Two men, including one who tried to run for mayor of a Southern California city, were charged with voter fraud Tuesday in a scheme in which they allegedly submitted thousands of false voter registration applications.
No ballots were returned or tallied, the Los Angeles County elections office said. The alleged fraud was uncovered by that office in early October and sent to prosecutors.
The plan centered on an attempt by Carlos Antonio De Bourbon Montenegro, 53, to run for the mayor of Hawthorne, according to a criminal complaint. It does not appear he made it on the ballot, and he is not listed as a candidate in online election results.
Montenegro is charged with 41 counts, including conspiracy to commit voter fraud, voter fraud and perjury, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said in a statement Tuesday.
Marcos Raul Arevalo is charged with more than a dozen counts.
"Our checks and balances worked," Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean C. Logan said in a video call aired by NBC Los Angeles.
"We detected the oddities in these forms. We identified that there was something off with that. We reported it. It was investigated fairly quickly by our law enforcement," he said.
The men are accused of submitting over 8,000 voter registration applications for "fictitious, non-existent or deceased persons," according to a criminal complaint.
The district attorney's office said in a statement that the pair submitted "thousands of fraudulent voter registration applications on behalf of homeless people."
Twenty-nine vote-by-mail ballots were sent out in early October, the criminal complaint says. Logan said that "as soon as we detected the suspicious nature of these, those were then flagged," and even if they had been returned those ballots would have been held and not counted.
The scheme aimed to use post-office boxes and Montenegro's home to collect mail-ballots that would be cast for Montenegro, officials said.
Montenegro is also accused of submitting 32 fake signatures on write-in candidate nomination papers in his bid to try and run for mayor.
Logan, the elections official, said officials noticed voter applications coming in that "had a consistent pattern" of a repeated post-office box, incremental Social Security numbers and similar handwriting.
Attempts to reach Montenegro by phone were not immediately successful Wednesday night. Online court records did not list an attorney who could speak on his behalf.
If Montenegro is convicted as charged, he faces a maximum sentence of 15 years and 8 months in prison, the district attorney's office said.
Hawthorne is a city of around 86,000 in the Los Angeles area.
The charges come as President Donald Trump has baselessly claimed widespread voter fraud in the presidential election that he is projected to lose, and NBC Los Angeles reports that the Hawthorne case is being held up by officials as an example of how difficult it is to actually cheat the system. The county elections office calls cases of voter fraud extraordinarily rare.