CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A former Lincoln County commissioner who admitted he lied to an FBI agent about his role in an election fraud scheme will spend the next 21 months in federal prison.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston handed down Thomas Ramey Jr.'s sentence Thursday afternoon in a courtroom packed with Ramey supporters and Lincoln County residents.
Ramey pleaded guilty in August to a single charge of making a false statement to an FBI agent. He is the third, and final, of those charged in the Lincoln County election fraud scheme.
Ramey, 32, hung his head as Johnston said he would serve prison time and two years on supervised release. Stipulations of his plea agreement required him to resign his seat, which he did in July, and bars him from holding public office or being involved in any campaign for public office for ten years.
Onlookers sat elbow to elbow and a gasp and mumbling could be heard as the judge spoke.
Johnston told Ramey his sentence was to be a message to Lincoln County and other counties where voter fraud may be a problem.
"Election fraud in Lincoln County and in southern West Virginia must stop," Johnston said.
The judge said that if future cases involving election fraud were brought before him, he would impose longer sentences.
Ramey's sentence is the harshest of the three.
Former Lincoln County Sheriff Jerry Bowman, 58, was sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison, along with three years probation. Bowman admitted to falsifying more than 100 absentee ballot applications for voters who did not have any legal basis to vote absentee.
Former County Clerk Donald Whitten, 62, was sentenced to one year and six months in prison and three years probation after pleading guilty to making a false statement.
Gregory Campbell, Ramey's attorney, said 21 months in prison "is a long time." He had guessed Ramey would receive no more than 18 months.
Ramey, who would not comment after the hearing, apologized in court to his family, friends and Lincoln County residents.
He said he got into politics because he loved Lincoln County and was tired of the negative connotations he heard about the area while growing up. He wanted to make a difference, he said.
Ramey maintained he did not know it was illegal to cast absentee ballots without a legal reason. But when he was informed it was illegal to do so he instructed a clerk, who has not been charged, to alter the forms that already had been submitted.
"I panicked," Ramey told the court after learning his actions were illegal. "When I was asked about it I was too scared to admit it."