A former Republican candidate for state representative pleaded not guilty to 12 criminal counts relating to voter fraud at his arraignment Wednesday in Hampden Superior Court in Springfield.
Enrico John Villamaino III is accused of masterminding a scheme alongside his wife, Courtney Llewellyn, to secretly change the party affiliation of more than 280 people and cast absentee ballots on their behalf, hoping to tip in his favor in September’s Republican primary for the state representative seat in the Second Hampden District, prosecutors said.
Villamaino, 35, and Llewellyn, 27, are each charged with nine felony counts of manipulation of the absentee voter system, as well as one count each of illegal voting, larceny under $250 for the theft of the absentee ballots, and interfering with election officials. Each felony count carries a maximum five-year prison sentence and fines of up to $10,000. The larceny and interfering charges are misdemeanors, Hampden District Attorney Mark G. Mastroianni said.
Villamaino, of East Longmeadow, was arrested at his MBTA job in Boston Tuesday and taken to the town’s police station. At his arraignment, he was ordered held on $10,000 cash bail, Mastroianni said. By late Wednesday afternoon, Villamaino had yet to post bail.
Llewellyn pleaded not guilty at her arraignment Tuesday, and was released on personal recognizance, but was ordered to report to the Probation Department five days a week, said Mastroianni, adding that the suspects are due back in court for a pretrial hearing Jan. 10.
Villamaino’s attorney, L. Jeffrey Meehan, could not be reached for comment.
Prosecutors allege that in August, Villamaino asked Llewellyn, his girlfriend at the time and a volunteer at the East Longmeadow town clerk’s office, to change the party registrations of hundreds of voters from Democrat to unenrolled, making them eligible to participate in the Republican primary. The two then requested absentee ballots for those voters without their knowledge, Mastroianni said.
In a violation of elections procedure, Villamaino, an active candidate, and Llewellyn were allowed to get absentee ballots that they said they would mail to the voters whose affiliation had been changed, Mastroianni said. Instead, they intended to fill in the ballots themselves, in favor of Villamaino.
The scheme was detected by the attorney of Villamaino’s Republican opponent, Marie Angelides, while gathering information about Republicans who had requested absentee ballots for the primary.
When some of those voters were contacted, they said they had not requested absentee ballots and were not Republicans.
Secretary of State William F. Galvin was alerted, and his office sent letters to all affected East Longmeadow residents asking them to confirm whether they had changed party affiliation and requested absentee ballots. It did not take long for calls from alarmed residents to pour in to Galvin’s office.
The absentee ballots were intercepted and the party affiliations of the more than 280 voters reinstated.
On Aug. 22, days after reports of the investigation appeared, Villamaino abruptly resigned from the East Longmeadow Board of Selectmen, where he had served since 2007.
Villamaino and Llewellyn married several weeks ago amid the investigation in an alleged attempt “to frustrate the investigation,” presumably to invoke spousal privilege in the event prosecutors tried to get one to testify against the other, Mastroianni said.
Mastroianni said witnesses allegedly saw Villamaino a couple of hours before his wedding searching online about how to secure an annulment or divorce.
Investigators also seized Villamaino’s computer hard drive, he said.Katheleen Conti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.