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Residents have mixed reactions to Lincoln county commissioner’s sentence

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Thomas Ramey Jr. // Photo courtesy WOWK-TV Thomas Ramey Jr. // Photo courtesy WOWK-TV

Some Lincoln County residents say justice was served this week after former Lincoln County commissioner Thomas Ramey Jr. was sentenced to 21 months in prison for making false statements to an FBI agent investigating voter fraud.

"I'm very happy there is justice for Lincoln County," Lincoln County resident Versie Sims said Nov. 15 following Ramey's sentencing in federal court. "It's been a long time coming."

Others left the courtroom in tears.

"I feel like we've been robbed again," said Melisa Ferrell, of Lincoln County. "Like we had something good, and a thief went and took him away in the night. He was the only one there who actually helped people."

Ramey, 32, appeared in a packed federal courtroom, where U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston handed down the sentence, which was longer than two others involved in the scheme.

Former Lincoln County Sheriff Jerry Bowman, 58, and Lincoln County Clerk Donald Whitten, 62, were involved in the scheme.

According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's office, Bowman admitted to falsifying more than 100 absentee ballot applications for voters who did not have a legal reason to vote absentee.

Whitten, the news release continued, admitted to lying to an FBI agent about his role in the election fraud conspiracy.

"Bowman also admitted that on several occasions, he witnessed co-defendant Ramey complete absentee ballot applications for voters who had no apparent reason to vote absentee legally," the news release states.   

The information states Bowman, Whitten and another "known individual" visited voters' and sat with voters while they voted.

"This sentence is meant to send a message back to Lincoln County and southern West Virginia: Election fraud in Lincoln County and southern West Virginia must stop," Johnston said in the Nov. 15 sentence hearing. 

Sims said she thought Ramey deserved the longer sentence.

"There needed to be a message, and the judge sent it," she said. "I wasn't surprised. I knew the players."

Lisa Ramey, GOP chairwoman of Lincoln County, agreed.

"I'm glad the judge gave him the sentence he deserved," said Ramey, who is of no relation to the commissioner. "It was foolish for him to try to get out of the conspiracy charge."

However, some thought that sentence was too harsh.

"The judge should have gone easier on him," said Kevin Ferrell, of Lincoln County. "I don't think he should have gotten anything more than probation. The county clerk and sheriff should have known better. For him to get more than either of them is not right."

Ferrell said Ramey has been a huge asset to the county fire department, noting several ways he had helped.

"He had training set up," Ferrell said. "If it were not for him in office, we never would have known about it."

"If he were in office again, I would vote for him again," he later added. "If he ever runs for office again, I would vote for him." 

Melisa Ferrell also said Ramey helped her exercise group called the Pound Punchers. She said if it weren't for Ramey, her group would not have had new equipment.

"When we started the program, the equipment wasn't safe to be on. But he walked with us, came out and helped us. He is doing good. He's helping people," she said.

Several letters were sent to the court in support of and against Ramey.

A Spurlockville resident, Sharon Sammons, said she and her husband voted absentee in 2008. At that point, she said they were under the impression that anyone could vote absentee.

"I did not know Thomas at all at that point," she wrote. "Like Thomas, I believed what I was told, and never questioned it. For years many county residents have believed absentee voting was no excuse. I know without a doubt whatsoever that Thomas was like me. He believed the process was transparent and helpful for our people."

She later wrote, "Thomas is a breath of fresh air in a county riddled with numerous political rats. Our county and her people are worse off today because Thomas is no longer on the commission. If Thomas could run tomorrow, I would proudly support him for any office. He is an inspiration."

Peggy Moore, a Kermit resident, said she was under the same impression.

"Thomas even told me during the campaign time before his election about absentees voting. He thought I would be interested in no excuse absentee voting, since I am somewhat involved in politics," she wrote. "Like Thomas, I thought no excuse absentee made perfect sense."

Moore said Ramey was not "one of the good old boy politicians of Lincoln County" but instead fell in with the wrong crowd.

"He was dragged into a situation by much older and experienced individuals who exploited his passion," she wrote. "Thomas may have been less than honest when he was scared after learning he was used, but I know he did not involve himself in election fraud."

Lisa Ramey and Sims, however, encouraged the court for a higher sentence.

"I know Mr. Ramey was only charged with lying to an FBI agent, but he did so much more. He went to my elderly neighbor, marked her ballot and had her sign it, while promising water, and it never came through," Lisa Ramey wrote.  

"Our county is full of honest hardworking people who are tired of the embarrassment of our elected, corrupt officials. Everyone feels Whitten, Bowman and Ramey's convictions are the tip of the iceberg," she later added.

Sims thanked the court for work on the Lincoln County voter fraud scheme.

"Your honor, you have the evidence, testimony and unfortunately you cannot see the effects on the lives of Lincoln County residents under the direction of the Lincoln County Commission which Thomas Ramey was a member. Thomas never voted or represented the people. He always voted at the pleasure of Charles McCann with a packed chamber pleading for him to support the people."