Campaign workers indicted for alleged election fraud

By Phil Archer - Reporter, Jill Courtney

HARRIS COUNTY - Four political campaign workers have been indicted by a Harris County Grand Jury in the wake of allegations of election fraud in a Harris County Justice of the Peace race, first reported by Local 2 News in January.

The suspects -- two men and two women -- were paid to gather signatures to place Republican candidate Leonila Olivares Salazar's name on the ballot in the Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2, Place 2 race.

Salazar is fighting to stay on the ballot. She says the four workers were hired by her campaign consultant, Collonnade Marketing, owned by long-time politico Fred Blanton.

"I have never met them, and I don't know anything about them," Salazar said. "I'm not responsible because I didn't collect the signatures personally."

The indictments, handed down Monday, come about two weeks after Salazar's Democratic opponent, incumbent Judge George Risner, sued to have her name withdrawn from the ballot.

As first reported by Local 2, Risner obtained signed statements from three of the suspects admitting they did not actually obtain the signatures listed on the petitions.

Risner said his investigation shows that 380 of 447 signatures submitted to put Salazar's name on the ballot were forged.

The indictments name campaign workers 57-year-old Ralph Basil Garcia, 53-year-old Annette Irigoyen, 28-year-old Iris Irgoyen and 55-year-old David Basurto. All face felony charges of engaging in organized criminal activity and tampering with a governmental record.

Risner's attorney says that should put Salazar out of the race.

"She might have 50 legitimate signatures," Attorney Buck Wood said.

Officials said Garcia and Iris Irigoyen were arrested Tuesday morning. Warrants have been issued for the other two.

Garcia was the only one of the four suspects to appear at a civil hearing Tuesday to decided Risner's request to remove Salazar from the ballot. But visiting Judge Bob Wortham recessed without calling Garcia, saying he wants to wait until all of those indicted in the criminal case can be brought to court to testify. That could happen next week.

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