May 1, 2004
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BY JOHN CHAPPELL: Staff Writer
Matthew Ryan “Matt” McWilliams turned himself in Friday to face charges that he filed false campaign reports with the state Board of Elections and obtained money by false pretenses.
According to court indictments, McWilliams is accused of using $261 in campaign funds illegally. He was released on $5,000 unsecured bond and promise to appear in court May 17.
A Moore County Grand Jury indicted McWilliams on five counts of perjury for the false statement charges, and two counts of obtaining money by false pretense, one for $161 and one for $100. Two of the perjury counts referred to reports relating to those campaign funds. The charges are felonies.
McWilliams resigned as vice chairman of the Moore County Republican Party last year, announcing he intended to oppose state Rep. Richard Morgan in the 2004 primary.
Morgan, whose district encompasses most of Moore County, now serves as co-speaker of the House of Representatives. Morgan has held his House seat since 1990.
But McWilliams suddenly dropped out of sight last fall, moving out of Moore County and changing his telephone numbers. After the indictments were returned earlier this week, even the Sheriff’s Office had some trouble finding an active number for him.
“I only got the message yesterday that they were trying to reach me,” McWilliams said, when he arrived in Carthage to turn himself in. “I had no idea what it was about.”
The charges stem from irregularities alleged in reports filed during his 2002 campaign for an at-large seat on the nonpartisan Moore County Board of Education.
McWilliams said he does not know whether he made political enemies during that campaign, because he took positions that have since become particularly explosive — or whether he personally hurt the feelings of former friends by other actions.
All the errors in his reports — and he acknowledged there are such errors — are innocent mistakes, not intentional deceptions, he contends.
According to the indictment, McWilliams is alleged to have reported to the board of elections that Craig Aldinger was custodian of books for his campaign, when “in fact the said Craig Aldinger had never given his permission to me named to any position in the McWilliams campaign.”
But Aldinger did agree, McWilliams contended. Both were members of the Libertarian Party at that time. McWilliams thinks he offended Aldinger when he reregistered as a Republican without informing Aldinger or other Libertarians.
“I wrongly stepped down and reregistered as a Republican without informing them,” he said. “It was part of being 22 years old. I was scared to tell them, and it angered them. When I started running for the school board, I was a Libertarian.”
Another count alleges McWilliams filed a campaign report in July of 2002 listing Jason Camp as treasurer when Camp “had formally resigned by notarized statement on or about May.”
“I didn’t know he had resigned when I filed that report,” McWilliams said. “I would have to be pretty stupid to report he was treasurer if I had known that. I hope to talk personally to the individuals involved and ask them why they claim these things. Craig and Jason were both members of the Libertarian Party when I was chairman.”
A third indictment cites a September 2002 campaign report, which allegedly falsely listed a Paul Cuiffo as campaign treasurer.
McWilliams will spend the next few weeks before his May 17 court appearance searching his records and conferring with attorneys, he said.
“It isn’t going to be easy,” he said. “I’ve gone through three computers since then.”
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