Thursday, August 25, 2005

Lincoln Journal in the Tank with Corrupt Politicians, Deserves Prosecution for Witness Intimidation

The Lincoln Journal, the weekly newspaper serving Lincoln County, has as its motto, "Discussed by many, cussed by a few...Read by all." After reading this, I'm sure you will agree with that second part.

Depending on how charitable you want to be regarding this rag, it is either taking a "Hear no evil, see no evil" approach to the political corruption that runs to the core of Lincoln County politics or it is a complicit party to the corruption and is engaging in very thinly-veiled campaign to hinder the federal investigation of political corruption and other crimes committed by those with the right political connections. I agree with the latter and believe this sorry excuse for a newspaper rightly deserves to be prosecuted.

For years, the Lincoln Journal has maintained a decided tilt toward the Stowers Democratic faction in Lincoln County politics, lavishing free publicity upon the chosen candidates and officeholders while shunning Republicans and unfavored Democrats. During the current federal corruption probe, however, the Journal's conduct has crossed from being a partisan political organ to obstructer of justice and intimidator of potential witnesses. The former is the right of every American; the latter is not and for that, the Journal must be held to account.

Week after week, the Lincoln Journal has run front page stories claiming that the FBI has coerced its witnesses, manufactured evidence, intimidated voters during the elections last year, and is bent on framing the Lincoln County political establishment for partisan political purposes. They've run stories about elderly people who claim to have never missed voting in an election who say they new feel too intimidated to vote in the future because of the supposedly "abusive" tactics the FBI has employed in its investigation. This campaign has been orchestrated to cause its readers in Lincoln County to lose trust in the feds and become more reluctant to talk.

Here are the facts that are already known with absolute certainty: Lincoln County is the only county in West Virginia with more registered voters than adult residents, having 110% voter registration based on the 2000 Census. Lincoln County has had a stable population for many years and is not merely lagging in purging voters who have moved away. There are numerous post office boxes in Lincoln County that have numerous voters of different surnames claiming such boxes as their mailing addresses. Most of Lincoln County still lacks city-style street addresses--although this is changing--and thus it's impossible to determine whether most voters are claiming a legitimate place of residence.

In neighboring Logan County, several prominent political figures, including a former sheriff and ex-husband of a current state legislator, have already pleaded guilty to various election fraud-related charges. Another current legislator, Delegate Joe C. Ferrell, has previously confessed to vote-buying in a 1992 federal plea bargain that let him off with a misdemeanor in exchange for a promise to never seek elected office; Ferrell is now under investigation for both election fraud and potentially other crimes related to his video poker machine business. The Logan Banner, by contrast, is not softpedaling this case and has said on several occasions it is maintaining the secrecy of certain information in its possession to avoid harming the government's case.

The activities of the Lincoln Journal are particularly egregious because it is the only source of local news in Lincoln County, a county with a very insular culture and a lack of the kind of free flow of news, information, and commentary that would be found in a more populous area. An ordinary person of average intelligence who regularly reads that paper and does not consult multiple news sources would easily be led to believe that the federal government's investigation and prosecutions will be unsuccessful. This perception is key to the hopes of the corrupt politicians down there who want people who know incriminating things to not talk. Indeed, several people who have come forward to testify have already been intimidated and threatened. In one case, a confidential informant was assaulted in a remote area and told, "People who rat for the feds need killed."

The political corruption that has permeated Lincoln and Logan counties extends far beyond election fraud. Many politicos are running an elaborate racketeering scheme that offers property tax breaks to the well-connected, protection for drug dealers (one of the co-defendants in the Greg Stowers case is a convicted drug dealer who is alleged to be receiving protection), and a general disintegration of the rule of law that has turned these counties into little more than a Third World banana republic.