UPDATED at 12:50 p.m. Friday with comment from defense lawyer.
ST. LOUIS COUNTY — Berkeley Mayor Theodore “Ted” Hoskins was charged Thursday with several felony counts of election fraud.
Hoskins, 81, of the 8400 block of January Avenue, was charged in St. Louis County Circuit Court with four counts of committing an election offense and one felony count of forgery.
Charges say Hoskins, in the months leading up to the April 3, 2018, municipal election for four city council seats, submitted to the St. Louis County Board of Elections fraudulent absentee voter applications and other documents from at least three Berkeley residents in their 80s and 90s.
Hoskins, in an April 2018 interview with investigators, denied bringing absentee ballot forms and envelopes to voters’ homes.
The case was filed Thursday by Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker who said the charges “were based on years of investigation into a pattern of harvesting absentee ballots to influence Berkeley elections.” Baker is serving as a special prosecutor at the request of the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Defense lawyer Scott Rosenblum said in a text message that Hoskins "disputes every allegation and intends to enter a plea of not guilty."
In an April 2018 interview with investigators, he said he had only campaigned “to get his wife elected to the city council and that he had little or no interaction with any of the other municipal campaigns,” according to the charges.
His wife, Lee Etta Hoskins, was reelected to the council in that election with 87 votes; her opponent, Willie Mae “Woody” Harris, got 39.
Charging documents say that in February 2018, Hoskins visited the Berkeley home of two people in their 80s and got their signatures on forms despite them not knowing what they were signing.
The St. Louis County Board of Elections reviewed the applications, which appeared to have been completed by someone other than the two residents, charges say. A board employee identified the handwriting on the applications as that of Hoskins.
Hoskins returned to the residents’ home in March 2018 and asked they sign another document, charges say. The residents later told investigators that Hoskins told them about a city program offering up to $1,000 in home improvements but that neither “realized they were signing election-related documents to Hoskins.”
Charges say the elections board received the absentee ballots in March 2018, each ballot choosing the same candidates, but the residents later told investigators they did not vote in the April 3 election.
Also in March 2018, one of Hoskins’ associates, identified in court documents as “D.B,” approached a 92-year-old Berkeley resident and a neighbor, explaining Hoskins’ instructions to provide absentee ballot paperwork and help collect signatures, charges say. After one of the neighbors tipped off investigators, authorities launched an undercover investigation in conjunction with the county elections board.
Investigators later that month conducted surveillance of Hoskins’ associate collecting a replica ballot on the front porch of one of the residents and delivering it to Hoskins’ home, charges say. The associate told investigators she handed the ballot to Hoskins at his home.
The probe “revealed that the ballot had been significantly altered after coming into the possession of Hoskins,” charges say. “Specifically, the light-blue ink used to initially fill out the ballot had been clearly marked over with black ink, and three additional selections, or votes, had been made on the ballot.”
Hoskins told investigators that his associate “D.B.” had only placed campaign signs in the city’s first ward and that he had not coordinated with the associate about the election. He also told authorities that he never mailed an absentee ballot and that no one had given him one.
“Hoskins then stated that on two occasions he had actually mailed absentee ballots, but only upon being given the individual voter’s consent,” charges say. When asked to produce documentation of the voter’s consent, Hoskins said he already had tossed it in the trash. He also said he had delivered absentee ballots to the post office and had never brought or received ballots at his home.
He also denied taking ballots or envelopes to anyone’s home.
Hoskins has previously been accused of political corruption.
In March, the Missouri Ethics Commission fined the mayor, his wife and two more City Council members for violating state ethics rules for participating in a city grant program designed to fight blight in the north St. Louis County community.
In 2016, Hoskins and his wife agreed to a consent order with the state Ethics Commission after it was discovered they both voted to reimburse Ted Hoskins for legal expenses incurred when the city investigated him in 2014.
Also that year, prosecutors investigated claims that Hoskins or someone from his campaign picked up absentee ballots not contained in sealed envelopes as required by law.
The city initially investigated the mayor for conflict of interest.
Each of the elections offenses carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. The forgery count carries maximum prison terms of seven years or a $10,000 fine.
Hoskins was issued a summons on the charges. He is not allowed to have contact with any witnesses listed in the complaint.
The mayor was first elected to Berkeley’s city council in 1985. He won his race for the city’s mayor in 1996 but was recalled by voters two years later. Critics accused him of being power hungry and allowing city services to deteriorate. He ran again for mayor in 2000 but lost.
He previously worked as a finance director for Metro St. Louis before serving four terms in the Missouri House. After reaching his term limit, he ran and won races for Berkeley mayor in 2012 and 2016.
Joel Currier • 314-340-8132 @joelcurrier on Twitter firstname.lastname@example.org