CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The political mudslinging goes on in Mingo County as a county commissioner alleges in a letter to the Secretary of State’s office that his opponent has been driving residents to the polls and then paying them with checks or a steak dinner — accusations his challenger denies.
In a May 9 letter to Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, Mingo Commissioner Greg “Hootie” Smith claimed that his opponent, Lonnie Hannah, and his political teammates rented a van and “have been hauling individuals all week to early voting.”
“… my opponent and his van drivers are providing the individuals riding the van with $50.00 checks from his campaign committee or, in the alternative, driving said individuals to my opponent’s family-owned restaurant for a steak dinner after they vote,” Smith wrote.
In his letter, Smith also alleges that Hannah purchased billboard space from Fairway Outdoors at a cost of $1,031.25 in January for his political ally Jim Harvey, who is running for magistrate.
According to those financial documents, Hannah accepted $1,031.25 from Harvey’s campaign on Feb. 19 as reimbursement for the billboard. Harvey’s campaign financial reports showed the campaign paid Fairway Outdoors directly for the billboard on Feb. 14 instead of reimbursing Hannah.
Hannah, the former Mingo sheriff, is running against Smith for a spot on the county commission.
Della Cline-Gentile, Hannah’s attorney, contacted the Daily Mail Sunday evening on Hannah’s behalf. She said Hannah was never served with any kind of complaint and that Smith’s allegations have not been verified by Tennant’s office.
She said this is a oft-used tactic by Smith and that he had been “shopping” the letter around in the media and that it was a misdemeanor offense for him to do so. She provided a statement from Hannah via email.
“The May 9, 2014 letter to Natalie Tennant is a desperate attempt from Team Mingo’s Treasurer, Greg “Hootie” Smith to maintain power and control over the people of Mingo County,” Hannah said in the emailed statement. “Smith’s complaint is not under oath as required by law, and contains false allegations.
“I never gave candidate Harvey a campaign contribution nor have I violated any elections laws regarding campaign workers. However, by disclosing his false complaint to the press, Smith has committed a misdemeanor offense and ‘upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not less than $1,000, nor more than $5,000, and shall be confined in jail not less than six months nor more than one year.’ West Virginia Code 3-8-8(3)(i).”
“I trust the citizens of Mingo County will get rid of the last remnants of Team Mingo by voting its treasurer, Greg ‘Hootie’ Smith, out of office,” Hannah said.
The Secretary of State’s office investigates all complaints and takes appropriate action when needed, but is prohibited by state law from commenting on investigations, spokesman Jake Glance said in an email.
“Protecting the integrity of our elections and upholding the rights of West Virginia voters is my number one priority,” Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said in an emailed statement. “My office investigates any and all election law complaints swiftly and thoroughly and takes appropriate action to prosecute violations.”
Because both are Democrats and there is no Republican in the race, Tuesday’s primary election will determine the winner. There are different factions within the Mingo County Democratic Party.
Smith told the Daily Mail last week that the mudslinging had begun. Two campaign ads have tied Smith to disgraced Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury, who schemed with former Prosecutor Michael Sparks to keep a man from talking to the FBI about slain Sheriff Eugene Crum’s drug activity. Both Thornsbury and Sparks have pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges.
Former Mingo County Commissioner Dave Baisden also was mentioned in that scheme, but was sentenced to 20 months in federal prison on an unrelated charge after trying to extort services from the county’s tire provider.
Former Mingo Magistrate Dallas “Big Dal” Toler pleaded guilty to registering a felon to vote.
Thornsbury, Sparks, Toler, Baisden and Crum all were members of the political action committee “Team Mingo” and Smith served as the PAC’s treasurer. He said the PAC closed with the Secretary of State after the 2012 elections.
Smith said last week that Hannah is trying to accuse him of the same crimes the others committed. He said he has cooperated with federal investigators.
“My opponent wants people not to vote for me because of the actions of others,” he said then. “People can judge me and decide if they want to vote for me based on my record, not based on others.”
Attempts to reach Smith were unsuccessful Sunday afternoon.
Election Day is Tuesday.
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In other Mingo County news, former Williamson Mayor Darrin McCormick will enter a plea this week to a federal charge of lying to federal investigators.
Last month, federal prosecutors charged McCormick in a one-count information with making false statements to the FBI and IRS. The information alleges he lied to investigators looking into suspicious banking activities of Aracoma Contracting LLC at the Bank of Mingo.
In February, Aracoma was sentenced to three years probation, ordered to pay $4 million in restitution and forfeit $405,000 for its role in a scheme involving the bank.
McCormick, who used to work at Bank of Mingo, resigned as mayor last month. FBI Special Agent James Lafferty has stated in federal court documents he thought McCormick helped Aracoma in a structuring scheme.
McCormick is scheduled to enter a plea before U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Writer Andrea Lannom contributed to this report.
Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at email@example.com or 304-348-4850.