Former Philadelphia congressman and longtime local political consultant Michael “Ozzie” Myers was indicted this week on eight counts of federal crimes relating to election fraud.
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania William McSwain announced the charges Thursday in a video statement.
“Through the alleged scheme, Myers advanced his political and financial interests through fraudulent and corrupt means by engaging in a “ballot stuffing” scheme that enabled him to take credit for the electoral success of his Philadelphia-based clients and preferred candidates,” McSwain said.
This is Myers’ second run-in with the feds. He is most known for his involvement in the infamous Abscam scandal of the late 1970s. While Myers was Pennsylvania’s First Congressional District representative, he was caught in 1979 taking a $50,000 bribe from an FBI agent posing as an Arab sheik. He and other elected officials from Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York were convicted in the scheme.
Since his return from prison, Myers has worked as a political consultant, advising political campaigns on how to navigate the South Philadelphia political infrastructure.
It is in that role that McSwain says Myers broke the law.
Myers is accused of bribing Domenick J. Demuro, a judge of elections in the 39th Ward, 36th Division in South Philadelphia, to add fraudulent votes that would favor Myers’ clients who were running for office. The indictment against Myers alleges that Myers and Demuro worked together to “ring up” votes during the primary elections in 2014, 2015 and 2016 for which Myers had several judicial candidates.
Myers and his attorneys declined to comment, other than to say he will be pleading not guilty to the charges.
Demuro pleaded guilty to stuffing ballots, a federal crime, in May.
Neither the Demuro nor the Myers indictments name the judges for whom the ballot was stuffed. But the number of votes added totaled to 27 votes in one case, 40 in another and 46 in a third. Given election results for those primary elections, the fraudulent votes likely didn’t make a difference in outcome.
“Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy. If only one vote has been illegally rung up or fraudulently stuffed into a ballot box, the integrity of that entire election is undermined,” McSwain said in his taped remarks.
He added that the case is active and ongoing.
David Thornburgh, president of Committee of Seventy, a group that in part focuses on election reform, said that he doesn’t think the allegations against Myers and Demuro extend to the rest of the political system.
“We gotta be careful to not extrapolate that to some grand conspiracy theory about the entire country or entire commonwealth or entire city of Philadelphia.”
However, Thornburgh does believe that judicial races in Philadelphia are generally problematic.
“There’s a lot of loose money, not well reported money. So there’s work to do there,” he said. “And it also should call into question why we are electing local judges.”
Judicial candidates usually spend tens of thousands of dollars each election hiring consultants like Myers to help them garner political support among ward leaders. And while consultant fees are supposed to be disclosed in campaign finance reports, sometimes payments go unreported.
A court date has not yet been set for Myers.