“After a thorough investigation conducted by the FBI and prosecutors from my office, we have determined that there is insufficient evidence to prove criminal intent on the part of the person who discarded the ballots,” acting U.S. Attorney Bruce Brandler said in a statement. “Therefore, no criminal charges will be filed and the matter is closed.”
Brandler recently replaced David Freed, the former U.S. attorney who last year revealed nine military absentee ballots had been tossed in Luzerne County. Freed resigned on Jan. 1. The U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment at the time about the investigation.
Luzerne County, with a population of about 317,000, sits in northeast Pennsylvania outside of Scranton.
The probe centered on who discarded the ballots, which were mostly for President Donald Trump. Freed also said investigators found four official, bar-coded, absentee ballot envelopes that were empty. Most of the material was found in a dumpster.
“The preliminary findings of this inquiry are troubling and the Luzerne County Bureau of Elections must comply with all applicable state and federal election laws and guidance to ensure that all votes—regardless of party—are counted to ensure an accurate election count,” Freed wrote in a letter to Shelby Watchilla, director of elections for Luzerne County, in September 2020.
He said interviews revealed staffers were improperly opening nearly all envelopes received, even though they weren’t supposed to open military ballots until Election Day. Opening any absentee ballot before then “violates the controlling statutes and is contrary to Pennsylvania Department of State guidance,” Freed said.
Luzerne County Manager David Pedri’s office later said a contractor was to blame for the discarded ballots. The contractor was fired but not charged. Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat, told reporters what happened was “a bad error” and “not intentional fraud.” The county and state didn’t respond to requests for comment.
FBI agents worked with Pennsylvania State Police officers to conduct the investigation. County election officials cooperated with law enforcement, federal officials said.
Trump mentioned the probe several times. He told reporters in Washington last year: “We have to be careful with the ballots. The ballots, that’s a whole big scam. You know they found, I understand, eight ballots in a waste paper basket in some location. They found, it was reported in one of the newspapers that they found a lot of ballots in a river. They throw them out if they have the name Trump on them I guess.”