- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2007

RICHMOND — A man who promised chances to win prizes in exchange for voting for two Waynesboro City Council candidates has been charged with bribery and issuing unlawful political advertisements.

George Hartsook, of Stuarts Draft, Va., faces two misdemeanor charges stemming from his distribution of fliers before the May 2006 council election offering the possibility to win dinners and other prizes for voting for Reo Hatfield and Pat Steele.

The “Vote Hatfield & Steele and Win! Win! Win!” fliers promised chances at appointments at a local hair salon, dinners and movie tickets, Mr. Hartsook said. Members of his political action committee — the American Property Owners Association — placed the fliers on the windshields of about 60 cars parked at Wal-Mart, Kmart and a restaurant several days before the election.

He denies that the incentives were bribery because the candidates had no knowledge of the group’s support.

“Bribery is where you pay somebody off,” Mr. Hartsook said. “It’s not when you offer incentives for people to vote for your candidate. We were just recommending those two for City Council. There was no connection between us and the candidates. We didn’t know there was any kind of code against that. When we found out, we immediately stopped that.”

Mr. Hartsook, who has a preliminary hearing Monday on the charges, said 11,000 fliers had been printed, “enough to go out to every registered voter” in the Shenandoah Valley city.

Mr. Hatfield, a two-term incumbent, and Mr. Steele, a first-time candidate, lost at the polls. Mr. Hatfield joined the city registrar in asking for a police investigation.

“The bottom line is you should not interfere in elections,” he told the News-Virginian of Waynesboro.

Mr. Hartsook, who owns several properties in the city, said his actions stem from his opposition to rising real estate assessments and the use of taxpayer money to convert a cinema to a fine arts center. The two candidates his group supported were against the project, he said.

“We were offering [prizes] to every registered voter, to give people an incentive, to let them know, ‘Look, the only way you’re going to win the fight is to vote for the right people,’ ” he said.

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