8 months after ‘ghost candidate’ review launched, State Rep. Harold Dutton hoping for justice

KPRC 2 Investigates looks at what some are calling election fraud after a ghost candidate forced a runoff.

HOUSTON – For the first time in 36 years, State Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) was forced into a runoff for his seat in State House District 142. However, one of the candidates responsible for forcing the runoff doesn’t seem to exist.

“They got jacked. That’s all that happened to them,” Dutton said, in reference to the voters of District 142.

A candidate named Natasha Ruiz entered the Democratic primary hoping to defeat Dutton last March.

“There is evidence that a person entered into the primary race, whose last name was not their last name,” Dutton said. “They got about 2,500 votes.”

Those votes gave Ruiz a third-place finish out of a four-person race. The result forced Dutton to stand for election again.

“It looks like a conspiracy,” Dutton said.

“Conspiracy is a profound word,” said KPRC 2 Investigates reporter Mario Diaz.

“Well and it’s a word that indicates something illegal happened,” Dutton replied.

Lawmakers request investigation

Fourteen state representatives and three state senators, all Democrats, made their concerns of election fraud crystal clear to both Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan and Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg. The elected officials stated in a letter, “These crimes must be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrator prosecuted to the fullest text of the law.”

State Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) is a former prosecutor who represents State House District 137. He signed the letter and said he doesn’t believe this is a complex case.

“I think this is actually a true example of election fraud,” Wu said.

Where the investigation stands

In late March, Ogg informed the elected officials that their concerns had been forwarded to her public corruption division “for immediate review.”

Eight months later, Dutton questions the investigation’s legitimacy, saying he has yet to have spoken to or heard from the Ogg’s office about the case.

Ogg would not talk to KPRC 2 Investigates about the case.

Elected officials said that Ruiz’s filing form contains dates that don’t match, an email that doesn’t work and a signature by a person that doesn’t seem to exist.

“We, as elected officials, have to protect the integrity of the election process,” Dutton said, adding he also believes voters need to see accountability.

“If that means somebody needs to go to jail or wherever then I’m all for it,” Dutton said.

What do the other candidates have to say

KPRC 2 Investigates contacted the other candidates in the race, Richard Bonton and Jerry Davis. Davis said he is trying to move past it and opted not to be interviewed. Bonton said he wanted to run the interview request by his attorney first, but never followed up with KPRC 2.

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