CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A federal judge on Thursday sentenced former Lincoln County commissioner Thomas Ramey to 21 months in prison, bringing to a close a years-long voting fraud investigation that led to the downfall of three county officials.
U.S. District Judge Thomas E. Johnston sentenced Ramey, 32, on charges of lying to FBI agents when he said he did not know who altered absentee ballot applications after they were filed in the County Clerk's Office for the Lincoln's 2010 Democratic primary. He later admitted to knowing who made the illegal alterations.
Earlier this year, Johnston sentenced former Lincoln County clerk Donnie Whitten to 12 months and former sheriff Jerry Bowman 18 months in prison for their roles in the scheme.
Bowman admitted that he falsified more than 100 absentee ballot applications for voters who were not legally qualified to vote absentee. After the false applications were processed, Bowman traveled to many of the voters' homes and stood by as they filled out the ballots, telling them which candidates he backed, prosecutors said.
Whitten admitted that he lied to investigators about his role in the scheme, and that he lied when he said he had provided the absentee ballots to Ramey.
Ramey's lawyer, Gregory J. Campbell, told the judge Thursday that his client was only a bit player in the overall scheme and that Whitten and Bowman influenced the fledgling politician to participate in activity that he did not know was illegal.
"Our position is that he did not intend to violate the law," Campbell said. "It's unlike his character to do something like this."
Ramey was appointed to the County Commission in late 2009, when a seated commissioner died. A school board member at the time, Ramey had a reputation as an activist and previously had spearheaded a grassroots effort to fight school consolidation in the county, according to a sentencing memorandum filed in U.S. District Court.
Ramey did not have a relationship with Bowman or Whitten before the 2010 primary election, and had never been in election training, the memorandum states. The two men told him about early absentee voting and then encouraged him into a scheme to complete ballot applications for voters, according to the memorandum.
Ramey did not know that state laws require the voter to state a reason why he or she is voting absentee, according to the memorandum, he simply did not fill in a reason on each of the applications.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby said the government "did not buy" Ramey's representations.