The feds didn’t make Stat Smith do the perp walk. There were no handouts of him stuffing absentee ballots down his pants, let alone into mailboxes. Hey, it’s not as if he’s Chuck Turner or Dianne Wilkerson or anything.
Stephen “Stat” Smith is the state representative from Everett. Or at least he was until last Tuesday, when he tendered his resignation as part of a plea bargain with federal prosecutors after he got caught passing around absentee ballots the way other people in Everett hand out football cards. House Speaker Bob DeLeo has got to find someone to take Stat’s place on the Joint Committee on Election Laws.
You can’t make this stuff up.
In exchange for his plea, prosecutors will recommend that Stat spend six months in some Club Fed, instead of the maximum two years he faces for engaging in what the US criminal code calls the Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law and what the rest of us call fixing elections.
Reading the charges and the plea agreement leads to only two possible conclusions: Either Stat rolled and pointed the finger at others, or a two-year investigation by the FBI in which a staggering number of Everett residents were hauled before a grand jury has ended with a resounding thud.
Since when does manipulating elections amount to a misdemeanor? Come to think of it, since when does the FBI bother itself with misdemeanors?
The FBI referred questions to the office of US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, where her spokeswoman Christina Sterling-DiIorio said, “I cannot comment on how we arrive at our charging decisions.”
OK, well, is Stat cooperating against others accused of manipulating ballots?
“No comment,” she said.
Stat’s lawyers, Peter Bellotti and Peter Horstmann, were more forthcoming, insisting that their client is not cooperating with the government and is not pointing the finger at anyone else. According to them, this is as far as it goes.
“The government got it right,” said Horstmann. “This was a misdemeanor. It didn’t turn out to be what they thought it was.”
What the FBI thought it was was the wholesale fixing of elections in a city where politics is a blood sport and character assassination is high art.
Fred Foresteire, the Everett school superintendent, isn’t buying it.
“Stat didn’t do this alone,” said Foresteire, who with the Everett School Committee was among those who first publicly demanded that someone investigate why voters in Everett take out absentee ballots at a rate from two to four times higher than other municipalities.
Indeed, the charges against Stat say “one or more government officials assisted Smith in tracking the absentee ballots and/or intercepting those absentee ballots prior to their delivery to the voters. In those cases, the absentee ballots were cast for the unaware voters.”
The plea agreement, meanwhile, states that Stat “was an organizer or leader of a criminal activity that involved five or more participants.” Stat not only arranged for his whole family to vote by absentee ballot, he made sure ballots got mailed to the various buildings he owns. By some counts, there were upward of 60 ballots delivered to his properties.
Foresteire shakes his head.
“How can manipulating elections be considered a misdemeanor?” he said.
John Hanlon asks the same question. Hanlon, the former mayor of Everett, challenged Stat for the state rep seat in 2010 in one of the three elections Stat admits to fooling around with absentee ballots. Hanlon lost by 394 votes in an election in which 778 of the 4,316 ballots cast were absentee. In that race alone, 18 percent of the ballots were absentee, while in other cities and towns 5 percent is typical.
“I’ll never know if I lost fair and square,” Hanlon said.
Hanlon calls the current system a joke, putting the onus on candidates to prove voter fraud without giving them access to the ballots. He’s guessing that someone like him, who has been engaged in Everett politics for half a century, would be better positioned to figure out if something is fishy than a federal investigator whose only knowledge of Everett is that it produces dang good high school football teams.
Hanlon thinks the feds let Stat cop to a sweet deal.
“He’s protecting someone else,” Hanlon said.
Horstmann, Stat’s lawyer, acknowledges that conspiracy theorizing is second only to football as a favorite pastime in Everett but says those theories are wrong.
“Stat has not spoken to the government,” he said. “He has no intention of doing so.”
Hanlon spent $37,000 of his own money running against Stat three years ago. He threw out all of his signs and campaign paraphernalia in disgust after the election.
“Now I have to go out and buy all new stuff,” he said ruefully.
Hanlon is now one of many who are running for Stat’s suddenly empty State House seat.
Should be fun to count how many absentee ballots are cast in the special election primary in March. Stat wasn’t the only pol in Everett who got out the absentee vote.
Stat never got around to returning my calls. Everybody in Everett claims he’s sweating it out. In Florida. On Friday, he’s due in federal court for his plea hearing. As part of his plea bargain, he agreed not to run for office for five years. But don’t worry about Stat. He owns a lot of property, including that building on Church Street where all those absentee ballots got sent.
If they ever get a casino built in Everett, they should hire Stat. He’s good with numbers.Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.