Wednesday, February 28, 2024

UPDATE: Proof of election fraud in US House race in 2nd District, which includes Virginia Beach and Norfolk, prosecutor says

NORFOLK — A special prosecutor said Monday that he’s presented two indictments of election fraud against someone who worked on a failed re-election campaign for a Republican congressman last year.

Special prosecutor Donald Caldwell said his investigation into Scott Taylor’s 2018 campaign in Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District is still ongoing. The 2nd district includes Accomack and Northampton counties, portions of York County, and the cities of Virginia Beach and Williamsburg and parts of the cities of Norfolk and Hampton.

Caldwell released a lengthy statement that offered fresh details on a months-old ballot-fraud scandal that clouded, if not doomed, Taylor’s bid for a second term in the district along Virginia’s coast.

The scandal started after some of Taylor’s campaign staffers were accused last summer of forging voter signatures to place a third-party “spoiler candidate” on November’s ballot.

The strategy was widely viewed as an effort to draw votes away from Taylor’s Democratic opponent, now a congresswoman, who had the backing of national Democrats.

Taylor was a rising political star with a seat on the House Appropriations Committee. The freshman congressman was also a former Navy SEAL in a district with the world’s largest Navy base and a heavy population of veterans.

Taylor was being challenged by Elaine Luria, a former Navy commander who also had some momentum from the so-called blue wave against President Donald Trump.

The third-party candidate was Shaun Brown, a former Democrat who had lost to Taylor during his first run in 2016.

A judge ultimately removed Brown from the ballot after Democrats sued. The judge overseeing the lawsuit said there was evidence of “out-and-out” fraud by Taylor’s staffers.

Caldwell, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for the city of Roanoke, was appointed to be special counsel for a criminal investigation.

The statement he released Monday did not name the person who was indicted.

But Virginia Beach Circuit Court Clerk Tina Sinnen said a grand jury indicted Lauren Creekmore Peabody on two counts of false statements and election fraud.

Sinnen said she didn’t know if an arrest warrant for Peabody had been served. It’s unclear if she has an attorney.

Taylor has maintained that he was aware of the effort to get Brown on the ballot by his campaign staffers. But he said he knew nothing of any wrongdoing and fired campaign staff tied to the scandal.

Caldwell’s statement does not implicate Taylor of any wrongdoing.

“(T)here does not appear to have been a directive or an expectation that these petitions would be circulated in violation of Virginia law,” Caldwell wrote.

But Caldwell added: “What actually happened within the campaign headquarters is still a subject of investigation due primarily to the lack of cooperation of key individuals with the (Virginia State Police) investigator.”

Taylor released a statement that said Caldwell’s news release “makes it concretely clear, as I have maintained all along, I knew nothing about any illegal actions that transpired.”

Taylor also lashed out at Democrats, saying they falsely claimed he was under investigation during the campaign.

Luria won the race by a little more than 2 percentage points.

“Today serves as a complete repudiation of the smears and lies leveled against me in the campaign last year,” Taylor said.

Caldwell wrote that the indictments against the campaign staffer for election fraud “are supported by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

But he said: “Whether a judge or jury agrees with my assessment will be answered in the future.”

Southside Daily staff contributed to this report.


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