Philadelphia has a poor history of electoral failures. fraudSo the most recent federal criminal chargesIt is not surprising that Marie Beren, a former City Council member Mark Squilla staffer, was accused of election fraud.
They are also likely to disappoint opponents of election reform, who continue to claim there is no election fraud.
Jennifer Arbittier Williams is the acting U.S. prosecutor for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. She has filed four counts against Beren.
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.”
From 1988 to 2015, Beren held this position. 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.”
Beren actually recruited all of the election officials who were working in these polling places and placed them.
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.
This election fraud scheme involved federal, state, and local candidates. It is believed to have been perpetrated in both primary elections and general elections. 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 by Congress and sentenced in 1980 to three years imprisonment for accepting a bribe as part of the Abscam scandal, an FBI sting operation that targeted Congress members 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.
Domenick demuro, another Philadelphia election official who pleaded guilty in the past to accepting bribes for stuffing ballot boxes with fraudulent ballots, is now on probation. 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.”
Myers’ case remains pending. What we don’t know yet is just how big this voter-fraud conspiracy was. One election official pleaded guilty to stuffing the ballot boxes in his precinct and another was charged with stuffing the ballot boxes in three other precincts.
Both cases involved fraud in multiple electoral elections, with bogus ballots being submitted for candidates at local, state, federal levels.
Myers, like Beren is presumed innocent unless proven guilty. 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.
These questions will be answered over time. 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.
You have an opinion on this article? Send an email to let us know your opinion. [email protected] and we’ll consider publishing your edited remarks in our regular “We Hear You” feature. Be sure to include the article’s URL, headline, and your name.