The case of eight Woodlands residents who sought to use a residency loophole in the state’s election law to gain representation in a utility district election in 2010 will go before a grand jury on Thursday in Montgomery County as the state pursues criminal voter fraud charges.
The eight, which included retirees, small business owners and trade workers, sought to elect some new members to the board of the Woodlands Road Utility District.
Because they didn’t live in the 2,400-acre district, they checked into a Residence Inn that was within its boundaries, claiming residency there. Three of their confederates placed their names on the ballot, and, thanks to the “new” residents, they ousted three incumbents who had fostered the district, which has the power to tax and issue debt.
The incumbents sued, and a judge ruled the votes were invalid, reversing the election. In October 2010, the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office submitted information to the state Attorney General’s office.
The AG’s office has pursued criminal voter fraud charges over the past several years as part of Attorney General Greg Abbott’s crusade against the practice. Texas Watchdog has documented mail-in ballot fraud - a practice widespread in poorer, South Texas communities. Lawmakers have refused to address that issue, focusing instead on voter ID for in-person balloting.
A spokesman for the AG’s office refused to speak about The Woodlands case.
Meanwhile, a website assembled by a Fort Worth lobbying firm paints the group of eight as “Most Wanted” for their work.
The residents featured on the site, which includes photos from inside their homes taken as part of the action filed against them, recently discovered the site.
“When I saw the site, it looked like they were accusing us of being criminals,” said Adrian Heath, one of the residents.
Eppstein and his partner at Radar, Jonathan Rice, did not return emails or calls. Eppstein also runs the Eppstein Group, a political consultancy.
Eppstein has worked for a host of state politicians, including state Sen. Tommy Williams, whose district includes The Woodlands. Williams was a proponent of the Town Center Improvement District, which was legislatively created in 1993 and became The Woodlands Township in 2007.
The lawyer for The Woodlands Township is Mike Page, who also serves as counsel for the Woodlands Road Utility District. Page’s firm, Schwartz, Page & Harding, donated $5,000 to Williams’ political fund in 2009 and 2010.
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