DA: Flyers were false

Published 1:55 am Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The investigation into allegations of voter registration fraud by Florala mayoral candidate Newton Peters is not over, despite rumors and flyers that state Peters was “cleared” of any residency complaint, District Attorney Greg Gambril told reporters yesterday.

Florala resident and previous mayoral candidate Jimmy Lassiter filed the complaint in September that alleged Peters and his wife committed voter fraud when they signed their voter registration forms stating they resided at a residence inside the city limits, when, in fact, they physically reside in a home outside of the city limits.

At a press conference Tuesday, Gambril confirmed an investigation into Lassiter’s complaint was under way, but said it had not reached a point at which Peters could be “cleared” of the allegations.

“This information wasn’t ever for publication that we were investigating the allegation,” Gambril said. “We didn’t want it to in any way impact the election; however, through the actions of an individual we felt we must address it.”

Gambril went on to read a flyer that was posted throughout residential areas and on the doors of Florala businesses in the evening hours before the election Tuesday.

“It reads ‘DA clears Peters on residency complaint.’ It says my office responded Monday to a complaint filed by Jimmy Lassiter concerning (Peters’s) residency in Florala,” Gambril said. “The complaint alleged Peters violated state law when he registered using a false address.

“Then it goes on to say that I called Lassiter about my office’s decision not to move forward on the charge and called to inform (Peters) he was clear from the residency complaint,” he said.

Before informing the crowd that had gathered inside the Covington County Courthouse of the conclusion of the investigation, Gambril explained how he arrived at his decision.

“This office was presented a packet by Jimmy Lassiter and in it there was a copy of Peters’s signed voter form, photos of his residence on Longview Avenue, copies of statute pertinent to the situation and newspaper clippings,” he said.

Gambril said Peters contends that since he has stated since qualifying for office that it is his “intent” to physically reside in Florala combined with his constant presence in the city — namely patronage at the stores in Florala, his family’s participation in the education process of the city and his involvement in activities in the city — he meets the qualifications of the office.

“Which brings us to this point,” he said. “What people don’t realize I think is that we’re dealing with two different issues — one is he a legal resident and the other is can he be mayor if elected? The only issue this office is concerned with is if a criminal act occurred — namely did Newton Peters commit voter fraud?

“What I can say is that at this time is that it appears that it was (Peters’s) honest to God belief that when he put his signature on that piece of paper it was not with the intent to defraud anyone — that we can prove,” he said. “As prosecutors, it’s our job to prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case, there isn’t sufficient evidence at this point.

“At this point, it’s the best decision I can make. You don’t make a final decision until you have all the information,” he said. “Right now, where we stood, we could not charge him with voter fraud.”

“Now that’s not to say (evidence) couldn’t come along at any time. Had there been, Newton Peters would have been placed in handcuffs and taken to jail on a felony charge,” he said.

Gambril said his office will continue to investigate the allegation since requested information has yet to be received from Peters’s attorney, the Alabama League of Municipalities and the attorney general’s office, which Peters claims substantiates his claim.