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Four Connecticut campaign workers accused of mishandling mail-in ballots in 2019 mayoral primary

A Democratic Party official implicated in an election scandal that led a judge to order a rerun of last year’s municipal elections in Connecticut’s largest city was arrested Tuesday and was charged along with a city council member and two campaign workers for mishandling mail-in ballots during another 2019 election.

Bridgeport Democratic City Committee Vice Chairwoman Wanda Geter-Pataky, City Council Member Alfredo Castillo and the two campaign workers were each charged with illegal possession of absentee ballots and other violations of the law electoral.

All four are accused of manipulating the mail-in voting system during the city’s 2019 Democratic primary, in which City Committee-backed incumbent Mayor Joe Ganim defeated state Sen. Marilyn Moore by only 270 votes.

Prosecutors said some of the defendants misled voters about eligibility requirements for absentee ballots, told people which candidates to vote for, were inappropriately not present when ballots were filled out and had violated the rules for processing applications for absentee ballots and the ballots themselves.

“I hope that these prosecutions send a message that deters any tampering with election results in Connecticut,” Chief State Attorney Patrick J. Griffin said in a written statement.

Geter-Pataky and the two workers, Nilsa Heredia and Josephine Edmonds, were also charged with witness tampering during the investigation. Prosecutors did not immediately say which candidates each of the four defendants supported.

Geter-Pataky did not immediately return a message seeking comment. His attorney, John Gulash, declined to comment on the allegations and said he was gathering information about the case.

A man who answered Castillo’s cell phone referred all calls to his attorney. A message was left for Dennis Bradley, a former attorney who represented Castillo in a previous case. An email was also sent to the City of Castillo email address.

Phone numbers listed for Edmonds and Heredia were not operational or went unanswered.

Although the accusations relate to the 2019 mayoral race, Geter-Pataky played a key role in another episode involving mail-in votes that upended the 2023 mayoral race.

A judge ordered a new election in the race between Ganim and John Gomes after surveillance videos surfaced showing people filling out multiple absentee ballots in outdoor collection boxes during the Democratic primary. Gomes maintained that one of those people who filled the boxes was Geter-Pataky.

At a court hearing in October, Geter-Pataky exercised his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions.

The videos have helped fuel skepticism about the security of U.S. elections, as well as conspiracy theories involving the 2020 presidential election.

Ganim has repeatedly denied knowledge of wrongdoing related to the polls. He was convicted of corruption during his first term as mayor, but regained his former position in elections after his release from prison.

“Whether it’s accused people from the Moore campaign or my campaign, any impropriety is unacceptable,” Ganim said in a statement after Tuesday’s arrests were announced. “We all agree that the integrity of the electoral process is vital to our democracy. »

Moore confirmed Tuesday that Edmonds was on her payroll for the 2019 campaign. While the senator said she remembered the woman’s name, Moore said she did not know who Edmonds was.

Moore, who is retiring from the state Senate, said she was disappointed that someone from her campaign was accused of mishandling ballots.

“I campaigned with integrity and I also demonstrated integrity during my Senate campaign. That’s what I tried to promote, integrity in all campaigns,” she said in an interview. “The fact that someone does the opposite bothers me, especially knowing who I am and knowing that I don’t skimp on anything.”

In the last race, Ganim was ultimately re-elected in an unusual general election held in February. He easily defeated Gomes, the city’s former interim chief administrative officer who originally went to court seeking a rerun of the primaries on the grounds that the initial result was tainted. It was the fourth consecutive time that Ganim defeated Gomes in a complicated race, including the canceled primary in September, the canceled general election in November and the resumption of primaries in January.

Tuesday’s arrests were years in the making.

The Secretary of State had sent a formal letter of referral regarding possible wrongdoing to the State Election Enforcement Commission after the September 2019 primary. The SEEC, however, did not forward evidence of conduct alleged criminal investigation that he had discovered to state prosecutors only on June 7, 2023.

In 2019, several voters sued to get a new primary election — which a judge ultimately rejected — because of reported problems with mail-in ballots in the tight race between Ganim and Moore. Nearly a dozen voters testified in court that they voted absentee even though they were not qualified to do so.

“Five years is way too long to pursue a case. Look at what’s happened since that thing in Bridgeport with the mail-in ballots,” Moore said, referring to irregularities surrounding local and state elections in Bridgeport. “They’re all affected by this because these people have continued to do something underhanded in all of these elections.”

Edmonds turned herself in to authorities Monday and the other three turned themselves in Tuesday, according to the district attorney’s office.

All four defendants were released on promises to appear in Bridgeport Superior Court on June 24.