A Harris County grand jury has indicted three people who tried to illegally influence races in two Houston-area state House districts during the early days of the 2020 election cycle, District Attorney Kim Ogg announced Friday.
Democrat state Rep. Harold Dutton’s reelection bid made headlines earlier this year after questions were raised about whether one of the candidates on the ballot in his March primary actually existed.
That candidate, listed as Natasha Ruiz on ballot application paperwork, never campaigned but received enough votes in the four-way race to force Dutton into a runoff with Houston City Council member Jerry Davis.
Ruiz, who would later identify herself as Natasha Demming, worked with Richard Bonton, the fourth candidate, to file her ballot application under a false name. Bonton’s motive, Ogg said in a news release, appeared to be an attempt to manipulate voters in the district into supporting a Latina candidate and “dilute [Dutton’s] voter base in a district with a growing Latino population.”
Bonton faces up to four years in jail. Demming is charged with two counts of tampering with a governmental record and three Class A misdemeanors — perjury, election fraud and conspiracy to commit tampering with a governmental record — all of which are punishable by up to a year in jail.
“Those indicted today crossed the line from dirty politics to criminal activity and they will pay the price,” Ogg said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Damien Jones, a Democratic political consultant, was also indicted Friday on an allegation of sending an anonymous text threatening state Rep. Gina Calanni, in an effort to get her to resign from office instead of running for reelection. The threat, Ogg said, was sent to Calanni in December 2019 just ahead of the 2020 election filing deadline. Calanni reported the threat to the Texas Rangers, which investigated the complaint with the public corruption division of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
Jones could face up to a year in Harris County jail and up to a $4,000 fine, if convicted.