In a surprise Friday press conference, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced the Grand Jury indictments of three local Democrats — Richard Bonton, Natasha Demming and Damien Jones — connected to two election fraud schemes tied to the local Texas House of Representatives races in House Districts 142 and 132.
Most of the fraud charges are connected to the March Democratic primary for Democratic state Rep. Harold Dutton’s seat representing HD 142. Ogg said that Bonton — who previously and unsuccessfully ran against Dutton in 2018 and again in 2020 — conspired with Demming to help her run in the HD 142 Democratic primary under a fake name, Natasha Ruiz.
The idea, Ogg said, was that the district’s growing Latino population might be swayed to vote for a candidate who appeared to be a Latina, which would take away potential votes from Dutton and help Bonton come out on top. Dutton, Bonton and Demming are all Black.
Ogg announced that Bonton and Demming have each been charged with felony tampering with government documents for their roles in filing Demming’s application with the fake name.
The scheme did ultimately end up fooling a substantial chunk of the district’s voters — “Ruiz” won 20.5 percent of the March vote — but didn’t end up helping Bonton in the end. Dutton still finished in first place with 45 percent of the vote, while Bonton finished dead-last in the primary with a paltry 9 percent. The vote was split enough to force a July runoff between Dutton and Jerry Davis, which Dutton won before ultimately winning reelection in November.
“The result for Richard Bonton is that he now stands charged with election fraud, conspiracy to tamper with governmental records and actually tampering with governmental records,” Ogg said. Demming, Ogg explained, “is charged with two counts of tampering with a governmental record… and three Class A misdemeanors: perjury, election fraud, and conspiracy to commit tampering with a governmental record.”
Tampering with governmental records is a state felony that comes with up to two years of jail time, a $10,000 fine or both. Each of Bonton’s two and Demming’s three misdemeanor charges are also punishable by up to a year behind bars.
In another scheme, Jones, a Democratic political consultant, was charged with two misdemeanors for coercion of a public servant and false caller identification for allegedly sending a threatening text message to then Democratic state Rep. Gina Calanni of HD 132.
Ogg said that Jones sent Calanni an anonymous text two days before the 2020 election filing deadline in which he threatened to expose politically damaging information about her unless she resigned and pulled out from her reelection bid. Ogg did not disclose what info Jones threatened Calanni with in the text message.
“Instead of resigning, then-Rep. Calanni contacted the Texas Rangers, who along with our public corruption division investigated the case,” Ogg said. Calanni eventually lost her reelection bid to Republican Mike Schofield.
Jones faces up to a year in Harris County jail, up to a $4,000 fine or both for each of his two misdemeanor charges if convicted.
Ogg, a Democrat, stressed that “the crime of election fraud is nonpartisan, and our prosecution is nonpartisan,” and hinted that “while this is the end of today’s news, I think the public can expect more to come” regarding these two cases.
“I want the public to know while it’s been just about a year since those crimes occurred or began to occur, it’s not TV justice that you get in real life… but because of the diligence of the prosecutors and the investigator with the Texas Rangers,” Ogg said, “we’re able to give the public the truth today, and bring these individuals to the justice that they deserve.”
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