Former candidate charged with election fraud in case of ‘ghost candidate’ on primary ballot

2 others also charged in election-related schemes, prosecutors say

HOUSTON – Three people were charged Friday in connection with what prosecutors described as two failed schemes aimed at influencing the outcome of two Texas House of Representative races.

The two House districts that were affected were 132 and 142.

“The individuals indicted today crossed the line from dirty politics to criminal behavior,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said at a news conference while announcing the charges.

Ogg said there is more to come.

Here’s what we know about each of those who were charged.

Former candidate Richard Bonton

KPRC 2 Investigates has learned that former candidate for state representative, Richard Bonton, has been indicted by a Harris County Grand Jury on multiple charges including election fraud.

Bonton, 37, was a candidate in the March 2020 Democratic primary for State House District 142.

Bonton, along with two other candidates, were in the race against incumbent State Rep. Harold Dutton, who has held the office since 1984.

According to the indictment obtained by KPRC 2 Investigates, Bonton is charged with conspiracy to commit tampering with a government record, tampering with a governmental record and election fraud. The most serious charge is tampering with a governmental record, which is a felony.

As KPRC 2 reported on December 3, a “ghost candidate” named Natasha Ruiz appeared on the ballot out of nowhere to claim 20% of the vote. Concerns raised days after the election included questions as to whether Ruiz was actually a real person.

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

Seventeen elected Democratic officials called for an investigation in March. Last week, Dutton told KPRC 2, “We as elected officials have to protect the integrity of the election process.”

Natasha Demming

Prosecutors accused Natasha Demming of conspiring with Bonton to file a ballot application in the House District 142 Democratic primary using the false name of Natasha Ruiz. Demming has been charged with two counts of tampering with a governmental record, perjury, election fraud and conspiracy to commit tampering with a governmental record. If convicted, she could face up to a year in jail for each charge.

Damien Jones

Damien Jones is seen in this image found on Facebook on Dec. 11, 2020. (Facebook)

Damien Jones is accused of threatening then-State Rep. Gina Calanni, of District 132, in an effort to keep her from running for reelection. Prosecutors said Jones made the threat on Dec. 2, 2019, just days before the filing date for the 2020 election. Jones has been charged with coercion of a public servant and false caller identification information display. If convicted, he faces up to a year in jail, up to a $4,000 fine or both.

Jones’ attorney, Oliver Jason Brown, issued a statement Friday afternoon saying that the charges against his client amount to corruption. Brown’s full statement follows:

“My client, Damien Jones, is deeply dismayed in the fraudulent and laughable charges levied against him today. He never has or never will engage in any type of election fraud. Let’s be clear, he proudly speaks truth to power in a way that empowers those that are overlooked in our communities, and in politics that has put an unfair target on his back. While the murder rate in Harris County skyrockets, Kim Ogg chose to use taxpayer funds to pursue a personal attack. Since being elected in 2016, DA Kim Ogg has abused the power of the office and only sought justice when it was politically expedient for her, while claiming to reform our racist and unjust system. Mr. Jones has been very critical of Kim Ogg’s work and he will not stop today. What Kim Ogg did today is public corruption at its finest and we will work withFederal authorities to bring justice. Harris County deserves a top cop who is focused on justice, not political favors. Mr. Jones appreciates your prayers and support as we fight back and expose the corruption in the Harris County District Attorney’s office.”

More video

You can watch a replay of Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg’s news conference about these charges below.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg talks about indictments issued in connection with election-related cases.

You can hear reaction from Dutton in the video below:

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