Local News

'It can ruin people's lives,' says woman mistakenly charged in 9th District scandal

Posted July 31, 2019 5:48 p.m. EDT
Updated July 31, 2019 6:21 p.m. EDT

— Tuesday was a bad day for Tonya Britt Long.

The Bladen County woman was named as one of eight people indicted on charges connected to absentee ballot fraud found to have occurred in last fall's 9th Congressional District election.

Only, she wasn't the Tonya Long involved in the alleged scheme.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said late Tuesday that Long's name was submitted to the grand jury by mistake. They were supposed to review charges against Tonya D. Long, Freeman said.

The mix-up with Britt Long and Tonya D. Long, who is the cousin of Britt Long's husband and lives near the couple, has been going on for months, Britt Long said. She said she thought she had cleared it up after speaking with State Bureau of Investigation agents, only to hear her name and criminal charges on the news Tuesday.

"Other news networks were contacting me as well, and so it’s just been an ordeal," she said. "How would you like your name blasted everywhere and it's false?"

She said she called the Wake County District Attorney's Office about the mix-up Tuesday evening, and Freeman called back moments later with repeated apologies and a promise to get it corrected.

"Anytime you are involved in a large investigation with hundreds of pages of discovery, as is the case here, and you are dealing with multiple, multiple individuals – some of whom have the same first and last name but may have a different initial – this is a error that people, that you can make," Freeman said. "Those of us in the criminal justice system operate in a professional area where there really is no room for error."

A grand jury indicted Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless on charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and illegal possession of an absentee ballot in connection with his work for Republican 9th District candidate Mark Harris.

According to testimony from a State Board of Elections hearing in February, Dowless paid people to go door to door to first sign people up to vote by mail and later to collect those absentee ballots. Dowless' crew sometimes completed ballots for voters and also witnessed dozens of absentee ballots in a central office instead of in front of individual voters, witnesses said during the hearing.

North Carolina law prohibits anyone except close relatives from taking an absentee ballot from a voter.

Lisa Michelle Britt, Ginger Shae Eason, Kelly Hendrix, Woody Darrel Hester and James R. Singletary were indicted on conspiracy to obstruct justice and illegal possession of an absentee ballot charges. Britt also was charged with voting as a convicted felon.

Jessica Hales Dowless was indicted on charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice and falsely certifying absentee ballots.

Freeman said the charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice and falsely witnessing absentee ballots have been dismissed against Britt Long. The ongoing investigation into the absentee ballot fraud will now turn to Tonya D. Long.

"It can ruin people’s lives," Britt Long said of the mistaken indictment. "It's not fair, when you try to live your life the way you are supposed to and a little mistake can make you feel and look very guilty, and you are not guilty."

Dowless also was charged with solicitation to commit perjury in connection with an attempt to influence a witness' testimony during the February State Board of Elections hearing, as well as obstruction of justice and perjury in connection with his actions during the 2016 election.

The elections board ordered a new 9th District election because the fraud had so tainted the results from last fall. That election will be held Sept. 10.