Rensselaer County officials accused of false, illegal ballot conspiracy

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A former political consultant to the Rensselaer County executive is now in FBI custody.

Richard Crist, 55, was taken into custody Thursday morning, along with Rensselaer County Director of Central Services James Gordon, 42, of North Greenbush, and Leslie Wallace, 35, of Troy.

Crist is director of operations for Rensselaer County, Gordon is the county’s director of central services and a town board member, and Wallace works for the county executive’s office.

During the 2021 local election, the three used their official positions to obtain absentee ballots in voters’ names through fraud and intimidation, according to the indictment. These voters didn’t intend to request absentee ballots, and didn’t request the help of the trio.

All three are also accused of conspiring to cast false and illegal votes in those voters’ names.

This is not the first time the county has had officials come under investigation. Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin was found not guilty in January of grand larceny and filing a false instrument. Crist was also involved in that investigation.

These arrests come after a more than a year-long federal investigation that has focused on several GOP officials. It has already led to guilty pleas for two people.

Former County Republican Elections Commissioner Jason Schofield pleaded guilty to federal charges in January.

He admitted to fraudulently obtaining and filing absentee ballots using the personal information of at least eight voters without their permission.

The Rensselaer County Legislature had initially reinstated him, but he resigned ahead of his plea.

Seven months earlier, former Troy Councilwoman Kim Ashe-McPherson pleaded guilty to similar federal charges. She admitted to fraudulently submitting absentee ballots in last year’s primary and general election.

Troy Mayor Patrick Madden released this statement:

“For hundreds of years, our nation has fought to live up to the keystone promise that is the franchise to vote. Every New Yorker deserves access to the ballot, but the actions alleged in today’s indictment undermine the integrity of our electoral system – the very bedrock of our democracy. As this process bears out over the coming months, let’s keep in mind that these are charges. Nothing has been proven and I very much hope for the sake of our community that the allegations in this indictment are not true. As a lawyer, I put my trust in our court system and will await the outcome of the legal process.”

Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin released this statement:

“During my service as County Executive, there have been many important accomplishments, including a 27 percent reduction in property taxes during the past five years, paving of over 200 miles of county roads, record investment and job growth, new Emergency Services Training Complex, new County Senior Center in Troy and the ongoing modernization of county offices and facilities. We will continue in our mission of improving county government, strengthening services and building a better future, and not be deterred from the work ahead.

Our system states those charged are innocent until proven guilty, and I firsthand know the significance of that statement, having recently gone through a similar experience earlier this year. Members of our team will have their day in court and until then, they have the opportunity to continue their work for our county.”