, the Democrat Secretary of State who has announced she is running for the United States Senate in 2014.
Ramey;s statement says Brandon Bentley, a lifelong Lincoln County resident, “advised authorities of candidate Natalie Tennant’s presence during the 2008 campaign at the ‘Bologna Shack’ next door to Paul Griffith’s home on Ely Fork Road in Lincoln County, wherein absentee applications were passed and filled out to encourage ‘no excuse’ absentee voting.”
Further, Ramey says Tennant and her staff were “well aware” that Whitten had not attended County Clerk training sessions, as required by law, and had not purged Lincoln voter rolls in a timely manner.
The narrative continues, “Upon information and belief, Tennant was fully aware of questionable absentee campaign strategies being used in Lincoln County. She failed to act upon this information until after the election.”
Ramey goes on, “Tennant attended and witnessed Ramey at the 2010 Lincoln County canvass recount wherein the vote was stalled. Secretary of State Tennant then urged canvasser, Charles Vance, to vote to certify the election to enable the process to proceed to election challenges. Vance originally opposed certifying the election because of the appearance of impropriety.”
Ramey claims he made efforts after the 2010 election to clean up Lincoln County’s election processes. Further, he says, “Secretary of State Tennant was quick to condemn and target naive individuals for the FBI to investigate, yet slow and delinquent in her mandated duties to secure and ensure a fair, legal Lincoln County election.” Ramey argues that his attorney was well aware “of corruption at the highest level of West Virginia politics” and had assured him (Ramey) that he would “give interviews in front of the Federal building and expose Natalie Tennant.” Ramey says various violations of law were uncovered by his investigators but were not used by his attorney.
In his motion, Ramey requested an expedited hearing.
A spokesman for Tennant said the allegations in Ramey’s motion regarding Tennant have been proven not to be true. “If they want to break election laws in West Virginia, the facts are they will be investigated and turned over to prosecutors by Secretary Tennant,” said Glance. “In fact,” he said, “it is a bit ironic that a prisoner behind bars because of the work of the Secretary of State’s office and other law enforcement officials is hurling these kinds of allegations against the Secretary of State.”
Glance said Tennant basically denies all the allegations “and believes her record of helping bring violators to justice is clear.”
A courthouse observer noted that, since Ramey filed the motion on his own behalf, he is not “bound by the rules that govern attorneys in these cases. In other words, Mr. Ramey can claim anything he wants and not be forced to prove it or lose his law license,” the source said.