PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A former Republican official accused of taking part in a plot to jam Democratic phone lines in New Hampshire on Election Day 2002 is facing new charges.
James Tobin was indicted by a federal grand jury in Portland on two counts of making false statements about the incident to an FBI agent. His earlier conviction on telephone harassment charges was overturned, but prosecutors are appealing.
His arraignment on the new charges is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 5, at U.S. District Court in Portland.
Tobin, 48, of Bangor, was accused of helping to arrange more than 800 hang-up calls that jammed get-out-the-vote phone lines set up by the New Hampshire Democratic Party and a local firefighters’ union on Election Day six years ago.
Republican Rep. John Sununu defeated then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, in a close Senate race that day. He is now running for re-election with Shaheen as his challenger, and the race is again close.
Tobin and his lawyers did not immediately respond to telephone messages seeking comment Tuesday. The new charges carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
The indictment was handed up last Thursday, less than a month before the government’s appeal of Tobin’s overturned conviction is scheduled to be heard by a three-judge panel in Boston. An arraignment date has not been set.
In 2002, Tobin was a top regional official with the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He went on to serve as President Bush’s New England re-election chairman in 2004, but resigned after the allegations surfaced.
The new indictment alleges that Tobin lied to FBI investigators during an interview in Maine. Tobin told them another GOP official, Charles McGee, had the idea to contact an aggressive telemarketer, Allen Raymond, for help in the 2002 election. The indictment said using Raymond was really Tobin’s idea.
McGee and Raymond both pleaded guilty in the phone-jamming scheme and testified against Tobin. McGee served seven months in prison and Raymond served three months. The jamming also led to a lawsuit that was settled with Republicans paying the Democrats $135,000.
Tobin was indicted by a federal grand jury in New Hampshire in December 2004. He was convicted by a jury a year later on two counts of conspiracy to harass using the telephone. Tobin was found not guilty of the more serious crime of depriving New Hampshire citizens of their right to vote. He was sentenced to 10 months in prison on the telephone harassment charges.
Tobin’s Washington, D.C.-based legal team, paid for by the RNC, appealed the case to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the statute he was convicted of violating did not fit the crime. A three-judge panel agreed in March 2007 and overturned his conviction, ruling that the telephone harassment statute indeed “is not a close fit” for what Tobin did. But it left a decision about Tobin’s intent up to the trial judge.
The appeals court sent the case back to U.S. District Judge Steven J. McAuliffe to decide if Tobin should have a new trial because it had been his intent to harass people rather to disrupt communications. Federal prosecutors had argued at the trial that Tobin’s intent was not to harass but to keep people from calling Democratic campaign offices for rides to the polls.
In March 2008, McAuliffe overturned Tobin’s conviction. Government prosecutors appealed that decision. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled to be heard on Nov. 3
Phone records introduced at Tobin’s 2005 trial in federal court in New Hampshire show he made two dozen calls to the White House political office within three days around Election Day as the jamming operation was decided, carried out and abruptly shut down.
Sununu, who has denied knowledge of the 2002 scheme, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The U.S. Justice Department attorneys handling the new case are the same prosecutors who handled Tobin’s prosecution in New Hampshire, according to documents filed in federal court in Portland.
BDN writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.