A former Pennsylvania congressman convicted in the 1970s Abscam investigation was charged Thursday as a result of new allegations that he bribed a poll worker to stuff ballot boxes in local elections.
Federal prosecutors said former U.S. Rep. Michael “Ozzie” Myers, now working as a campaign consultant, paid a South Philadelphia judge of elections to fraudulently add votes for candidates who had hired him for their races from 2014 to 2016.
The eight-count indictment details thousands of dollars he paid Election Judge Domenick DeMuro during the 2015 Democratic primary to pad vote counts for three candidates for Common Pleas Court, who did not know about the scheme.
Prosecutors did not identify the candidates, say whether they won election, or indicate whether the fraudulent votes were decisive. Still, the 40 fake ballots added by DeMuro accounted for 15% of the votes certified from the ward he oversaw.
The indictment hints at an ongoing investigation, broadly accusing Myers of conspiring with other unnamed election board officials and tampering with vote results for other favored candidates, including for local, state, and federal offices — including members of the U.S. House.
“If only one vote has been illegally rung up or fraudulently stuffed into a ballot box, the integrity of that entire election is undermined,” U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain said in a video statement outlining the case. “Votes are not things to be purchased, and democracy is not for sale.”
Myers, 77, did not return calls for comment Thursday. His attorneys, Noah Gorson and Arnold R. Silverstein, declined to comment.
The former congressman is expected to surrender next week for his first court appearance on counts including conspiring to violate voting rights, bribery of an election official, falsification of records, voting more than once in an election, and obstruction of justice. If convicted, he would face a maximum 20-year sentence on the most serious charge.
Myers spent three years in federal lockup in the early 1980s for his involvement in Abscam, a sprawling FBI investigation that involved agents posing as representatives of a sheikh offering cash in exchange for political favors. The probe netted bribery convictions against seven members of Congress, a New Jersey state senator, three Philadelphia city councilmembers, and the mayor of Camden.
The case brought an end to Myers’ electoral career and led to his expulsion from Congress, where he had served as the representative of the 1st Congressional District since 1976. But his career as a lawmaker is best know for the most enduring line to emerge from the sting operation.
“Money talks in this business and bulls— walks,” he told the agents on a 1979 FBI recording while accepting a $50,000 bribe.
Since his release from prison in 1985, Myers has refashioned himself as one of the go-to political consultants for candidates looking to navigate the intricacies of ward politics in South Philadelphia.
He’s advised clients ranging from judicial candidates to Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, whose work with Myers drew scrutiny from federal agents as part of the 2016 investigation that led to the corruption indictment of labor leader John J. Dougherty. Dougherty has pleaded not guilty.
Operatives like him hold influence with ward leaders and committee people across the city, and can often make the difference on whether candidates in down-ballot races, like judicial elections, show up on sample ballots of endorsed candidates distributed at polling locations.
Several of Myers’ past judicial clients, interviewed earlier this year, said that while they weren’t sure what he did with the money they paid him, and they were advised it was helpful to put him on their campaign payroll.
,The Inquirer first identified Myers in May as the then-unnamed campaign consultant accused of bribing DeMuro in court documents surrounding the election judge’s guilty plea.
His connections run deep in the 39th Ward’s 36th Division — the area DeMuro oversaw, which lies east of Broad Street to 12th Street from Oregon Avenue to the Schuylkill Expressway.
Myers’ brother, Matthew, is the Democratic leader of Ward 39B. His nephew Jonathan “J.R.” Rowan holds the same position in Ward 39A, and ran unsuccessfully for the state House in 2018.
The alleged “ballot stuffing” scheme served as yet another mechanism by which Myers bolstered his control over his family’s political fiefdom, prosecutors said Thursday.
It “enabled him to take credit for the electoral successes of his Philadelphia-based clients and preferred candidates, secure his standing in local party politics that enabled him to control and influence the 39th Ward, and influence the distribution of local patronage jobs,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric L. Gibson wrote in court filings.
DeMuro, who pleaded guilty to election fraud charges in March, has been cooperating with the FBI ever since agents confronted him in October 2016 and recorded Myers during two election cycles as they discussed what the former congressman described as “ringing up votes.”
In excerpts of those conversations quoted in Thursday’s indictment, Myers allegedly instructed DeMuro on how to hide the bribes he was receiving — including providing fictitious names to be put on checks.
“I’m gonna get you a couple checks, there’s no question about that,” the former congressman told DeMuro in one conversation quoted in court papers. “If you want to give me a different name than Domenick DeMuro, that’s your business.”
Myers also allegedly explained that he wouldn’t be able to pay the bribes until the deadline had passed for his clients’ last campaign finance report prior to primary election.
“You don’t want to be on any [candidate’s campaign finance] report May 7 when the election is May 16,” the indictment quotes him as saying.
In one case described by prosecutors, Myers cut a $1,000 bribe check made out to DeMuro’s wife during the 2017 Democratic primary campaign. Little did he know DeMuro was working for the feds at the time.
The money was later listed as payment for “get out the vote” efforts on the campaign finance reports of Viktoria Kristiansson, who was running for the spot she now holds as a Common Pleas Court judge.
Kristiansson paid Myers $5,000 for campaign consulting work that year — one of at least five judicial candidates who hired him to do so, according to campaign finance records.
Prosecutors did not name her in Myers’ court filings or suggest she had committed a crime. Kristiansson did not return calls for comment Thursday.
Read the indictment:
Staff writer Chris Brennan contributed to this article.