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Man Pleads Guilty to Buying Votes

July 14, 1998

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ A political activist pleaded guilty Monday to rewarding voters with free tickets good for $1 items at a convenience store.

The investigation was dubbed the ``Beer for Votes″ case because the coupons were enough to buy a can of beer.

Lester Bernard Gillespie, 42, pleaded guilty to a federal felony charge of making an expenditure to influence voting during the November 1996 general election. He faces up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000 when he is sentenced on Sept. 30.

Gillespie declined to comment on the case Monday.

The investigation began when Republicans alleged that black votes were bought in Charleston in southeast Missouri to bolster Democratic state Rep. Gene Copeland’s bid for a 19th consecutive term.

Gillespie has said the coupons, which bore the message, ``Thank you for your support!!!,″ were merely ``a token of my appreciation″ for participating in the political process, not a reward for backing any candidate.

Gillespie, a Democratic activist in Mississippi County’s black community, also said he used his own money to pay the owner of the convenience store $200 to redeem 200 tickets. On election night, authorities seized 85 of the tickets from a cigar box at the store’s counter.

Copeland said in a telephone interview Monday that he never told Gillespie to buy votes. The votes Gillespie pleaded guilty to buying wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the election

``He’s a fine young man,″ Copeland, 66, said of Gillespie. ``What he did was wrong, of course.″

Copeland, the most senior member of the Missouri Legislature, was not charged and U.S. Attorney Edward L. Dowd said no further charges are expected.

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