A North Carolina grand jury returned several new indictments Tuesday for a political operative who prosecutors say orchestrated a ballot-tampering scheme while working for a Republican congressional candidate in 2018.
Leslie McCrae Dowless was charged with two counts of felony obstruction of justice, perjury, solicitation to commit perjury, conspiracy to obstruct justice and possession of absentee ballots, according to Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman.
Dowless worked for Republican Mark Harris, an evangelical minister from Charlotte, who ran against Democrat Dan McCready in the 2018 general election for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. Initial ballot counts showed Harris with a narrow lead over McCready — about 900 votes — but the state’s board of elections did not certify the outcome amid accusations of fraud.
Dowless is accused of scheming to illegally collect, fill in, forge and submit mail-in ballots from voters in two rural North Carolina counties.
In February, Dowless was arrested and charged with three counts of obstruction of justice, two counts of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and two counts of possession of absentee ballots, according to the Wake County district attorney’s office in Raleigh.
Evidence was also presented in the February hearing that described how Harris set up his campaign such that the campaign did not directly pay Dowless. That allowed the campaign to avoid the mandatory public disclosure of the payments.
At the time, Freeman would not comment on the likelihood that the evidence against the campaign would lead to any charges against Harris, though she did say that it was “still very much a matter of investigation” and that the overall investigation continued “to grow in scope.”
Seven others who prosecutors say were involved in the scheme also were indicted Tuesday.
As The Washington Post has previously reported, the FBI participated in a surveillance operation against Dowless and his associates in May 2018 but took no public action to stop the potential fraud. Search warrants released in March 2019 describe how state and FBI investigators jointly watched Dowless meet with individuals and conduct transactions at a CashPoints automated teller machine at a convenience store in Bladen County, N.C. — the epicenter of the alleged fraud in the 9th District, which stretches east from Charlotte along the South Carolina border. The individuals later told investigators that Dowless had offered them money to collect ballots, according to the documents.
It was not clear whether Freeman’s office was still considering indictments for Harris or his campaign staff. Freeman could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday evening.
Amy Gardner contributed to this report.