City Attorney Pete Holmes’ office filed the misdemeanor charges against Sheley Secrest. A police investigation began after Secrest’s former campaign manager accused her of trying to defraud the vouchers program. Secrest has strongly denied any wrongdoing.
A former City Council candidate has been criminally charged on allegations she tried to cheat Seattle’s first-in-the-nation “democracy vouchers” program.
City Attorney Pete Holmes’ office filed the misdemeanor false-reporting and attempted-theft charges Wednesday against Sheley Secrest, an attorney and a vice president of the local NAACP chapter.
“We look forward to the opportunity to defend against these allegations,” Jennifer Miller, a lawyer representing Secrest, said Thursday.
The C is for Crank blog first reported the charges.
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Late last year, a Seattle police detective recommended charging Secrest for false reporting.
Detective Lawrence Meyer’s investigation concluded that Secrest — seeking to qualify for up to $150,000 in taxpayer-funded vouchers — appeared to put her own money into her campaign while claiming it had been donated by Seattle voters.
Secrest was running for Position 8 on the council, a citywide seat. She did not qualify for vouchers and did not advance past the Aug. 1 primary election, finishing sixth with 4.5 percent of the vote.
The Seattle Times later in August reported that police were investigating Secrest’s campaign. The inquiry came after the campaign’s former manager, Patrick Burke, accused Secrest of trying to defraud the vouchers program.
At the time, Secrest strongly denied any wrongdoing. She dismissed Burke’s accusation as a fabrication by a disgruntled employee whom she had fired.
The police investigation supported Burke’s claim.
For the first time last year, each Seattle voter received $100 in vouchers, which they could donate to city candidates. To qualify for the voucher money, candidates were required to collect small contributions and signatures from at least 400 voters.
The detective contacted nine voters Secrest reported as donors to her campaign, and all nine told him they hadn’t contributed, according to his report.
The Times had reached three of those voters and two others in August. All five said they hadn’t given money to Secrest’s campaign.
“There are problems with Seattle’s voucher program that need to be fixed,” said Miller, Secrest’s lawyer.
“While the idea behind the program is a good one, the nuts and bolts of how it should work need to be tightened. This program is the first of its kind in the nation. It has kinks that need to be worked out.”
Secrest’s first court appearance will be Feb. 21, her lawyer said.
The false-reporting charge is a gross misdemeanor, said a spokeswoman for the city attorney. That carries a maximum penalty of up to 364 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
The attempted-theft charge is a misdemeanor, the spokeswoman said. That carries a maximum penalty of up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
The charges against Secrest date to last June. That’s when Secrest, trying to qualify for voucher money, submitted 56 signatures to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission — each accompanied by a $10 donation.
According to Burke, the campaign manager, those donations were bogus. Burke said he had been sitting in a car with Secrest when she took out an envelope full of $20 bills.
The candidate, according to Burke, said, “That’s $560” and filled in a $10 donation next to each of 56 signatures. When Burke asked where the money had come from, she replied, “off my credit card,” he said.
Secrest strongly denied the story.