3 search warrants demand financial, phone records in 9th District probe

February 26, 2019

Investigators with the State Bureau of Investigation and the Wake County District Attorney’s Office have issued three sealed search warrants seeking information related to McCrae Dowless, the man at the center of an election fraud probe that just last week prompted a new race for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.

Court documents show SBI agents seized financial documents connected to Dowless from the State Employees Credit Union, as well as phone records from his cell service provider. Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman confirmed a third warrant seeking records from another financial institution that had not yet been returned and logged at the courthouse.

The existence of two of the search warrants was originally reported Friday by WBTV in Charlotte.

Dowless’ activities have been the subject of intense scrutiny by criminal investigators and investigators with the State Board of Elections following absentee ballot irregularities in Robeson and Bladen counties in 2018. Republican Mark Harris hired the veteran political operative for get-out-the-vote efforts in those counties in a bid to represent the 9th District.

Despite Harris’ 905-vote lead over his Democratic opponent, state elections officials refused to certify the results. After four days of testimony last week in which Dowless employees admitted to taking possession of voters’ absentee ballots – a felony in North Carolina – Harris told the State Board of Elections that he supported a new election. A WRAL News analysis found that people connected with Dowless handled one out of every five absentee ballots in Bladen County.

With the issue of a new election settled, attention has now shifted to the ongoing criminal investigation led by Freeman, who a year ago began looking into allegations of fraud in the 2016 elections. She took the helm after Bladen County’s own district attorney, Jon David, recused himself from the probe over past dealings with Dowless and other groups involved in absentee ballot accusations.

Dowless, who refused to testify at the elections board hearing last week, did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday. His lawyer, Cynthia Adams Singletary, was unavailable Tuesday morning. But they’ve publicly denied that Dowless broke any laws.

Although judges sealed the search warrants and the inventory of records investigators seized, court paperwork shows SBI agents initially sought financial records connected to Dowless on Dec. 5, 2018. That seal was supposed to last for 30 days, but a Wake County judge extended it for another 60.

A separate warrant for phone records filed on Jan. 17 isn’t scheduled to become public until mid-April.

Disclosing the details of the search warrants, the judges’ orders read, “might hamper or impede this investigation and/or may release information that could adversely affect persons who are not charged with committing a crime.”

Freeman said her office may seek to unseal the warrants early, especially now that the State Board of Elections has concluded its hearings into the matter. At the time, she said, she didn’t want to unduly influence the board’s decision on whether to hold a new election.

“There has been an intentional decision by me not to take any actions that would appear to interfere with what the state board is doing,” Freeman said.

She said she does anticipate elections investigators will share their findings with her office and that much of the evidence from the probe of elections in both 2016 and 2018 will go before a grand jury. She said her office is meeting with elections officials this week.

“Considerable work has been done, but considerable work has yet to be done,” Freeman said.

WRAL News has joined a media coalition to ask Freeman to get the search warrants unsealed, and if not, to seek a court order unsealing them.