Three years after a petition scandal rocked the reelection campaign of D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, prosecutors are moving forward with criminal charges against three campaign workers accused of violating city election laws.
The D.C. attorney general's office filed misdemeanor charges against Scott Bishop Sr., who oversaw Williams's signature drive, and Bishop's son, Scott Bishop Jr., and daughter-in-law, Crystal Bishop. The cases mark the only prosecutions to come out of an investigation into forgeries and other problems with the mayor's nominating petitions in 2002.
Attorney General Robert J. Spagnoletti filed the charges this summer without issuing public statements. His office took over the case after federal prosecutors declined to pursue charges.
The three campaign workers are charged with various offenses involving election fraud and making false statements, authorities said. Scott Bishop Jr., 36, and Crystal Bishop, 41, have pleaded not guilty; Scott Bishop Sr., 57, has not been arraigned.
David Wilmot, an attorney for Scott Bishop Sr., said the three family members are not guilty of criminal wrongdoing.
The charges recall a tumultuous time for the mayor, who in 2002 was seeking his second term. The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics took him off the Democratic primary ballot that year, saying that though he apparently had more than the 2,000 valid signatures that were required, most were collected by campaign workers who might have violated city election law. The board later levied a $277,700 fine against the mayor's campaign. Williams won the primary as a write-in candidate and easily won reelection.
The Bishops collected more than 6,000 of the 10,000 signatures that the campaign submitted to the election board. They are not charged with forging any names on the petitions, but rather with failing to witness and ensure that the signatures were from registered voters.
The charges against the Bishops surprised the community activists who filed the complaints in July 2002. Dorothy A. Brizill, who filed one of the challenges to the mayor's nominating petitions, said she only recently learned of the charges in a brief conversation with an election official. "Why did it take three years? When you have something so blatant . . . you can't let it languish and linger," she said. "People need to know that there is a penalty."
Traci L. Hughes, a spokeswoman for Spagnoletti, said that the attorney general typically announces only convictions and sentencings, though the office will respond to media inquiries about cases. She said the investigation took a long time because each count against the Bishops was investigated.
"Whenever we are presented with something, we have to conduct our own investigation to see if we can bring charges," she said. "It may seem like an overly long delay, but the investigation of each count against Scott Bishop Sr., Scott Bishop Jr. and Crystal Bishop took an extreme amount of time."
Before Spagnoletti got the case, the U.S. attorney's office conducted an investigation in hopes of determining who knew about the forgeries and of uncovering any financial improprieties.
Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said the investigation did not reveal any violations of federal law. "That's why we turned it over to the attorney general to see if there were any violations of the District of Columbia election law," he said.
When events were unfolding in the summer of 2002, Scott Bishop Sr. and Crystal Bishop told The Washington Post that she had signed petitions verifying that they personally circulated the petitions and witnessed the signatures, as required by D.C. law, though they had not. Crystal Bishop also said at the time that she suffers from schizophrenia and that she was taking six medications a day.
According to court records, Crystal Bishop told the FBI in a December 2003 interview that she had signed petitions bearing signatures she did not collect or witness.
Crystal Bishop's attorney, Rufus W. McKinney Jr., asked the judge last month to bar prosecutors from using the FBI interview as evidence. He said Crystal Bishop was unaware of the implications of her statement and was not informed that she was "a suspect to a crime."
Yesterday, Crystal Bishop appeared before a judge at D.C. Superior Court. She was arrested Monday on an outstanding bench warrant for failing to appear last month at a hearing in the case.
Judge Henry F. Greene released Crystal Bishop into the supervision of the D.C. Pretrial Services Agency and ordered, at her attorney's request, a comprehensive mental health screening.
Crystal Bishop faces 123 misdemeanor counts. Scott Bishop Jr. faces 81 counts, and Scott Bishop Sr. is charged with 279 counts. Crystal and Scott Bishop Jr. are due back in court for a hearing Sept. 27.