A petition drive to put the legalization of slot machines on the D.C. ballot is marred by widespread violations of local election laws, according to petition circulators, some of whom admit submitting forms filled with signatures they did not witness and with names copied out of the phone book.
Circulators who submitted hundreds of petitions used false addresses or could not be found at the places they claimed as their homes, including a vacant drug-treatment residence, a lunchtime soup kitchen and a correctional halfway house. Another circulator listed an address from which she had been evicted in April.
Some local residents who turned in dozens of additional forms said they only watched as paid workers from California, Michigan and elsewhere collected the signatures, a potential violation of a law requiring circulators to live in the District.
The Washington Post reviewed nearly 2,000 petitions bearing 31,394 of the more than 50,000 signatures submitted to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics. Thousands of signatures appear to be invalid, primarily because the circulators lied about where they live, what they witnessed and who actually signed the names of D.C. voters.
Some people whose signatures identified them as circulators said they witnessed nothing at all. Darryl Bowman said he encountered out-of-town circulators when he entered a grocery store. Bowman, who described himself as a schizophrenic and an outpatient at St. Elizabeths Hospital, said the circulators paid him $40 to sign a stack of petition affidavits attesting that he was "in the presence" of each of the 547 people whose signatures filled the forms, front and back.
In fact, Bowman said in an interview, "I didn't see nothing. I just signed. . . . And they gave me the money."
On July 6, slots supporters submitted nearly three times the number of signatures needed to qualify for the Nov. 2 ballot, saying that at least the required number of 17,599 would prove to be valid. The elections board, which provided copies of the petitions to The Post, has until Aug. 5 to determine whether the slots initiative has met that goal.
If the initiative makes the ballot, voters will be asked to decide whether to authorize the installation of 3,500 slot machines on a 14-acre site at New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road in Northeast Washington.
The Post found that 10 of the most prolific circulators, who together submitted 7,451 signatures, do not live at the addresses they claimed as their homes, according to the residents of those addresses, neighbors and building owners. Dozens of other circulators could not be located through directory assistance and city records.
In addition, many signatures of voters and circulators appear to be forged. Three circulators admit faking signatures or watching as others did so. The names of two other circulators appear on many more petition forms than they recall signing. The signatures of some circulators appear to have been written by as many as four people.
Ordinarily, the D.C. election board does not investigate circulators, who sign affidavits on each petition form attesting that they live in the District and that the petition signatures are genuine. Circulators who lie could be fined up to $10,000 and sentenced to as much as a year in jail.
The board generally focuses on whether those who signed the petitions are registered voters. But community activists fighting the gambling initiative plan to file a legal challenge tomorrow questioning the qualifications of the circulators.
D.C. law says the petitions must be circulated by city residents. Election board spokesman Bill O'Field declined to comment on how the board would handle petitions submitted by circulators who cannot be found at addresses listed on the affidavits or who admit signing affidavits on petitions circulated by nonresidents.
Angelo Paparella, president of Progressive Campaigns Inc., the California company hired to manage the petition drive, said the election board should not throw out signatures simply because of "circulator problems." If circulators falsely signed affidavits, "they should be prosecuted," he said. "But if I am a registered voter and I am petitioning my government to have my voice heard to vote on this issue, that signature should be validated."
But M. Dane Waters, chairman and founder of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California, said the qualifications of circulators are the very first thing election officials should check.
"If they can't find that person or can't prove that the petitioner was a resident, in my opinion, those signatures should not be counted," said Waters, whose institute lists Paparella on its board of directors. "They don't have to produce the physical body, but they have to provide proof that the person does exist and that he resided at the location when he says he did."
The slots initiative was proposed in late April by businessman Pedro Alfonso; his attorney, John Ray; and Rob Newell, a financier from the U.S. Virgin Islands, who then scrambled to meet a flurry of bureaucratic deadlines. That left them just five days to collect signatures -- a "monumental" task, Waters said. Neither Alfonso nor Ray, a former D.C. Council member, returned calls regarding the petitions.
For help, they turned to Paparella, a national consultant with a long record of successful petition drives. The drive organizers set up shop at a Red Roof Inn in Chinatown, flew in dozens of petition workers and recruited others with newspaper ads offering quick cash to people willing to collect signatures. Some circulators were paid more than $5,000, while others made as little as $40.
Starting July 1, petition workers approached Metro riders and recruited people from homeless shelters, offering to pay them for circulating petitions or for affixing a local signature to affidavits on petitions circulated by out-of-towners, according to the numerous recruits. In two noteworthy cases, they recruited a man living in a correctional halfway house and thrust petitions on a panhandler looking for change.
As the drive entered its final hours, circulator Andre Rempson, 46, a D.C. resident, said the out-of-towners told him to "get out the phone book" so they could increase their signature totals.
"They told us to make up names because they needed to get paid and needed more signatures," said Rempson, who was paid $400. He said he could not remember how many signatures he took from the phone book.
Another circulator, Raychon Daniels, 44, said she went to the Red Roof Inn on July 2 to collect a paycheck and walked into a room where two people were flipping through a phone book and filling out forms.
"They started writing names and addresses and forging signatures on the petitions. They did this for more than an hour," Daniels recalled. "Everybody knew what they were doing, but nobody said anything."
On the afternoon of July 6, shortly before the election board deadline, slots supporters submitted 3,869 petitions with affidavits signed by 339 people. Twelve of them submitted 50 petitions or more, and their forms are among the most problematic.
Take Rempson, who submitted 52 petitions bearing 709 signatures. His forms contain many irregularities, including names that do not match addresses and addresses that do not exist.
One legitimate name and address is that of Robert Price, a senior pastor at the United House of Prayer for All People. But Price said that he did not sign the petition and that he opposes the gambling initiative.
"I think it's a disservice to the community," he said. "D.C., with all its faults, is better than that. I don't think it should be a cesspool for gambling."
Three of the 12 said they served as witnesses for teams of out-of-town circulators. Alan Dildy, for example, said he signed affidavits for four or five people he met one day at a Giant grocery store. "I asked them if they had change for a cup of coffee," Dildy recalled, "and one of the guys said, 'I know how you can make a whole lot of money.' "
Over the next three days, Dildy, 47, scurried back and forth among the circulators, trying to witness their efforts while gathering signatures of his own. In the end, he was paid $305 for 68 petitions bearing 955 signatures. But Dildy said he cannot vouch for every one. "I signed my name on the sheets to say they [the circulators] were working."
Five other circulators among the top 12 could not be located by Post reporters.
Augusteen Cowan submitted 79 petitions with 1,424 signatures. He gave his address as 1500 Massachusetts Ave. NW #743. But the concierge said that a man with another name lives in the unit and that there is no Cowan in the building. Cowan's voter registration records show he lived there in 2001.
Robert Howard submitted 80 petitions bearing 900 signatures. He gave his address as 2840 Langston Place SE, which is part of Hope Village, a halfway house for suspects awaiting trial and convicts awaiting release. Officials said there is no Robert Howard at the facility.
Edward Swails submitted 67 petitions with 817 signatures. His address, 1249 Owen Place NE, has been vacant for two months, according to a next-door neighbor. Tanica Hunter submitted 59 petitions with 765 signatures. An elderly woman who answered the door at the address, on 21st Place NE, said she knows no one by that name.
And Jessie Ryan Jones submitted 51 petitions with 760 signatures. The address listed on Jones's affidavits was 337 N. Carolina Ave. SE, which houses a preschool, a dance theater and a lunchtime soup kitchen operated by Church of the Brethren. No one there had heard of Jessie Jones. Affidavits bearing Jones's signature also appear to have been signed by four people.
Some circulators said they were approached by out-of-towners eager to find a D.C. resident to sign their affidavits.
Angelo Ferrell, a security guard at a Capitol Hill supermarket, said he made $155 for signing circulator affidavits on petitions. His name appeared on 18 petitions with 246 signatures.
"How they got them, I don't know," Ferrell said of the signatures. "I just knew that the guys were standing out there [in the parking lot]. . . . I don't know what they were asking people or telling them."
Forrest L. Jackson, a courtesy clerk at the same Capitol Hill supermarket, said he signed one slots petition in support of the initiative but never signed any of the forms as a circulator. "That's fraud," he said after being told that his signature was on a circulator's affidavits for 40 petitions.
He said that after signing the petition once as a resident, one of the circulators asked him for two forms of identification to verify the address and signature he had placed on the form.
At that moment, Jackson said, he became distracted by a customer who needed help with a shopping cart, and the two circulators drove off from the supermarket with his identification. "I never saw them again. The next day they dropped off my IDs at customer service.
"I never signed anything saying that I was a circulator," Jackson said.
Several circulators contacted by The Post did vouch for the signatures they collected. Some said they are politically active and well informed about the slots initiative, which they hope will spur economic development along the troubled New York Avenue corridor.
Margret Hewit, 43, said collecting signatures was fun and easy. "A lot of people actually came to me and asked, 'Is that for the slot machines?' " she said. "I got a lot of people who just wanted to sign it. I didn't have to ask them."
And taxi driver Vernon Humbles said he collected the 769 signatures he submitted while working alone over five days. He said he was paid more than $6 for each signature and collected his money at John Ray's downtown law office. Records show he collected $5,037.
Still, Humbles said he feels uneasy about the petition drive.
"I hope they turn this thing down and make them do it correctly," he said, "without the out-of-town people."