Four women who are accused of targeting elderly voters in 2016 were indicted on 30 felony counts of voter fraud and arrested following an investigation by the office of the Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
The defendants were members of an organized voter fraud ring and were paid to target elderly voters in certain northern Fort Worth precincts in a scheme to generate large numbers of mail ballots, then harvest those ballots for specific candidates, the office's news release said.
The Attorney General's Office did not reveal what candidates paid for the effort.
The indictments list 26 North Fort Worth residents as victims.
“I don’t sent paperwork to vote,” resident Rafael Guerra said. His wife Hortesia is listed as one of the victims who's signature was falsified on a mail in ballot application.
“We vote in person, so I don’t know if somebody got the information from somebody or what. I don’t have the slightest idea," Guerra said.
Another victim listed is Julia Betancourt, a 78 year old woman who said she remembers investigators talking with her about the case.
Her grandson in law Nicholas Martin said she never requested a 2016 mail in ballot.
"I think the frustrating part too is taking advantage of someone who is elderly and falsifying to get ballots and vote illegally in her name," he said. "It gives you a good feeling knowing that they were able to prosecute these individuals."
The ballots in this case were evidently intercepted without being counted.
Leticia Sanchez was indicted on one count of illegal voting, a second-degree felony punishable by a prison term of two to 20 years, if convicted. All defendants in the case face state felony charges of providing false information on an application for a mail ballot -- Sanchez (16 counts), Leticia Sanchez Tepichin (10 counts), Maria Solis (two counts) and Laura Parra (one count), the news release said.
Sanchez remained in jail as of Friday afternoon. The other 3 suspects were released on bond.
The scheme was conducted when applications for mail ballot were proliferated in targeted precincts. When ballots were mailed out by election offices, the fraudsters attempted either to intercept the ballots or to “assist” elderly voters in voting their ballots to ensure votes were cast for the fraudsters’ choice. In most cases, the voters do not even know their votes have been stolen, the news release said.
The fraudulent applications were generated through forged signatures, some of which were obtained through deception, and by altering applications and resubmitting them without the knowledge of the voters, the news release said. Many of the voters were forced to cancel their mail ballots so they could vote in person and some were forced to receive primary ballots for the political party supported by the harvesters, though it was not the party the voters supported.
“Ballots by mail are intended to make it easier for Texas seniors to vote. The unfortunate downside is their extreme vulnerability to fraud,” Attorney General Paxton said in the statement. “My office is committed to ensuring that paid vote harvesters who fraudulently generate mail ballots, stealing votes from seniors, are held accountable for their despicable actions and for the damage they inflict on the electoral process.”
A Dallas County District Attorney investigation of mail in ballot fraud is still ongoing. One suspect was arrested after reports surfaced in May of 2017 of widespread ballot harvesting in West Dallas for a city election. That suspect pleaded guilty in June 2018 and received a sentence of 6 months in jail.
NBC5's Ken Kalthoff contributed to this report.