PORTLAND, Maine — A former Republican strategist pleaded not guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Portland to charges that he lied to federal investigators five years ago about his role in jamming phone lines in New Hampshire Democrats’ get-out-the-vote effort in 2002.
James Tobin, 48, of Bangor was indicted Oct. 9 by a federal grand jury in Portland, just days before the statute of limitations would have prevented prosecutors from filing the charges.
Tobin appeared Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge John H. Rich III in federal court. He was released on his own recognizance.
A trial date on the new charges has not been set.
Tobin was convicted in December 2006 by a federal jury in Concord, N.H., of being part of a conspiracy to jam phone lines in the 2002 election. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals over-turned his conviction in 2007.
Although a three-judge panel in Boston found that the telephone harassment statute used to prosecute Tobin in New Hampshire was not a close fit for what he was accused of doing, prosecutors were back before the appellate court in Boston on Monday arguing for a new trial on the conspiracy case.
Two years ago, the 1st Circuit left open one portion of the case. It sent it back to U.S. District Court in Concord, N.H., the question of whether Tobin’s intent was to harass voters rather than to jam Democrats’ phone lines on Election Day 2002. U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe ruled that prosecutors had no evidence that Tobin’s intent had been to harass callers and dismissed the case.
The government appealed that decision. A three-judge panel of 1st Circuit judges considered the case Monday in Boston. Two of the judges who heard the latest appeal were part of the panel that threw out Tobin’s conviction. They are not expected to issue a decision until after the first of the year.
In Maine, Tobin is charged with two counts of making false and fraudulent statements to an FBI agent on Oct. 14, 2003, when he was interviewed about the phone-jamming scheme.
Investigators believed Tobin conspired in October 2002 with Charles “Chuck” McGee, the then-executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party, and Allen Raymond, a GOP campaign consultant based near Washington, D.C., to make repeated hang-up phone calls to Democratic campaign offices around the state and the office of the Manchester, N.H., Firefighters’ Union. Their intent, according to federal prosecutors, was to keep people seeking rides to the polls on Nov. 5, 2002, from getting through to volunteers.
The new charges allege that Tobin lied when he told the FBI that it was McGee’s idea to contact Raymond for assistance in executing the plan. Tobin also lied when he told the FBI that Raymond and McGee had already spoken when Tobin talked with Raymond about the plan, according to the indictment.
Tobin was indicted in December 2004 by a New Hampshire federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy to deny citizens their right to vote, conspiracy to commit telephone harassment and aiding and abetting telephone harassment. A year later, a jury found him not guilty of the more serious charge of denying voting rights but guilty on the two lesser charges.
Raymond and McGee waived indictment in 2005 and testified against Tobin at his trial. McGee served seven months in federal prison while Raymond, whose sentence was reduced after Tobin’s conviction, served three months.
McGee told the jury that he came up with the idea to jam the phone lines and asked Tobin, then a regional coordinator for the Republican National Committee, whom he could talk to about implementing it. Tobin referred McGee to Raymond but Tobin called Raymond first and told him to expect a call from McGee, according to McGee.
McAuliffe in May 2006 sentenced Tobin to 10 months in federal prison and ordered him to pay a $10,000 fine. He remains free on bail pending the outcome of the government’s appeal.
The same federal prosecutors who filed charges against Tobin in New Hampshire four years ago filed the charges in Maine last month. It is the policy of the U.S. Department of Justice not to comment on a case until it has been resolved.
Efforts to reach Jay McCloskey, the Bangor attorney who is representing Tobin in Maine, were unsuccessful Wednesday.