Powell's conviction upheld by federal appeals court

Steve Gonzalez Dec. 18, 2007, 1:47pm

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago affirmed the convictions of Charlie Powell, Jesse Lewis, Sheila Thomas and Kelvin Ellis for paying voters and conspiring to pay voters in East St. Louis in the 2004 federal election.

Those four, along with Yvette Johnson, were convicted of the vote-buying offenses in June 2005 following a 17-day jury trial in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis.

In addition to affirming the convictions, the Court of Appeals vacated Powell's 21-month prison sentence and ordered that he be re-sentenced.

The government had appealed Powell's sentence arguing that District Judge G. Patrick Murphy had misinterpreted and misapplied the U.S. sentencing guidelines by failing to increase Powell's sentence for abusing his position of trust as chairman of the East St. Louis Democratic Party.

In vacating and remanding for a new sentencing, the Court of Appeals wrote that "[a] position of trust carries with it an assumption that the person entrusted with the position will act in accordance with the law. . .Lawbreaking in the exercise of a position of public or private trust is necessarily an abuse of that position."

Murphy has yet to set a date for Powell's sentencing.

Evidence at trial showed that Powell and certain other Democratic precinct committeemen conspired with each other and with other precinct workers, like Johnson, to pay voters for voting in the 2004 election in amounts ranging from $5 to $10 per vote.

The evidence further showed that Powell used three precinct committeemen meetings in October 2004 to instruct East St. Louis' Democratic precinct committeemen to use money obtained from the St. Clair County Democratic Party to pay voters for voting in the election.

The evidence showed that the three races that the conspirators were attempting to influence were the races for U.S. president Illinois Supreme Court justice, and chairman of the St. Clair County Board of Commissioners.

Assistant U.S Attorneys Michael Carr and James Cutchin prosecuted the defendants.

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