Key figure in NC09 election fraud case indicted on Social Security fraud charges

Dowless attending the North Carolina State Board of Elections' election fraud hearing in...
Dowless attending the North Carolina State Board of Elections' election fraud hearing in Raleigh last week. (Source: Pool)
Updated: Apr. 21, 2020 at 2:20 PM EDT
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BLADEN COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Leslie McCrae Dowless, the central figure in the election fraud investigation that led to a re-do of the 2018 congressional race in North Carolina’s 9th district, has been indicted on new charges related to his political activity.

On Tuesday, a federal court judge unsealed documents highlighting how Dowless has been charged with defrauding the Social Security Administration for payments he received while he was working for candidates in 2017 and 2018.

According to the indictment, which can be viewed in full at the bottom of this story, Dowless first filed for social security benefits in 2013, and had multiple run-ins with the agency’s eligibility requirements, because he was bringing in income above the program’s limit.

In 2016, the indictment says Dowless filed for a re-determination of his benefits, stating he remained disabled and did not receive income beyond his social security payments, and he received those payments until November 2018.

In July 2018, Dowless applied for retirement benefits through the SSA.

According to the documents, the agency was not aware Dowless was working for political campaigns in 2017 and 2018. The indictment specifically points out a $3,300 payment in early 2017 — around the time Republican Mark Harris says he first put a “down payment” on Dowless’ services for the 2018 race.

By the end of the campaign cycle, the documents say Dowless had been paid $132,365.57, approximately the same amount investigators at the North Carolina State Board of Elections indicated he was paid, with Dowless having already received almost $64,000 of that when he applied for the retirement benefits.

According to the indictment, Social Security paid Dowless $14,203.1 in what they say were unauthorized payments.

Dowless is charged with embezzling and using for his own purposes money belonging to the United States, a violation of Title 18 of the United States Code, and further says Dowless tried to conceal his income to secure payments, a violation of Title 42. It also charges him with making false statements.

If convicted, the SSA wants the amount paid to Dowless forfeited, either in cash or through seizure of property.

U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon’s office released more information about the indictment Tuesday afternoon:

“If convicted of the charge of theft of government property, Dowless faces a maximum penalty of ten years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. If convicted of the charges of social security fraud, Dowless faces a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. If convicted of making false statements, Dowless faces a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. Each count in the indictment also subjects the defendant to a term of up to three years supervised release following any term of imprisonment.”

His first court appearance is scheduled for May 11 in Wilmington.

Dowless is awaiting trial in multiple counts of election fraud charges as well.

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