Couple sentenced in crime syndicate case

A Clay County couple who owned and operated a local sanitation company were sentenced Friday to long prison terms for their role in a criminal enterprise that made millions of dollars and sought control of the politics in the county.

U.S. District Court Judge Danny C. Reeves sentenced 52-year-old William B. Morris to 240 months and 51-year-old Debra L. Morris to 120 months for conspiracy to buy votes, racketeering and money laundering.

Both defendants conspired with the circuit court judge and other county officials to buy votes during the 2002, 2004, and 2006 election cycles.

The couple bought votes for individuals running for city council because those council candidates controlled contracts related to their sanitation company to perform city work. The company was given millions of dollars worth of contracts as a result of the criminal enterprise.

As part of the conspiracy, the couple played a key role in the vote buying process. They kept hundreds of thousands of dollars, pooled by other co-conspirators to buy votes, at a safe in their home.

Both defendants distributed some of that money to absentee voters and to other conspirators to buy votes. They also transported voters to the courthouse where other co-defendants stole their votes.

Evidence also showed that William Morris violently assaulted one member of the scheme over a dispute regarding a vote bribe. In addition, he brandished a firearm at a co-defendant in a similar dispute.

Last March, a jury convicted the couple and six others for their roles in the criminal enterprise. The jury further found that the eight defendants were jointly liable for $3.4 million that represented the salaries and contracts they received as a result of the conspiracies.

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