Mark Harris 2.21
North Carolina GOP candidate calls for new election
02:15 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

The political operative at the center of an election fraud controversy in North Carolina was indicted Wednesday by a grand jury on multiple felony charges.

Leslie McCrae Dowless was arrested Wednesday morning and charged with three counts of felonious obstruction of justice, two counts of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and two counts of possession of absentee ballot, in relation to absentee ballot irregularities in Bladen County in the 2016 general election and 2018 primary election. Activities related to the 2018 general election remain under investigation, according to Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman.

The Grand Jury of Wake County returned sealed indictments Tuesday against Leslie McCrae Dowless and several other individuals. CNN has reached out to an attorney representing Dowless for comment. Investigators have been looking into Dowless’ campaign work for various candidates in both 2016 and 2018. Most recently, Dowless worked on behalf of Mark Harris, the 2018 Republican nominee for US House in North Carolina’s 9th District.

The criminal investigation into ballot irregularities in Bladen and Robeson Counties began roughly one year ago and in recent months, ran concurrently to an investigation conducted by the bipartisan North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE). The Wake County District Attorney headed up the criminal investigation due to a self-reported conflict of interest by the Bladen County District Attorney.

Last week, the NCSBE voted unanimously to call for a new election. The Executive Director called Dowless’ program a “coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme.” Harris announced this week that he would not run in the new election, citing health reasons. His 2018 Democratic opponent, Dan McCready, has already kicked off his campaign. The board is expected to set new dates for the primary and general election in the coming days.

In the board’s evidentiary hearing last week, Harris testified that he did hire Dowless – a convicted felon – specifically for his “absentee ballot program” but maintained he did not know about any illegal activity. People who worked for Dowless described, under oath, illegally collecting ballots, forging witness signatures and even filling in any races left blank on unsealed ballots. Two women testified that Dowless told them to lie or plead the 5th when subpoenaed for the hearing.

Dowless refused to testify in the NCSBE evidentiary hearing but has maintained he’s done nothing wrong. Last week, his attorney, Cynthia Singletary, said, “Do I think he’s guilty of that? No. There’s always the possibility of some kind of charges. I’ve been practicing for 32 years and had lots of innocent clients charged with things I didn’t think they were guilty of.”

An order set pretrial release conditions for Dowless at $30,000 secured and ordered that he have no contact with anyone named in the indictments. The cases are set to go before a judge in Wake County Superior Court on Monday, March 25.

Caitlyn E. Croom, Matthew Monroe Mathis, Tonia Gordon and Rebecca Thompson all face one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of possession of absentee ballot.

Mathis faces additional charges of falsely signing the voter certification on an absentee ballot. CNN is attempting to reach out to these individuals for comment.

CNN’s Devon Sayers contributed to this report.