OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
A federal grand jury has indicted a current city council member and former Amite City police chief, both Democrats, on allegations that they were part of a vote-buying scheme during a federal election five years ago.
Former police chief Jerry Trabona and city council member Kristian Hart both face charges that they brought voters to the polls, then paid them to cast ballots for certain candidates.
Both politicians were running for reelection at the time of the alleged crimes.
The pair both face multiple counts, each of which could get them up to five years in prison if convicted.
“According to the indictment, Trabona, 73, of Amite City, and Hart, 49, of Amite City, conspired to and did unlawfully pay voters to cast their ballots for certain candidates during the 2016 Open Primary Election and the 2016 Open General Election in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana. The indictment alleges that, in furtherance of the scheme, the conspirators solicited and hired individuals to identify potential voters, transported those voters to the polls where they were provided with the names and candidate numbers of candidates, and paid the voters to cast their ballots for candidates,” the U.S. Justice Department said in a press release.
“Trabona and Hart are each charged with conspiracy to buy votes and multiple counts of buying votes. The defendants are scheduled for their initial court appearance on Dec. 17 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Wells Roby of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. If convicted, they face a maximum penalty of five years in prison on each count,” the DOJ added.
“The Department of Justice also announced the guilty pleas of two additional Tangipahoa Parish residents for their involvement in vote-buying in Tangipahoa Parish during the 2016 election period: Sidney Smith, 68, of Amite City, and Calvin Batiste, 64, of Independence. Smith and Batiste each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to buy votes during the 2016 election,” the department continued.
“Smith pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Lance Africk on Nov. 29, and Batiste pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Martin L.C. Feldman on Dec. 8. Smith and Batiste both face a maximum penalty of five years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors,” the DOJ concluded.
The Department of Justice also announced two guilty pleas from two other Tangipahoa Parish residents during the 2016 election cycle.
“Sidney Smith, 68, of Amite City, and Calvin Batiste, 64, of Independence. Smith and Batiste each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to buy votes during the 2016 election,” the press release stated.