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South Philly judge of elections admits he took bribes to stuff the ballot box for Democratic candidates

Domenick DeMuro, a Democratic ward leader, pleaded guilty to inflating vote counts for help candidates for judge.

US Attorney William M. McSwain announcing the guilty plea of former Philadelphia election judge Domenick J. DeMuro.
US Attorney William M. McSwain announcing the guilty plea of former Philadelphia election judge Domenick J. DeMuro.Read moreU.S. Attorney's Office

Editor’s Note: This article is from May 2020. You can find live updates about the Nov. 2020 general election here.

A former judge of elections and Democratic committeeperson from South Philadelphia has pleaded guilty to accepting thousands of dollars in bribes to inflate the vote totals for three Democratic candidates for Common Pleas Court judge in 2015, and for other Democratic candidates for office in 2014 and 2016, U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain announced Thursday.

Domenick J. DeMuro, 73, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to deprive Philadelphia voters of their civil rights by fraudulently stuffing the ballot boxes for the judicial candidates and for other candidates seeking office in the 2014 and 2016 primary elections. And he admitted violating the Travel Act, which forbids the use of a cell phone to promote illegal activity, McSwain’s office said.

DeMuro, who could not be reached for comment, was paid between $300 and $5,000 for each election, the office said.

“Our election system relies on the honesty and the integrity of its election officials. If they are corrupt, the system is corrupt, which creates opportunities for election fraud and for the counting of fake votes,” McSwain said in a video-recorded statement sent to news outlets.

“DeMuro fraudulently stuffed the ballot box by literally standing in a voting booth and voting over and over, as fast as he could, while he thought the coast was clear. This is utterly reprehensible conduct. The charges announced today do not erase what he did, but they do ensure that he is held to account for those actions,” McSwain added.

He did not name the candidates and did not say if they won their elections.

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DeMuro admitted that a political consultant — whose name prosecutors did not reveal — paid him to add votes for Democratic candidates running for the bench and other federal, state, and local offices, prosecutors said.

The consultant, who is a former elected official, took fees from the candidates and used part of the money to pay DeMuro, a judge of elections in the 36th Division of the 39th Ward, they said.

In May 2014, DeMuro inflated vote totals by adding 27 fraudulent ballots in the primary election, 40 votes in May 2015, and 46 in 2016, according to court documents outlining the scheme and the charges against him.

While those numbers may seem small, prosecutors said, they made up a significant percentage of the total votes cast at the polling place. In 2014, 118 total ballots were reported there, which means that DeMuro’s fraudulent votes accounted for over 22% of the total voting in that division in 2014. In 2015, his fraud accounted for over 15% of the votes in the division; in 2016, his fraud accounted for over 17% of the votes.

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Al Schmidt, vice chairman of the Office of Philadelphia City Commissioners, which runs elections, said his office found that DeMuro’s 36th Division had a history of more votes being cast on machines than the number of voters who signed poll books. His said his office referred the division’s troubling vote numbers from 2014 and 2015 to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

“It was pretty flagrant, and it was repeated again and again. It was a source of frustration for me because it kept occurring again and again,” he said of DeMuro’s division.

Of the city’s 1,703 voting divisions, Schmidt said, the Commissioners Office flags voting irregularities in about six divisions in each election and refers them to law enforcement.

“We take election integrity seriously. That’s why we’ve been referring these cases since I first came into office in 2012,” he said.

DeMuro, who pleaded guilty in March in a sealed proceeding before U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond, faces up to 15 years in federal prison when sentenced June 30.

His lawyer, Janine Vinci, declined to comment Thursday.

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In a statement, FBI Special Agent Michael J. Driscoll denounced DeMuro’s actions.

“Domenick DeMuro put a thumb on the scale for certain candidates, in exchange for bribes,” he said. “As public trust in the electoral process is vital, the FBI’s message today is clear: election interference of any kind, by hostile foreign actors or dishonest local officials, won’t be tolerated."

The investigation is ongoing and those with information on election fraud are asked to contact the FBI, he said.

Staff writer Jeremy Roebuck contributed to this article.