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Jewish officials in London convicted in vote fraud

LONDON, March 13 (JTA) – Two observant Jews who served as elected London officials face up to 10 years in jail after being convicted of vote fraud.

Detective Inspector Robert Garratt, the investigating officer, called the case “the largest attempt to subvert the democratic process that I am aware of.”

In a trial that lasted nearly two months, a court found that the two fervently Orthodox defendants, Isaac Leibowitz, of the Conservative Party, and Zev Lieberman, a Liberal Democrat, fraudulently added names to the electoral rolls, resulting in a 2,000 percent increase in proxy votes in their ward in the May 1998 election to the local council.

According to the prosecuting attorney in the case, the fraud was massive enough to deprive Labor of a council majority in London’s East End borough of Hackney.

The men are scheduled to be sentenced April 6.

During the trial, the court heard that Leibowitz, 36, and Lieberman, 29, had registered 88 voters from a yeshiva that only had room for 30 students.

They also registered American and Yemeni citizens as eligible to vote. Leibowitz was accused of having registered his brother, Yisroel Baruch Leibowitz, as two separate voters – Yisroel Leibowitz and Baruch Leibowitz.

Uninhabitable properties were given as voters’ addresses, and at least one long-time Labor voter said she was tricked into signing a proxy vote for the Liberal Democrats.

“This is not about the odd bit of cheating here and there,” prosecutor John Bevan said. “The effect may have been to deprive Hackney of the council the electorate truly voted for.”

There were 241 proxy votes cast in the ward, up from 12 in the previous election. About 75 percent of the 1998 proxy votes were for Liberal Democrats.

Another defendant, Mesifta Talmudical College caretaker Chananya Gross, 22, was acquitted.

The court accepted the prosecution’s stance that Gross, who drew up the list of 88 potential voters at his yeshiva, was an “unwitting dupe” of the politicians who organized the vote fraud.

Gross, like many current and former yeshiva students who took the stand during the trial, testified in Yiddish.

At one point he described Leibowitz as “mishugunah.”

There was amusement in the court as his translator explained that the word meant “crazy, stupid, retarded, wild, a madman. A mixture of crazy and wild.”

A number of yeshiva students who testified said they did not speak or read English well and did not understand British voting regulations.

One said he had voted twice because he did not know it was not allowed. He had received proxy vote registration forms at both his home and his yeshiva.

Another student said he had voted “as a joke,” though he was not eligible.

An American citizen who has lived in Britain since age 10 said he thought of himself as British and did not realize he was not registered to vote in the United Kingdom.

Lieberman and Leibowitz were both found guilty of conspiracy to defraud an electoral official and of two counts of forgery each.

Leibowitz was also convicted of a second conspiracy charge.

Both men were acquitted of a number of other forgery and conspiracy charges.

Two other defendants, who cannot be identified according to a court order, may face retrial after the jury failed to reach a verdict in their cases.

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