‘American Hustle’: Party Insiders Tell The True Story Of How Philadelphia Elections Work

‘American Hustle’: Party Insiders Tell The True Story Of How Philadelphia Elections Work

Judges who obtained their positions by fraud, according to an indictment, have denied the Trump campaign's ballot-watchers access, providing crucial unsupervised time to Democrat vote counters.
Chris Bedford and John Daniel Davidson
By

PHILADELPHIA, Penn. — Most Americans might not know the name Ozzie Myers, although a part of his tale was told in the hit 2013 movie “American Hustle” about the FBI sting that sent four congressmen to prison in the 1970s.

If you’re from Philadelphia, though, you know his name, and knew it well before 2013. He’s important to the country now because he’s currently under indictment for bribing a state elections judge to stuff ballots for Democratic candidates. Among the candidates he was paid to get elected are three as-yet-unnamed judges sitting on the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court. That’s where President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign has to go when local election officials refuse to let campaign monitors oversee ballot integrity, as has been the case these past few days throughout Pennsylvania.

In addition, Trump’s U.S. attorney, William McSwain, has hinted that in addition to the three unidentified judges, those Democrats tainted by election-fixing go all the way from local officials to the U.S. Congress.

Why should anyone care about that court? Because it’s playing a major role in the presidential election.

On Tuesday, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Stella Tsai ruled that the city’s Board of Elections was complying with state laws governing partisan election monitors, contradicting claims from the Trump campaign that GOP monitors were being kept too far away from absentee ballot-counters to observe whether ballots were being properly counted.

Then on Thursday, a state appellate court sided with the Trump campaign, ordering that election observers be allowed to stand within six feet of ballot-counters to ensure meaningful monitoring of the process. The City of Philadelphia immediately appealed the ruling to the state’s top court, which has yet to decide whether it will take up the matter.

Meanwhile, Republicans filed a lawsuit Tuesday in state court accusing Democratic election leaders of violating state code by authorizing local election officials to give information about rejected mail-in ballots to Democratic operatives so they could contact those voters and offer them a new ballot. Not only would such actions violate state law, they would defy a ruling from Pennsylvania’s state Supreme Court last month, which stated “mail-in or absentee voters are not provided any opportunity to cure perceived defects (to their ballot) in a timely manner.”

The back-and-forth in the courts, and the accusations of corruption at multiple levels of government, underscores the outsized role local Democratic officials are playing in the presidential election, with President Trump narrowly trailing former Vice President Joe Biden in a few key states, including Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia, those local officials are often connected to a Democratic Party machine with a long history of corruption, organized crime, and election fraud.

Myers, for example, is accused of bribing former Judge of Elections Domenick J. Demuro, who pleaded guilty in May to accepting bribes to stuff ballot boxes for certain candidates during the 2014, 2015, and 2016 primaries. According to a July report in Philly Voice, “At his polling station, Demuro admitted he would ‘ring up’ extras votes on machines, add them to the totals and later falsely certify that the results receipts from voting machines were accurate, prosecutors said.”

A Life In The Machine

Ozzie’s story is an illustrative one, and an example of how things work in Philadelphia politics—a “machine,” one insider told The Federalist, that has a lot more in common with “a living organism” that doesn’t need instructions “to know how to breathe.”

Michael “Ozzie” Myers was born in 1943 in Philadelphia. When he was 19, he was arrested for burglary but later acquitted (“a misunderstanding,” he’d say). When he was 27, his illegally owned handgun was used by his cousin to kill a non-union construction worker in what one newspaper characterized as “a union quarrel.” His cousin was fine, winning office as an election judge while still in prison, assuming his new office after release, and pleading the Fifth to stealing ballots shortly after taking the job.

Ozzie quickly made a name for himself. In 1975, by then 32 and a member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, he sued to cut off federal funds to the local federal prosecutor. The next month, he was the lone vote against expelling a colleague on his way to prison. He was rewarded for being such a reliable guy, and the following year the 16 ward leaders of District One nominated him to replace the Democratic congressman who had died in office (with the mayor easing early concerns Myers wasn’t even Italian). “I’m not going to tell you what I’m going to do until I get there,” Ozzie told the Democrats voting to send him to Washington.

When he did get to Washington, he partied. In 1979, when a Northern Virginia motel security guard told them they had to quiet down, Ozzie replied, “I’m a congressman, we don’t have to be quiet,” before beating the man with his friends. When the 19-year-old girl who worked the register tried to help the guard, they attacked her as well. When the police arrived, one of Ozzie’s buddies was naked from the waist down, screaming “beat me!” The naked man was arrested, and a warrant issued for the congressman’s arrest. During their sentencing, the judge warned the two to “keep their records clean.”

Ozzie did not follow the judge’s advice, and the following year, 1980, he explained to undercover FBI agents delivering him a $50,000 bribe that “money talks in this business, and bullshit walks.” When video emerged he was expelled from Congress — the first congressman expelled since the Civil War—and went to prison. When Ozzie got out, he appears to have gone right back to work, and in July 2020 was charged with bribing a Philadelphia elections judge to stuff ballots for his candidates.

Three of those candidates, who have not been identified, now sit on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Judges on this court have already denied the Trump campaign’s ballot-watchers access, providing crucial unsupervised time to ward vote counters before a successful appeal at a higher court.

Ozzie is a particularly colorful character, but not an unusual one, according to interviews The Federalist conducted with multiple current and former members of Philadelphia’s Democratic Party, who agreed to talk to us on condition of anonymity. It’s a way of life, they explained, with voters often owing their jobs (as well as family members’ jobs) and much else to an administration that rewards those it finds reliable.

“You have a kid who gets in trouble,” one insider explained as an example, “you call the party, and the party will have a lawyer on retainer who can represent him in court. The lawyer’s actually free, because he wants to become a judge so is establishing he’s reliable. When you get the nod to run, you pay $30 or $40,000 for party ‘marketing expenses’ and you win a 10-year term. You’re in front of a judge who went through this process… from the Democratic City Committee, so as soon as you walk in the room that judge is going to make the charge go away.”

“You couldn’t wire tap this,” they explained. “There’s no phone call, no deal—it’s a system he bought into years ago.”

And that’s just judges, insiders say. The “machine,” one explained, is less a machine than it is “a living organism—it doesn’t need a handshake or a phone call to know how to breathe.” Each part does its job, often in tandem but rarely with any communication or even necessarily a friendly relationship, and when things go right, people stay employed and the money keeps flowing.

Ozzie, we’re told, wasn’t even caught as part of an election fraud investigation: He was simply on the trail to John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, a powerful Philadelphia labor boss who leads the Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and was indicted in February 2019. Johnny Doc’s younger brother, Judge Kevin Dougherty,” was elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2015 with help from Local 98.

“In these neighborhoods, your school, house, health care, your job, a lawyer if your kid is in trouble, are all government. The bad ones are the bribes… the rest is just how it works.”

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