Fred Rodriguez recalls conversations he has had with Chad Staton, who lives across the street.
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DEFIANCE - The day conservative commentators, national media, and even comedians around the country reported that Chad Staton allegedly exchanged fraudulent voter registrations for crack cocaine from a Toledo woman, the man in question wasn't talking.
He refused to come to the door of his apartment on Stratton Street. His girlfriend told a reporter he not only didn't want to grant an interview at that time, he likely never would.
However, he did tell a neighbor the charges were untrue. "Just yesterday, he said it wasn't true. She wasn't giving me no crack,' " Fred Rodriguez said Mr. Staton told him.
The Defiance County Sheriff's Office charged Mr. Staton, 22, Monday with false registration, a fifth-degree felony. He was released on his own recognizance, Sheriff David Westrick said. Mr. Staton's next court appearance is set for tomorrow in Defiance Municipal Court.
Meanwhile, Toledo police Capt. Michael Murphy said officers charged Georgianna Pitts, alleged to have given the crack to Mr. Staton, with misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of marijuana. Sheriff Westrick said no charges were pending against her in Defiance.
The situation prompted the Ohio Republican Party yesterday to announce plans for a statewide newspaper ad campaign asking voters to be alert to possible fraud on Election Day and to report their suspicions to county elections officials.
"Whether they're registering Mary Poppins and Dick Tracy to get $2, or whether they're registering them so that they can vote on Election Day, it remains to be seen, but it raises a question," Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said. "And I'll bet you this: If Mary Poppins and Dick Tracy vote on Election Day, they'll vote for John Kerry."
The names of the fictional magical nanny and comic-book detective were on registration cards allegedly submitted in Defiance County by Mr. Staton.
Mr. Gillespie said reports also have surfaced of would-be voters in other counties who apparently don't exist, are dead, or whose addresses are vacant lots. Many were apparently submitted as part of massive registration drives by volunteers or paid signature gatherers associated with outside groups such as America Coming Together, an organization intent on electing Mr. Kerry.
"Democrats are conveniently silent," Ohio GOP Chairman Bob Bennett said. "Rather than standing up and condemning this activity, they have engaged in an unprecedented level of litigation. At every opportunity, Democrats have filed suit against any and all efforts to safeguard the system from fraud at the ballot box."
Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Dan Trevas said the party is not coordinating with pro-Kerry groups like ACT, but it is also not duplicating their registration efforts.
"There's no point walking through a neighborhood that's already been walked through," he said. "Obviously, they have found a half-million people who want a change in direction, who are tired of the 230,000 lost jobs."
He noted the alleged instances of fraud have been discovered by county elections boards, which, he said, demonstrates that Ohio's system is working.
Democrats have challenged the Bush campaign in Ohio for using workers who resigned amid a fraud investigation in South Dakota and have accused Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell of trying to throw up obstacles to new voters.
Back in Defiance, Mr. Staton's neighbor said the young man moved into the neighborhood a few months ago, doing odd jobs around the neighborhood, and working at a local fast-food restaurant.
"He's always keeping busy, trying to earn extra money for the house," Mr. Rodriguez said, adding that Mr. Staton's girlfriend is pregnant.
Although the two men are friendly enough to drink an occasional beer together, Mr. Staton did not tell Mr. Rodriguez that he had landed a job registering people to vote. "He never mentioned that kind of job," Mr. Rodriguez said.
He also never mentioned cocaine. Mr. Rodriguez said he had doubts that Mr. Staton used crack cocaine. "He never gave any indication of doing that."
Blade staff writers Jim Provance and Clyde Hughes contributed to this report.
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