Criminal prosecution anticipated in District 9 case, Wake County DA says

Political News
Mark Harris Dan McCready

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Following the state Board of Elections hearing on fraud in the 9th Congressional district, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman says she expects to take the case before a grand jury in the next month.

Freeman said that case largely focuses on the 2016 general and 2018 primary elections, knowing the state was conducting its own investigation into the 2018 general election.

“I think it is fair to say at this point that a criminal prosecution should be anticipated,” said Freeman in an interview with CBS17. “It has taken time. It is detailed work. But, I feel confident we will at the end of the day be able to present something that the public will feel satisfied that justice has been sought and obtained.”

After months of saying he should be seated in Congress, Republican Mark Harris walked into the hearing room Thursday and abruptly called for a new election.

“Through the testimony I’ve listened to over the past three days, I believe a new election should be called. It’s become clear to me that the public’s confidence in the 9th district seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted,” he said.

State investigators say Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless ran an “absentee ballot scheme” in which his employees paid people to register for absentee ballots but would then collect those ballots and take them Dowless.

Harris denied knowing about that activity, but his son John testified that he warned his father in April 2017 about his concerns regarding Dowless.

Harris led Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in November when the Board of Elections declined to certify the results of the race and ordered an investigation.

“I imagine that the district attorney’s office and the U.S. Attorney will probably be picking things up,” McCready said Friday at a gathering with supporters.

While Freeman confirmed some details about what her office is doing, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon declined to comment.

Freeman said she followed this week’s hearing closely.

Even as it took place, she said investigators were in Bladen County continuing to gather evidence.

“This is also an investigation, quite frankly, and I think you saw some of that this week, that has changed and evolved as it has been going on,” she said, noting the Bladen County district attorney referred the case to her office a little over a year ago.

“It certainly has been one of the most, if not the most, time-consuming investigations I’ve been involved in since I have been here,” she said.

Freeman said she will seek the evidence presented at this week’s hearing from the Board of Elections as well as other material investigators have gathered.

While the grand jury will initially hear evidence from the 2016 general and 2018 primary elections, she hopes to wrap up the investigation into the November 2018 general election in the next few months.

“It’s hard to project how long it’ll take for us to go through that information,” she said.

All the witnesses at this week’s hearing testified voluntarily, including some who did not have attorneys.

“There were no offers of immunity going into this week’s hearing,” said Freeman.

Lisa Britt, McCrae Dowless’s stepdaughter, testified for hours about the details of the absentee ballot operation in Bladen County, saying she got paid to collect absentee ballots and bring them to Dowless.

She also said she filled in some ballots in races that voters left blank. She said that did not include the races for Congress or sheriff.

“I think you saw some individuals who were likely taken advantage of,” said Freeman.

She also noted the investigation includes any violations of campaign finance laws.

When asked how Mark Harris factors into her investigation, she said, “I think we have tried to say from the beginning that not only are we focused on and interested in trying to get to the bottom of what, if any, illegal activity was involved in what clearly appear to be irregular handling of absentee ballots, but also as to who might have been funding that and what did they know?”

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