PIKEVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A federal grand jury has indicted a candidate for prosecutor in northeastern Kentucky on charges of election voter fraud related to the May primary, authorities said Friday.
It was the ninth resident of Bath County, about 110 miles northwest of Pikeville, to be charged with vote fraud this year.
Donald "Champ" Maze, 46, of Owingsville, who defeated incumbent Bath County Attorney Kim Price in the Democratic primary, was charged Thursday with soliciting vote buying and obstructing justice. Maze has no opposition in the November general election.
In Kentucky, the county attorney prosecutes misdemeanor criminal cases.
Prestonsburg attorney Janet Stumbo said in written statement on Friday that Maze is innocent and will plead not guilty to the charges.
"From our investigation into this matter, we believe this indictment was returned in order to unfairly pressure Champ Maze into revealing information that the prosecution incorrectly believes he had about other individuals," Stumbo said. "To this end, we believe this is an abuse of the judicial process."
Federal prosecutors allege that Maze, husband of Circuit Judge Beth Maze, paid two women $100 each to add his name to a slate of candidates for whom they were paying people to vote. In addition, prosecutors claim that Donald Maze coached the women on how to avoid implicating him in their grand jury testimony.
"This case was the outgrowth of previous indictments in Bath County," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Taylor. "This was pretty open and notorious and brazen conduct in Bath County in the spring, and we'll be watching them closely in the fall."
Before the primary election, Maze's wife, the circuit judge, called vote-buying in Bath County a problem that is hard to prove.
"At this point, I don't know who is exactly behind it, but you can stand at the courthouse and see what's going on," she said in an interview in May. "Many people see their vote as a commodity, as something they can sell."
Phone calls to the Maze residence in Owingsville went unanswered Friday. The couple did not return messages left at their offices.
Eight other residents, including a candidate for judge-executive, were indicted in July for vote-buying schemes. Federal prosecutors alleged that they helped voters cast absentee ballots under false pretenses.
Danny Michael Swartz, who ran against Judge-Executive Walter Shrout and Harold Hunt in the May 16 primary, was charged with conspiracy and buying votes. Shrout won the primary.
Seven others were charged with conspiracy and buying votes in the primaries for judge-executive and county attorney.
Bath County Clerk Glen Thomas told the Associated Press in a May 11 interview that he alerted federal and state investigators to his district after watching hundreds of absentee ballots roll in that week.
"Looks like a lot of vote-buying going on," Thomas said at the time.
A total of 525 voters cast absentee ballots in Bath County within the two weeks before the primary.
The number of absentee ballots cast this year in Bath County was nearly double the 239 reported during the primary in 2002, the last major election year.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)