Instant replay - December 17, 1978

"Followers Say Jim Jones Directed Voting Frauds"

Caption: Joseph Freitas, the San Francisco District Attorney, was among candidates supported by the Rev. Jim Jones. Wanda Johnson, a former People's Temple member, has alleged that followers of Mr. Jones engaged in fraudulent voting practices to help elect some of the candidates he supported.

December 17, 1978
New York Times - John M. Crewdson

San Francisco, Dec. 16--Determined to help elect politicians friendly toward his People's Temple, the Rev. Jim Jones ordered what former temple members say was an organized campaign of fraudulent voting practices that included importing busloads of illegal voters to cast their ballots in this city's 1975 municipal elections.

Among those named by some of Mr. Jones's former followers as recipients of his political support were Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, both of whom were shot and killed in their City Hall offices, three weeks ago, allegedly by an enraged former city official. The police have said that the shooting was unrelated to the People's Temple.

The former followers said that Mr. Jones had also ardently supported Joseph Freitas, the San Francisco District Attorney; Mervyn Dymally, the Lieutenant Governor of California; State Senator Milton Marks and Willie Brown Jr., the city's State Assemblyman. There is no indication that any of these candidates were aware of the alleged illegal assistance from Mr. Jones.

The alleged voting fraud is now under investigation by Mr. Freitas. False voter registration in California is perjury, a felony punishable by up to four years in prison.

Busloads of Voters

One former temple member, Neva Sly, recalled in an interview that her husband, Don, had driven busloads of temple members here to vote from Redwood Valley, Mr. Jones's settlement in northern California, and also from the temple's branch in Los Angeles.

The out-of-town voters, Mrs. Sly said, were previously registered at the addresses of temple members living in San Francisco.

Don Sly, the man identified as having held a knife to the throat of Representative Leo J. Ryan in the trouble at the temple's Guyana outpost a month ago, is among those unaccounted for in the aftermath of Mr. Ryan's murder and the murders and suicides of Mr. Jones and more than 900 of his followers.

Wanda Johnson, who resigned from the temple in 1976, described Mr. Sly as the "head bus driver" and said that in addition to those he transported "hundreds" of other members living secretly "at the San Francisco temple" in violation of health and welfare laws had also been registered at addresses scattered around the city.

(Editor's note: These violations, reported by city workers, were ignored by city officials.)

Registered Nonresidents

Kay Henderson, who belonged to the temple from 1971 until 1975, recalled that several members who had never resided at her San Francisco home had been registered to vote at that address without her knowledge.

She did not become aware of that, she said, until their voter registration packets began arriving with her mail. Mrs. Henderson said she concluded that there was at least "the possibility of voter fraud" but that, like other former temple members, she had kept her silence out of fear of retaliation from Mr. Jones.

Anyone registering to vote here in 1975 was required to sign an affidavit affirming that his residence was in San Francisco, but no effort was made to check on the accuracy of the declarations.

"When Jones wanted someone elected, he got them elected," Mrs. Johnson said, and, although her remark contains some overstatement, since some of the candidates Mr. Jones backed were defeated, there is little doubt that he controlled the votes of several thousand of his followers, enough to make the difference in a close election.

Slim Moscone Margin

In the runoff election for the Mayor's office in 1975, for example, Mr. Moscone was elected by just 4,000 votes, and Mr. Freitas won by fewer than 10,000.

"Jones swayed elections," said Jeannie Mills, who with her husband, Al, defected from the temple in the fall of 1975. "He told us how to vote."

Shortly before an election, Mrs. Mills said, temple members were given sample ballots marked with Mr. Jones's choices to take with them to the polls.

Following an election, Mrs. Johnson added, members were required to produce ballot stubs showing that they had indeed voted. Nonvoters, she said, were "pushed around, roughed up, physically abused."

Asked how Mr. Jones could insure that members actually voted for his chosen candidates, Mrs. Mills gave a little laugh. "You don't understand," she said, "we wanted to do what he told us to."

Voting Bloc of 5,000

Judging from various estimates, Mr. Jones's adherents probably numbered about 5,000--a sizable bloc in a city where the average voter turnout runs close to 200,000.

In the months that followed the 1975 election, Mr. Freitas, the new District Attorney, began an inquiry into reports that large numbers of people had voted illegally in San Francisco while residing in neighboring cities.

When reports first became public that Mr. Freitas was pursuing such an investigation, Mrs. Johnson said, Mr. Jones grew concerned, and, on one occasion, said as much before a meeting of the temple's governing body, known as the Planning Commission.

In charge of the vote fraud investigation, Mr. Freitas placed Timothy O. Stoen, a newly hired deputy district attorney who was also a longtime member of the temple and chief legal adviser to Mr. Jones.

Although about 50 people were subsequently indicted, most of them for having voted in San Francisco while living outside the city, none were members of the People's Temple.

Allegation Not Recalled

In an interview two weeks ago, Mr. Stoen said that no one had ever made the allegation to him that temple members had voted illegally in San Francisco.

Asked whether, given his position in the temple, it could have happened without his knowledge, Mr. Stoen replied, "It certainly could have. Jim Jones kept a lot of things from me."

Mr. Freitas, the District Attorney, said that the investigation begun three weeks ago into possible voting irregularities involving temple members had so far established that no such allegations had been brought to the attention of his office during Mr. Stoen's tenure there.

In August 1977, the District Attorney's office began an investigation of the People's Temple, prompted by an article in New West magazine the previous month alleging that some temple members had been subjected to physical brutality and coerced into deeding their personal property over to Mr. Jones.

Author's Version Differs

Although neither the article nor the subsequent investigation touched on possible voter fraud, Phil Tracy, one of the article's co-authors, said in a telephone interview yesterday that he had heard allegations of such fraud and had passed them on to Mr. Freitas in person.

Mr. Freitas said that he had no recollection of any such conversation with Mr. Tracy.

"In February 1978 the DA's office (Freitas) told the registrar it was no longer necessary to retain 1975 election files. They were subsequently destroyed."

Source: "People's Temple and the DA's Office" - San Francisco Exaniner 1-21-79

Although former temple members recalled that Mr. Jones and his followers worked for the election of Mr. Freitas to the District Attorney's seat, Mr. Freitas said that he had been unaware not only of their support but also of the temple's existence until after his election.

After he assumed office, however, Mr. Freitas was among those who attended a testimonial dinner in Mr. Jones's honor and last year the People's Temple sent a check for $400, drawn on its own account, to an organization calling itself the Friends of Freitas.

The temple is a nonprofit California corporation that over the years has claimed an exemption from payment of Federal taxes on religious grounds, and as such it would be prohibited from making contributions to political candidates.

But aides to Mr. Freitas said that the money had not been earmarked for a future campaign but had been meant to be used by the District Attorney to defray expenses related to his job for which he was not reimbursed by the city.

An Election Day Trip

Former temple members have also said that other members living in the San Francisco area had been illegally registered to vote in Ukiah, the site of the Redwood Valley settlement, and then driven there by Mr. Sly and others on election day.

Wanda Johnson, who took a job in Ukiah as a registrar of voters, said that she had signed up about 20 of the San Francisco residents herself.

Sometime in 1977, according to Mr. Freitas, the San Francisco district attorney's office learned of alleged voting irregularities involving temple members in Ukiah and passed the information on to authorities there.

But Duncan James, the Mendocino County District Attorney, said that his office had never received such information from any source.

Before he moved to San Francisco with Mr. Jones and the majority of the temple's members, Timothy Stoen had worked as an assistant district attorney in Ukiah under Mr. James.


  • Freitas, supes challeged in vote scandal
    San Francisco, July 25, 1976

  • Now Temple charged with voter fraud
    AP, December 17, 1978

  • State Attorney General Tells of Probe in S.F. Vote
    The San Francisco Chronicle, December 22, 1978

    ". . .(a) federal investigation has developed information that (assistant district attorney) Stoen misused his position to obstruct pending investigations that might have adversely impacted on the Peoples Temple of which he was then a member." - California State Attorney General Evelle Younger in a letter to San Francisco District Attorney Joseph Freitas informing him that his office was under investigation.