By Carla Branch and James Cullum
Alexandria Commonwealth Attorney Randy Sengel has found no evidence to support allegations that Councilwoman Alicia Hughes committed election fraud.
Sengel announced his findings in a letter to J. Gerald Hebert dated July 30, 2009. Hebert represents three Alexandria voters who asked Sengel to conduct the investigation. The three voters alleged that Hughes was not a resident of the City for one year before her May 5, 2009, election and thus may have made false statements on one or more campaign documents.
Sengel began his inquiry into the allegations after Hebert’s June 12, letter to a number of City officials requesting the investigation. “I do not find that the evidence supports any allegation that Ms. Hughes made a willfully false material statement on forms filed in connection with her candidacy for City Council. Accordingly I am closing our inquiry into the matter,” Sengel said in the letter to Hebert.
Hebert responded on behalf of his clients. “Now that a complete review has been completed by the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, the legal issues have been resolved to our satisfaction,” Hebert said. “As the Commonwealth Attorney’s office investigation found, Ms. Hughes had substantial ties to the State of Maryland in the one year prior to the May 2009 election. In the words of the Commonwealth Attorney: ‘there is evidence to indicate that until recently Ms. Hughes drove a vehicle that was registered in the state of Maryland, owns real estate in Maryland for which she received tax benefits by virtue of the property being listed as her principle place of residence, carried a Maryland driver’s license, and was registered to vote in Maryland.’
“Under Virginia law, a person’s residence is determined by domicile and place of abode. To establish domicile, the Commonwealth Attorney concluded that ‘a person must live in a particular locality with the intention to remain there for an unlimited time.’ Despite what the Commonwealth Attorney’s office found were Ms. Hughes “various ties” to Maryland, his office also found she had lived in Alexandria during that time period for a sufficient period to establish residency.
“All of the evidence of Ms. Hughes various ties to Maryland provided ample basis for three concerned citizens to ask that the issue of her residency and qualifications for office be reviewed. Now that a review has been conducted by the Commonwealth Attorney’s office in accordance with Virginia law, their concerns have been resolved,” Hebert said.
Sengel considered all of the documents that Hughes filed prior to her election. Primarily, however, he reviewed statements that she made on her March 3, 2009, Statements of Candidate Qualification. In that document, Hughes stated that: (1) she is a U.S. citizen; (2) she is at least 18 years of age; (3) she has been a resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia for a year immediately preceding the election for the office she is seeking; (4) she now resides at 200 Yoakum Parkway, 701, Alexandria, Virginia; (5) she is registered to vote at the same address: (6) she has never been convicted of a felony and (7) she has never been adjudicated mentally incompetent and lost her right to vote.
“The evidence does not establish that any of these statements are false. Ms. Hughes is clearly a citizen of the United States, over the age of 18 years, and was residing at the Yoakum Parkway address on March 3, 2009. She had registered to vote at that address on May 1, 2008, and had voted at the appropriate precinct for that address in the General Election in November of 2008. Ms. Hughes has not been convicted of a felony and has never been adjudicated mentally incompetent and lost her right to vote.
“Inquiry into Ms. Hughes assertion that she was a resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia for the period of one year immediately preceding the election for the office she sought also indicates ample evidence to support the truth of this assertion. While there is evidence to indicate that until recently Ms. Hughes drove a vehicle that was registered in the State of Maryland, owns real estate in Maryland for which she received tax benefits by virtue of the property being listed as her principal place of residence, carried a Maryland driver’s license and was registered to vote in Maryland, this evidence does not establish that Ms. Hughes resided outside the Commonwealth of Virginia between May 5, 2008 and May 5, 2009,” Sengel wrote.
Hughes did not respond to a request for comments for this story. She still faces a federal investigation into whether she violated the Hatch Act. That law precludes some federal employees from running for elected office as a member of any political party. Hughes, a Republican-backed independent, is a patent examiner at the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria.