Philadelphia has a long, unfortunate history of election fraud, so the latest federal criminal charges of election fraud against Marie Beren, a former staffer for City Council member Mark Squilla, are no surprise. 

They are probably also a disappointment to opponents of election reform who constantly claim there is no such thing as election fraud.

Jennifer Arbittier Williams, the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, has filed four counts against Beren, including voting more than once in a federal election, conspiring to illegally vote in a federal election and to deprive persons of their civil rights, and aiding and abetting the submission of fraudulent ballots. 

According to the criminal “information” filed in federal court, Beren was recruited and appointed to be an official “election judge” responsible for overseeing and managing three different divisions (polling places) inside the 39th Ward in Philadelphia by a political consultant and former elected official identified only as “Consultant #1.” 

Beren served in this position from 1988 to 2015. She officially stepped down in 2015 to become a “certified poll watcher” and installed someone else to take her position. But according to the criminal information, Beren still ran things behind the scenes through 2019, continuing “to effectively run all three Divisions.” 

In fact, Beren recruited and installed all of the election officials working in those polling locations. 

The way this fraud unfolded, according to the Justice Department, is that Consultant #1 would give “Beren directions to add fraudulent votes to candidates supported by Consultant #1, including candidates for judicial office whose campaigns actually hired Consultant #1, and other candidates for various federal, state, and local elective offices.” 

After getting her instructions from Consultant #1, Beren would “cast fraudulent votes” in her polling places “on behalf of voters she knew would not physically appear at the polls.” 

Beren would also give Consultant #1 reports on how many “legit votes” had been cast as Election Day was progressing, and then either add fewer fraudulent votes if regular turnout was high, or more fraudulent votes if turnout was low. 

Consultant #1 would also tell Beren to “shift her efforts from one of Consultant #1’s preferred candidates to another,” depending on how voting was going during the day.

Beren would “also permit and encourage individual voters … to cast ballots” for absent family members and would tell them which candidates to vote for.  With the help of her installed staff—the officials working in the polls—she is alleged to have falsified registration lists in each polling place to record that the voters she was submitting fraudulent ballots for had actually appeared at the polling places. 

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This election fraud scheme is said to have been carried out in both primary and general elections and involved local, state, and federal candidates. No wonder Philadelphia officials were so hostile to poll watchers in last year’s election.

Although Consultant #1 is not identified, it is likely that it’s Michael “Ozzie” Myers, a political consultant and former congressman who was indicted last summer by the same U.S. Attorney’s Office for paying bribes to another Philadelphia election official to also stuff ballot boxes with bogus votes for Democratic candidates.

Myers was expelled from Congress and sentenced to three years in prison in the 1980s after being convicted of accepting a bribe in the Abscam scandal, the FBI sting operation that targeted members of Congress with a fake Arab sheikh offering them bribes. 

Hollywood even made a movie about the Abscam scandal called “American Hustle.” Myers was caught on tape, after accepting an envelope full of cash, saying, “I’m going to tell you something, real simple and short.  Money talks in this business, and bulls— walks. And it works the same way down in Washington.” 

If Consultant #1 is indeed Myers, then it would seem that he doesn’t seem to have learned his lesson from his prior bribery conviction.

The other Philadelphia election official who already pleaded guilty to accepting bribes to stuff ballot boxes with fraudulent ballots is Domenick Demuro. The Justice Department press release on his case said that Demuro “admitted that a local political consultant gave him directions and paid him money to add votes for candidates supported by the consultant, including candidates for judicial office whose campaign actually hired the consultant, and other candidates for various federal, state, and local elective offices.” 

Sound familiar?

The case against Myers is still pending. What we don’t know yet is just how big this voter-fraud conspiracy was. One election official has pleaded guilty to stuffing ballot boxes in his precinct, and another has been charged with stuffing ballot boxes in three different precincts.

Both cases involved fraud in multiple elections with bogus votes being submitted for local, state, and federal candidates. 

Myers obviously is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, as is Beren. But assuming all of these charges are true, the real question is whether Myers’ clients—the local, state, and federal candidates—had any knowledge of what he was doing or whether any of their campaign funds used to pay Myers for his political consultancy were used to pay these bribes.

We will have to wait to find out the answers to these questions. But for anyone who doubts that fraud occurs in our elections—particularly in Philadelphia—this should be a wake-up call to the seriousness of this problem.

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