Arlington, VA

Less than two months after two of his employees pleaded guilty to charges stemming from last year’s change-of-government petition drive in Arlington, political strategist Shawn Wilmoth has been indicted on two felony counts of election fraud.

Wilmoth was the president of Signature Masters, the firm that was contracted to collect signatures for last year’s unsuccessful attempt to change Arlington’s form of government. The petition drive was sponsored largely by Arlington’s police and fire unions.

Two of Wilmoth’s signature collectors, Cheryl Simmons and William Cockerham, pleaded guilty to election fraud charges in February. 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.

In a statement of fact entered as part of Simmons’ guilty plea, prosecutors said that Simmons told Wilmoth that she had been convicted of a felony before she was hired. Nonetheless, prosecutors say Wilmoth hired Simmons to collect signatures at a fee of $3 per signature. Later, when news reports revealed that Simmons was a 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.

An Arlington grand jury handed down an indictment for Wilmoth on March 28. A warrant was then issued for his arrest. He was arrested Friday afternoon in Warren, Mich., according to Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Andy Parker. Lt. Eric Schulz of the Warren Police Department confirmed Wilmoth’s arrest and said he was likely being held at the nearby Macomb County Jail.

The Coalition for Arlington Good Government, which opposed last year’s referendum effort, said in a statement today that the indictments of Wilmoth, Simmons and Cockerham “further expose a troubling criminal conspiracy to commit election fraud.”

“We appreciate the diligence with which the police have pursued this investigation,” CAGG co-chair Alan Howze said in a statement. “As the true extent of the fraud, and the organized effort that went into the fraud, continues to be revealed, we believe that it will provide additional insights into how the referendum process in Arlington, and across Virginia, can be strengthened to better ensure honest, lawful dialogue among Arlingtonians on issues facing our community.”

Wilmoth will likely appear before the Arlington Circuit Court within days or several weeks, depending on whether he fights extradition.

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