HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — A Hampton woman has been charged in an election fraud investigation.
Mary Patricia Taylor, 56, is facing one count of communicating false information to registered voters.
Police say Taylor designed, authored and published a Hampton School Board voting bulletin using the domain name annstephenscherry.com.
In addition, the site also allegedly fraudulently indicated that Ann Stephens Cherry, who was a candidate in this past May’s election, endorsed fellow candidate Martha Mugler.
Stephens Cherry served as spokesperson for Hampton City Schools for 17 years and was elected to a seat on the board. Mugler is the current chair of the school board.
“Martha and I talked about it quite often, especially when we first found out about it,” said Stephens Cherry. “And we were both concerned.”
Stephens Cherry said she first learned someone purchased the domain name that matches her name when her campaign members went to make the purchase themselves.
“I could not imagine who would have purchased the site annstephenscherry.com,” she said. “So I ended up with no website.”
Stephens Cherry said the site was “under construction” for a couple of weeks. When it finally went live, she found an endorsement for Mugler. Plus, the ad on the site encouraged voters to vote for Mugler on May 10 — a full week after the legal voting date.
The website was temporarily taken down. On Friday, June 10, it was active again with an “Apology to Hampton Voters,” from Taylor.
In her apology, Taylor said she never meant to mislead voters. Referring to the endorsement, she said, “I didn’t think anything more about it. It was a cartoon. Surely did not think a single voter would believe this to be anything more than as intended, a cartoon.”
Taylor also described her encounter with the detective.
“The officer then began to ask me questions about the website,” explained Taylor. “He said that he had done a search warrant and it was determined that I was the owner. He asked if it was mine. I told him I did not believe he did a search warrant but that yes it was mine. He then asked if I also owned marthamugler.com and pamelacroom.com. I told him yes.”
Pamela Croom is the current Hampton Council PTA President and she also ran for a seat on the school board.
“I had intended to run their statements, both audio and text, from the campaign forums on these sites,” Taylor said about why she purchased the domain names. “If a potential voter searched the candidates’ name, they would be able to hear and/or read the candidates statements.”
Taylor said she planned to purchase every candidates’ domain name, but some were already taken.
WAVY.com went to Taylor’s home for comment, but she did not want to discuss the situation.
Stephens Cherry said the experience doesn’t sit well with her. She said she likened it to identity theft, though that’s not the charge Taylor faces.
“To be violated in that manner, it really caused a lot of stress for not only myself, but for people in my campaign,” said Stephens Cherry.
From Taylor’s online statement, WAVY.com learned she also runs hamptonschoolfacts.com. On the site, she is critical of the school division’s leaders and current school board members.
Stephens Cherry said she knew Taylor prior to this situation, because she frequently filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the school division. As the spokesperson, Stephens Cherry responded to those requests.
Taylor was released via summonses, according to police.