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NC Political Operative Makes Federal Court Appearance

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Steve Harrison
/
WFAE

WILMINGTON — A political operative at the center of a North Carolina absentee ballot fraud investigation made his first court appearance on Monday on federal charges related to campaign work.

Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. of Bladen County, received a public defender and can remain free pending a trial, according to a written summary of hearing activities before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Jones Jr. in Wilmington.

A grand jury last month indicted Dowless on four counts related to allegations of Social Security benefit fraud. The indictment accuses Dowless of concealing over $100,000 paid to him for work performed for candidates during the 2018 election. The alleged deception resulted in Dowless receiving more than $14,000 in benefits above what he was actually entitled, federal prosecutors have said.

Dowless and others were indicted last year in state court on charges involving ballot “harvesting” allegations during the 2016 and 2018 elections. The state case against Dowless also is pending.

Evidence accumulated in state probes showed Dowless worked in 2018 for Mark Harris, the Republican nominee in the 9th Congressional District race. Witnesses told state officials that Dowless gathered hundreds of absentee ballots from Bladen County voters with the help of his assistants. The election was ultimately rerun and won by GOP Rep. Dan Bishop.