NYC elections officials seek state, federal probes into suspected ballot-harvesting

The city’s Board of Elections has asked the US Department of Justice and the state Attorney General’s office to investigate whether a candidate for a City Council seat on Staten Island ran an illegal ballot-harvesting and forgery operation in last month’s primary – including registering dead people to vote for him, The Post has learned.

Hemalee Patel, the BOE’s general counsel, sent letters Wednesday to both Attorney General Letitia James and Jacquelyn M. Kasulis, acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, asking their offices to open election-fraud probes into the campaign of Marko Kepi, a US Marine seeking the Republican line in the race for the 50th District council seat representing the borough’s Mid-Island section.

With many absentee ballots still in dispute, Kepi, a former aide to ex-state Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn), trails David Carr by less than 200 votes for the Republican line in November’s general election to replace term-limited Councilman Steven Matteo.

New York Attorney General Letitia James stands with elected officials and law enforcement speaking about gun trafficking and drug arrests during a news conference at the state Capitol Thursday, June 24, 2021.
The NYC BOE has asked AG Letitia James’ office to look into the Staten Island campaign.
Hans Pennink

The letters were sent at the request of the board’s commissioners, who voted unanimously during an executive session Tuesday closed to the public to seek both criminal investigations, according to sources. Such requests are rare for the board.

“During the recent primary election in New York City, our staff in Richmond County discovered some irregularities related to absentee ballot applications and absentee ballots,” Patel says in the letters about the 50th District race, which use the same language.

“Our Board of Commissioners voted to refer this matter to your office to investigate these issues, and take whatever action you deem appropriate.”

The BOE’s request was made at a time when it’s under fire for releasing inaccurate voting results in the city’s Democratic mayoral primary — ultimately won by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams – that led to renewed calls to overhaul the board.

Attached to the letters was a BOE interoffice memorandum noting four Kepi campaign workers picked up and dropped off 1,050 absentee ballots for the primary — some of which allegedly had many irregularities.

David Carr
David Carr, above, leads Marko Kepi by a slim vote margin.

They include an allegedly forged voter-registration form in a dead man’s name and numerous examples of absentee ballots submitted under the names of people who previously voted in person.

The memo, according to sources, also noted BOE staff’s initial findings might be a small piece of something larger, adding an investigation of Kepi’s campaign is warranted because the absentee ballots in question not only affect his race but the results of others as well, including the highly contested Republican primary for Staten Island borough president and citywide races.

The memo noted the same four workers representing Kepi’s campaign previously claimed to have worked for ex-Rep. Vito Fossella’s Beep campaign.

Fossella – who opted not to seek re-election for his House seat in 2008 after a drunk-driving bust in Virginia revealed he was quietly keeping a second family – has not been accused of any wrongdoing related to Kepi’s campaign, according to borough Republican operatives.

A Board of Elections worker cleans disinfects voting booths as early voters cast their votes at Madison Square Garden in the 2020 elections on Saturday, October 24, 2020.
BOE general counsel Hemalee Patel sent out letters to Letitia James and Jacquelyn M. Kasulis about the potential election fraud.
James Keivom

The ex-congressman was only ahead by a mere 290 votes after absentee ballots were tallied Tuesday, leading to Matteo conceding the race to Fossella.

When asked about the BOE’s letters, Matteo declined to comment.

Fossella saw a late surge at the polls after being endorsed by ex-President Donald Trump.

As The Post exclusively reported last month, Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon is already investigating Kepi’s campaign for voter fraud.

His investigators swarmed the BOE’s borough office in mid-June to pull a bevy of absentee-ballot applications and other documents filed by Kepi campaign workers – both for the council race and Kepi’s failed 2020 primary bid for the 64th District Assembly seat representing parts of Staten Island and southern Brooklyn.

McMahon’s probe and BOE’s subsequent actions were spurred by evidence provided by Carr, who is Matteo’s chief of staff.

New York, March 22: City Council member Steven Matteo at a city council hearing on the NYCHA Budget.
The primary in dispute is over a race to eventually replace Councilman Steven Matteo.
Erik Thomas/NY Post

Carr gave investigators information he believes shows Kepi’s camp schemed and forged signatures to secure at least two absentee ballots under the name of dead men.

He also has said his research shows Kepi’s campaign turned in many other absentee ballot applications to BOE he believes contain forged signatures that don’t match the relevant voter’s signature previously on record.

This, he alleges, raises questions whether actual ballots were taken to the appropriate voters to cast, sign off on and seal as required by law. 

Kepi’s campaign denied any wrongdoing, saying in a statement the attorney general and the feds should “investigate” Carr’s campaign for objecting and challenging the validity of hundreds of absentee ballots cast by Albanian-Americans “on the basis of ethnicity.”

Kepi is Albanian-American and believes these ballots can help put him on top.

“It’s a disgrace that David Carr and his cronies at BOE would rather infringe on voters’ constitutional rights than admit defeat,” the campaign said.

The city's BOE members had issue with the number of absentee ballot applications and absentee ballots in Richmond County.
The city’s BOE members had issue with the number of absentee ballot applications and absentee ballots in Richmond County.
Mary Altaffer, File/AP

A Carr campaign spokesman said the BOE is “doing the right thing” by asking law enforcement agencies to investigate Kepi’s camp, adding “this is bigger than just our council race – it’s about the integrity of our electoral system and ensuring every real vote actually counts.”

James’ office confirmed it received the letter but declined further comment. The US Attorney’s Office also declined comment.

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