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Second Change-of-Government Defendant Pleads Guilty

(Updated at 1:30 p.m.) Cheryl Simmons, a convicted felon who collected signatures for last year’s change-of-government effort, pleaded guilty to voter fraud in Arlington County Circuit Court this morning.

Simmon’s guilty plea comes one week after another person hired to obtain petition signatures, William Cockerham, pleaded guilty to a similar voter fraud charge.

State law specifies that petition signatures must be witnessed by someone who is at least eligible to register to vote. As convicted felons, neither Simmons nor Cockerham were eligible.

Both Simmons and Cockerham were hired by Signature Masters, a firm that specializes in petition drives. The firm was contracted to collect signatures for last year’s unsuccessful attempt to change Arlington’s form of government, which was sponsored by Arlington’s police and fire unions.

In a statement of fact entered as part of today’s guilty plea, prosecutors said that Simmons told Shawn Wilmoth, the president of Signature Masters, that she had been convicted of a felony. Nonetheless, prosecutors say Wilmoth hired Simmons to collect signatures at a fee of $3 per signature. Later, when news reports revealed that Simmons was felon, Wilmoth told the Washington Post that Simmons had passed a background check.

“It was an issue with the background-check company we are dealing with,” he told the paper.

Prosecutors said most of the 55 petitions pages that Simmons signed as a witness were handed to her by Wilmoth at a local Starbucks. Only a few pages, prosecutors said, contained signatures she had actually collected.

So far, Wilmoth has not been charged with a crime.

Simmons’ sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 20. She remains free on bond.

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