ELYRIA — Former Lorain County Community Action Agency Director Robert Gilchrist pleaded guilty Monday to four felony counts of illegal voting, but those charges will be dropped if he completes a year-long diversion program.
The program gives Gilchrist the chance to emerge from the long-running controversy over where he voted in four separate elections without a criminal conviction on his record.
“As long as he’s successful, this goes away,” Anthony Baker, Gilchrist’s attorney, said.
But Denise Caruloff, the Lorain activist who first raised questions about where Gilchrist voted while working as Lorain’s service director, said she didn’t think Gilchrist was being held accountable for his actions.
“I’m not happy at all,” Caruloff said. “A person, we had the proof right there, was voting where he wasn’t supposed to.”
But county Prosecutor Dennis Will said that the charges Gilchrist was facing guaranteed that he would be on probation.
“This actually held him more accountable than if he had pled guilty or been found guilty and sentenced,” Will said.
Gilchrist voted in the city’s 2nd Ward in elections in November 2009, May and November 2010 and May 2011. He had lived in apartments on Broadway in the 2nd Ward until August 2009 when he moved to Oak Point Road in the city’s 8th Ward.
He moved to a Fields Way home, which also is in the 8th Ward, in December 2009.
But Gilchrist has long maintained that he thought it was proper to vote in the 2nd Ward because that’s where his driver’s license said he lived. He said Monday that he still feels that way.
“I don’t feel I did anything wrong, but based on what was presented and put in front of me, my attorney did a great job,” he said.
Baker had been preparing to argue that Gilchrist was singled out for prosecution because he is black or because of his association with former Mayor Tony Krasienko, who was defeated in the 2011 Democratic primary. He contended that people who had made similar voting missteps in previous elections weren’t prosecuted.
Will and his office had repeatedly rejected that argument, saying they were pursuing a violation of the law that had nothing to do with race or politics. They also pointed out that not every issue brought up by Baker was referred to prosecutors by the county Board of Elections.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.