Friday, August 25, 2006

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Attorney General Abbott Obtains Indictments Against Port Lavaca Councilwoman For Voter Fraud

PORT LAVACA - Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott continues to investigate voter fraud across Texas and today landed five indictments in Calhoun County against a local candidate for Justice of the Peace Precinct 1.

A grand jury indicted Debra Martinez Briseno, 51, a current Port Lavaca city councilwoman, on numerous charges alleging voter fraud during the March 2006 primary election: illegal voting (third-degree felony); tampering with a government record (state jail felony); and making a false statement on a registration application, unlawful voter assistance and possessing a ballot intended for another person, the latter three misdemeanors.

“Texans insist that our election process stay clean and untainted by illegal acts,” said Attorney General Abbott. “Those who commit such fraud exploit the elderly and others, and such acts will not be tolerated in this state.”

Calhoun County District Attorney Dan Heard received a complaint about Briseno’s alleged activity and referred the matter to the Attorney General. The ensuing investigation alleged Briseno visited permanent residents who were noncitizens and helped them register to vote, indicating that they only needed a driver’s license to become registered to vote. Briseno allegedly filled out the portion of the registration application inquiring of citizenship and affirmatively marked that these residents were citizens. They signed the documents, and Briseno allegedly mailed them for registration. Investigators found that three of these ineligible voters did cast ballots, based on her advice. The act resulted in a charge of illegal voting against Briseno, a third-degree felony.

In another instance, she allegedly instructed a voter to mark a ballot for her and another candidate, which amounts to giving a voter unlawful assistance. In addition, Briseno visited elderly residents, helped them apply to vote by mail, then returned to collect their ballots and mailed them, a misdemeanor violation of the Texas Election Code.

Since first obtaining voter fraud indictments in the summer of 2005, the Attorney General has accepted a number of guilty pleas from defendants. Earlier this month, a Corpus Christi woman, Maria Dora Flores, pleaded guilty to two counts of illegal voting. She admitted to marking ballots for other voters without their consent, a third-degree felony. She is serving two years probation and paid a $750 fine.

In July, two Bowie County women admitted to handling mail-in ballots for other voters during the November 2004 general election. Texarkana Ward 2 City Councilwoman Willie J. Ray is serving eight months probation and paid a $200 fine. Co-defendant Jamillah Johnson agreed to six months probation and a $200 fine.

On Monday, a Reeves County woman’s trial gets under way in Pecos. Anita Baeza, 69, the mother of a candidate for county sheriff in the March 2004 primary election, stands accused of illegally possessing and transporting ballots for another person, a Class B misdemeanor.