A plan to get back at Florida Republicans for a 2012 purge of non-citizen voters backfired on a Seattle man, who now faces up to six years in prison and more than $350,000 in fines.
According to a plea agreement filed Monday in Tampa's U.S. District Court, James Webb Baker, Jr., 58, sent about 200 letters one month before the 2012 presidential election to prominent Florida Republicans in an effort to intimidate and interfere with their voting rights.
At the time, Baker, who lives in Seattle, read online news articles and blogs about efforts by Gov. Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner to remove the names of voters from the official Florida county lists of eligible voters. The stories reported that Florida county officials were identifying registered voters whose U.S. citizenship was questioned and were subsequently sending them letters informing them they may be ineligible to vote.
Baker believed this was being done to suppress voter turnout, according to the plea agreement.
“(Baker) believed that the efforts of (Scott) and (Detzner) were targeted at Hispanic voters who would likely vote for candidates of the Democratic Party,” the plea agreement stated. “(Baker) believed that some of the recipients of such letters would not vote, and this belief angered him.”
So Baker created “copycat” letters of the ones that were sent by county officials. He sent 200 of these letters to Republican Party donors in Florida. Printing letters using a Xerox Phaser 6180 he bought from Craigslist.com, Baker tried to avoid detection by wearing gloves and using a sponge to seal the envelopes.
“(Baker) knew his actions were unlawful, and he knew his actions were intimidating, threatening, or coercive,” the plea agreement stated. “The defendant sent the letters for the purpose of interfering with the recipients’ right to vote.”
Baker used his home computer to find what he believed to be an actual letter sent by a Florida county official. He created a template for his false letters, including using the names and titles of the relevant county officials.
Recipients of the letters, which included Lenny Curry, who was then the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, were chosen by Baker from a list of people who contributed to Scott’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign. He whittled the donor list by eliminating corporations and partnerships and by selecting recipients so they would hail from a range of Florida counties. He then created individually addressed false letters that appeared to be written by each of the corresponding recipients’ home county’s supervisor of elections.
The recipients were told that, to restore their eligibility, they had 15 days to fill out a voter registration form. Baker inserted a warning, in bold, that a non-registered voter who casts a vote may be subject to criminal penalties.
“(Baker) made these changes, in part, to stress the threat to the recipient that he or she was going to lose their right to vote and/or their liberty through imprisonment if they did not first document their citizenship and right to vote in person to the registrar,” the plea agreement stated. “The defendant enclosed the same voter eligibility form without any changes that was enclosed in the actual letters sent by Florida county officials.”
Baker sent the envelopes from a U.S. Postal Office in Seattle. He purchased a "Federal Way" postmark in hopes that it would be less conspicuous to the recipient. Letters were received by residents in 27 counties.
The plea agreement, dated April 26, 2014, is signed by three U.S. Department of Justice attorneys: Mark Blumberg, special litigation counsel, civil rights division, criminal section; William E. Nolan, trail attorney, civil rights division, criminal section; Robert Mosakowski, assistant U.S. Attorney in Tampa, chief of the economic crimes section.
Here is the plea agreement:
And the information: