|Duo accused of paying for votes in 2014 U.S. Senate
knoxnews.com-Federal authorities say a 60-year-old accused Monroe County pot dealer and a Loudon County man paid 13 citizens for their votes in the 2014 Tennessee U.S. Senate primary election.
Betty Jane Best and Brian Keith "Wormy" Hodge were arraigned Friday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley Jr. in U.S. District Court on a 14-count indictment charging the duo with conspiracy to buy votes and 13 counts of actually paying for the votes in the August 2014 U.S. Senate primary in Monroe County.
Best, who is also known as Betty Hawkins, is already under indictment in Monroe County on charges she sold marijuana. Her relationship to Hodge, who listed an address in Loudon County in court records, is unknown. His age was also not immediately available.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bart Slabbekorn secured the federal indictment from a grand jury in early February, but the case was kept under wraps until the pair were arrested and arraigned. Shirley freed them under standard supervised release conditions after Friday's arraignment. Trial before Senior U.S. District Judge Leon Jordan is set for April 24, although that likely will change.
According to the indictment, Best and Hodge conspired "with others known and unknown" to the grand jury - standard language in a conspiracy case - to buy votes in the primary that would leave U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander as the Republican candidate and veteran attorney Gordon Ball as the Democratic candidate in the November general election. Alexander bested Ball.
The indictment lists the names of the voters Slabbekorn alleges were paid by Best and Hodge to vote how the duo wanted, but it does not indicate which candidate for whom vote-buying cash was shelled out. It also does not detail how much the votes were worth to Best and Hodge. The document does state the pair pooled their own money in the alleged vote-buying venture.
The voters are identified as Darrell Deaton, Megan Forsythe, Christoper Forsythe, Mitchell Pressley, Sherry Wright, Darrell Milsaps, Carolyn Kirkland, Jason Kirkland, Mark Shumate, Daisy Vandover Martin, Willie Vandever, Troy Watson and Katie Watson. No other identifying information is listed.
Both Alexander and Ball came into the primary with a handful of competitors. Alexander's chief opponent for the Republican ballot was Joe Carr, a state legislator who received a push from the Tea Party movement. Alexander handily defeated him in the primary.
There is no indication in the federal court record either Alexander or Ball were aware of the alleged vote-buying scheme.