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Slots proponents assail election board's fine
(Published August 8, 2005)

Staff Writer

Organizers of an unsuccessful effort to bring video slots gambling to the District are alleging that the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics overstepped its legal authority and erred in its calculations when it fined them a record $622,880 for violating election laws last year.

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, citing "grossly negligent conduct" and "clear indifference" toward complying with election law, levied the civil fine July 29 on the Citizens Committee for the D.C. Video Lottery Terminal Initiative of 2004 and three former officers of the committee -- Pedro Alfonso, Vickey Wilcher and Margaret Gentry.

"The illegal activities compromised, and made a mockery of, the integrity of the electoral process that the Board is charged with protecting," the board's order said.

The challenge to the elections board's order was contained in a nine-page motion filed Aug. 5, in which attorney George W. Jones Jr. seeks a 30-day extension of the board's timetable for his clients to pay the fine. The motion says additional time is needed for the committee to analyze "the legal and factual issues raised by the Order."

The elections board's action marked the first time in D.C. history that fines have been imposed on a citizens committee for conducting an initiative petition campaign and only the second time that fines have been assessed for violation of the D.C. Election Act.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams' 2002 re-election campaign previously was fined a then-record $250,000 for filing fraudulent petitions in a botched effort to get the mayor's name on the Democratic primary ballot.

The board's 44-page order assessed penalties for 3,893 separate Election Act violations by circulators of petitions proposing a ballot measure last fall that would have allowed construction of a $510 million casino and entertainment emporium on about 14 acres at New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road in Northeast Washington.

The violations involved forged signatures of registered voters, alteration of affidavit signatures, false declarations of residence and failure of petition circulators to personally witness signatures.

"Such a complete disregard by the proposers of the initiative for the bona fides of the petition circulation activities over which they retained ultimate control and responsibility is utterly reprehensible and falls far below any conceivable standard by which the proposers' conduct should be measured," the board's order said.

The board offered to suspend $47,880 of the fine if the slots campaign committee and its three former officials sign a consent agreement by Aug. 8, accepting responsibility for the violations and agreeing to be bound by future restrictions on their election activities. In addition, they would be required to deliver a certified check for the remaining $575,000 fine to the elections board offices by Aug. 16.

Otherwise, the full fine must be paid by Sept. 12, unless the board's order is appealed to the D.C. Court of Appeals, which could delay payment.

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator