A former staffer for City Councilmember Mark Squilla was federally charged Wednesday with falsifying election results for years at a South Philadelphia ward where she served as a judge of elections.
Prosecutors did not immediately provide details on the candidates for which Marie Beren, 67, allegedly falsified votes or say whether those ballots affected the outcome of any races. Court filings accuse her only of adding 10 to 15 fraudulent ballots per election.
The allegations against her are tied to a larger case involving former U.S. Rep. Michael “Ozzie” Myers, who rose to prominence during the 1970s Abscam scandal and now works as a political consultant. He was also charged Wednesday with additional crimes linked to Beren’s case.
“Free and fair elections are the hallmark of our democracy,” Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer A. Williams said in a statement on the superseding indictment in Myers’ case. “As such, there is zero tolerance for corruption of the electoral process.”
Last year, prosecutors accused Myers of paying another South Philly election judge to pad vote totals in his ward on behalf of candidates he was representing. That election judge, Domenick J. Demuro, pleaded guilty and is cooperating in the case against the former congressman.
The charges filed Wednesday against Beren mirror the accusations in the Demuro case. As was the case with him, she was charged by way of a criminal information, instead of an indictment, typically a sign that a defendant has already agreed to plead guilty.
The new allegations come as Republicans, led by former President Donald Trump, continue to assert without proof that he lost reelection last year due to cheating in places like heavily Democratic Philadelphia.
No evidence has surfaced of widespread voter fraud that has swayed any recent election. In Myers’ case, despite the seriousness of the allegations, prosecutors have not alleged that the votes purportedly added by Demuro and Beren in South Philadelphia’s 39th Ward were enough to tip the balance in their district, let alone the city, in favor of Myers’ preferred candidates.
City Commissioner Al Schmidt, a Republican who sits on the board that oversees Philadelphia elections, kick-started the investigation that led to the charges against Myers, Demuro, and Beren by making a referral to law enforcement after his office noticed statistical irregularities in vote totals from the 39th Ward.
To Schmidt, the criminal investigation is a sign that Philadelphia’s elections are secure, and not the other way around.
“It should give people confidence in the process that cases of voter fraud or voting irregularities are investigated and, when warranted, prosecuted,” he said. “It’s not an indication that something is widespread. It’s an indication of it being caught when it occurs.”
Prosecutors say it was Myers who recruited Beren, nearly three decades ago, to serve both as a Democratic committeeperson representing South Philadelphia and the judge of elections for the 39th Ward, 2nd Division.
Starting in 2010, Beren also effectively presided over two other divisions — the 11th and 16th — when their polling places were combined at Seafarer’s Union Hall at Fourth and Shunk Streets.
And though she stepped down in 2015 to become a certified poll watcher, prosecutors said she recruited her successor and other polling place staff and effectively still maintained control over voting for all three divisions.
This allowed her to pad votes for “various federal, state and local candidates for election” at Myers’ request, prosecutors said.
Myers, the court filings say, would drive her to the polling site on Election Day and advise her which candidates should have their vote totals padded. Prosecutors say Beren, in turn, steered people at the polls to vote for those candidates or added them herself in the name of people she knew were unlikely to show up to vote.
Meyers sometimes directed Beren in the middle of Election Day to shift her efforts from one of Myers’ preferred candidates to another if Myers “concluded that his first choice was comfortably ahead,” authorities said.
Beren also allowed voters at the polling place to cast ballots for relatives who did not plan to vote and encouraged them to support Myers’ candidates, prosecutors contend.
In the Demuro case, many of those candidates were running for Common Pleas Court judge.
Beren, who also worked as a constituent services representative in Squilla’s office up until last year, could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday, and it was not yet clear whether she had retained an attorney. An attorney for Myers did not return a request for comment.
She retired from the council office in September — a move that was unrelated to the criminal investigation, Squilla said. The councilmember said he inherited Beren as a staff member from his predecessor, former Councilmember Frank DiCicco.
“During the Ozzie Myers case, we had heard that they had interviewed committee people throughout the area, but did not think they were charging people,” said Squilla, who said he was never interviewed by investigators. “If things were done that weren’t supposed to be done, there are consequences to those types of actions.”
Read the Marie Beren information:
Read the Michael “Ozzie” Myers superseding indictment: