A booster of former President Donald Trump who falsely claimed election fraud in the 2020 presidential election without any evidence of wrongdoing is potentially facing charges of election fraud himself.
Federal and state investigators are looking at the campaign tactics of Marko Kepi, a former U.S. Marine who ran in the Repblican primary election to succeed City Councilmember Steven Matteo of Staten Island, following concerns from the NYC Board of Elections that he may have forged absentee ballots to tip the scales in his favor.
An internal Board of Elections memo obtained by Gothamist/WNYC detailed concerns about 1,050 absentee ballots picked up and dropped off at BOE offices by four Kepi campaign workers. Many of the ballots had signatures that didn’t match voting records and, in at least one case, the name of a deceased person was used to cast a vote. The memo also mentioned that similar issues occurred during Kepi’s 2020 campaign for State Assembly, a race he lost to Michael Tannousi.
In a subsequent letter sent to the U.S. Justice Department and the New York Attorney General’s office, the board’s general counsel, Hamalee Patel, asked for an investigation into the irregularities, a request that followed a closed-door vote by the Board of Elections commissioners.
The NY Post first reported on the BOE request. Both offices confirmed they received the request, but declined to comment further. A BOE spokesperson didn’t return a request for comment.
The Staten Island District attorney had been referred to the allegations by Kepi’s rival candidate David Carr, who works as Matteo’s chief of staff at the council.
“My office takes these allegations very seriously, and will fully investigate this matter to ensure the integrity and fairness of our election system,” said Staten Island DA Michael McMahon in a statement.
Chapin Fay, a spokesperson for Kepi’s campaign called the allegations a “fake scandal ginned up by a political machine that does not want all legal votes to be counted.” Adding that, “Once all the votes have been counted, Marko Kepi will be the Republican nominee for City Council and it will become crystal clear this whole mess was simply desperate campaign tactics.”
Carr, who pledged to mid-Island residents he’d “push back against the radical progressive agenda,” finished primary night ahead of Kepi by 647 votes. With absentee ballots and affidavit ballots factored in, Kepi pulled ahead by 33 votes. Kepi’s campaign got an additional 731 absentee and affidavit votes compared to the 199 for Carr. When ranked-choice tabulations were run, however, Carr managed to beat Kepi by 196 votes.
Kepi, who immigrated from Albania as a child, is a longtime booster of Trump, rallying support for him when he faced the results of Robert Mueller’s probe into his campaign activities. On the campaign trail, Kepi touted the medal of honor he received from Trump, though there were questions raised about the medal’s authenticity.
A spokesperson for Carr’s campaign said they contested hundreds of ballots where signatures on the ballot envelopes didn’t match the voters’ record. They also found cases of duplicate votes in which one person requested and cast two absentee ballots, and two cases of a dead person who voted. Many of the contested ballots were from voters of Albanian descent which Kepi alleged was a sign of anti-Albanian discrimination.
Carr pushed back, saying the evidence their campaign found was “so blatant it speaks for itself.”
“Dead people cannot vote. People who vote in person do not just forget they already voted by absentee ballots. People do not dramatically change their signatures depending on what document they are signing,” he said.
“Unfortunately, people just shrug when they hear the phrase election fraud,” Carr added, noting they had approached the Staten Island District Attorney trying to do the right thing. “This is bigger than just a City Council race, it is about the integrity of our electoral system and ensuring that every real vote counts.”