BLADEN COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Bladen County Sheriff James McVicker won re-election by an 11 percent margin, besting Democrat Hakeem Brown by 1,388 votes. He also won the absentee by mail vote with 429 compared to Brown’s 385. The race was not protested and there was no discussion of a recount as it was well outside the margin for that consideration.
Now, McVicker sits alongside others being questioned over claims of ballot irregularities and evidence of election fraud.
The North Carolina State Board of Elections issued a subpoena for records from McVicker’s campaign along with records from that of Mark Harris, candidate for U.S. House of Representatives, District 9, and Red Dome Group, a political consulting firm. Bladen County resident McCrae Dowless is also listed as a person of interest in the investigation.
Campaign finance reports show the McVicker campaign paid Red Dome $8,000 during the 2018 campaign, and Dowless another $8,800.
However, the sheriff’s connection to Red Dome and Dowless dates back further than the most recent election cycle.
In the 2014 election, McVicker paid Red Dome for “robo-call” campaign services. Attorneys for Red Dome reached out to WECT Wednesday, Dec. 12 to clarify that Dowless began contracting for the company in June of 2017.
According to documents from a lawsuit filed nearly three years ago by Bladen County resident and business owner Jeff Smith, the McVicker campaign was using Dowless in McVicker’s 2014 campaign for sheriff.
In those documents, Smith says he met with McVicker’s campaign manager on multiple occasions, and was informed that Prentis Benston, who was sheriff at the time, was planning to raid Smith’s video gaming business.
It was insinuated, Smith says in the documents, that he should shut down his business until after the election in order to avoid a raid, and that if elected, McVicker would be less interested than Benston would. Then, the campaign manager suggested Smith make a donation.
While the campaign wanted a contribution from him, Smith said he was asked to give the $4,000 he planned to give to McVicker’s campaign directly to Dowless. That way, Smith’s name would not be in the campaign finance report due out before election day.
“Mr. Dowless was working for the McVicker campaign to procure absentee ballots from voters who were not likely to attend the polls or vote early,” court documents read.
Later on in that 2014 campaign, Smith’s sworn comments in the report say the campaign reached out to him again, asking him to give another $1,800 as well as help manning the polls on election day.
In addition to Smith’s testimony, the documents include a declaration from Dowless, where he states he hired approximately 20 people to assist him in his efforts.
“I was responsible for paying each member of my team. I could pay workers in cash up to $50.00 per day that they worked, and often would pay members of my team in cash when allowed. At all times, I paid members of my team from funds provided to me on behalf of Sheriff McVicker’s campaign,” the testimony from Dowless reads.
Dowless’s declaration also dictates the timeline Smith gave in terms of when the campaign requested the funds from Smith.
WECT reached out to McVicker by phone Tuesday, but he declined to comment.
In a phone call Tuesday, Smith said on the record that in his mind, McVicker was aware of what was going on.
“Unless he didn’t trust his campaign manager, he knew what they were trying to do,” Smith said “The McVicker campaign extorted money from me to fund McCrae Dowless.”