Art Helton, the former state senator who has run for a variety of offices and claimed residency in such places as a Darlington farm, a Joppatowne townhouse, and an Aberdeen office, has been ordered to change his voter registration address back to District 35 – essentially ending his campaign for the District 34 senate seat, pending appeal.
After hearing testimony from a private investigator hired by Helton’s political opponents, examining water usage rates at his Aberdeen office, and reviewing a litany of other evidence, a hearing officer for the State Board of Elections ordered this week that the Harford County Board of Elections promptly change the voter registration address of both Art and his wife Ann Helton back to their farm on Harmony Church Road in Darlington.
The hearing examiner also recommended that the State Prosecutor look into the Heltons’ false claims for possible further action.
“In my considered judgment, there is substantial reason here to believe that Mr. Helton has falsely signed legal documents, including a sworn voter registration application, in his wife’s name, and that both Mr. and Mrs. Helton have deliberately misled the Local Board and this forum and have lied under oath with respect to their actual residence. For that reason, I recommend that the State Board or the State Administrator refer the matter of Mr. and Mrs. Helton’s false claims of residence to the State Prosecutor for further appropriate action,” wrote Judith Armold, a former Counsel for Election Laws designated by the State Board of Elections to act as the hearing officer in this matter.
The decision is appealable and a petition for judicial review must be filed with the Circuit Court of Anne Arundel County no later than June 3.
Reached on Friday evening, Helton admitted he was “surprised by the decision” and, though his attorney Augustus Brown is out of state, hasn’t seen the order, and won’t return until mid-week, is certain he will appeal the decision.
“Not only are they moving my residency, they’re saying I lied,” Helton said.
Though Helton had not yet filed his candidacy (the candidate filing deadline is February 25), he has been actively campaigning for months. Helton’s website and The Friends of Art Helton page on Facebook both display “Maryland Senate 34” imagery and the following statement from Helton himself: “Good day! I wanted to let you know that in 2014, I will be running for a Senate seat that I previously held; I am so excited about what I can do for Harford County!”
“It Was Sort Of Like A Hearsay Court”
The decision was rendered following a pair of administrative hearings this fall, which were brought about after official complaints were filed by former state delegate and Harford County Council member Barbara Osborn Kreamer and former Aberdeen City Council President Mike Hiob, who is working on the state senate campaign of Del. Mary-Dulany James – who also has yet to file her candidacy, but presumably would have faced Helton in the Democratic Primary Election for the District 34 state senate seat. [Note: Kreamer says, “I have not been working on the Senate campaign of Mary-Dulany James to date. But in 2007, 2010 as well as 2013 I have lodged formal complaints about Art Helton’s false claims of address, this year about Ann Helton in addition.”]
In their September complaints, Kreamer and Hiob both told the State Board of Elections that the Heltons lived on Harmony Church Road in Darlington rather than the office on S. Rogers Street in Aberdeen. This distinction is of vital importance to Helton – a Democrat – because he would only be eligible to run for office in the highly-Republican northern District 35, rather than the largely-Democratic southern District 34.
The hearings began in October and featured the testimony of Richard Marts, a private investigator hired by Hiob, who trailed Helton from October 10-24 and again from November 5-18. Marts testified that Helton used his Aberdeen office during daylight hours, but never spent the night there. Rather, Helton spent every night at his Darlington farm.
According to the Final Determination (published in full at the bottom of this story), the Heltons attempted to explain their absence from their purported Aberdeen residence and their frequent presence on the Darlington farm as being necessitated by a “bumper crop” of new lambs born that fall.
“I find this explanation unpersuasive,” hearing officer Armold wrote.
During the course of the hearings, which continued in mid-November with testimony from Ann Helton, a series of facts were presented by the complainants.
Helton had been registered to vote in Darlington since 1989, but, since 2002, his voter registration address has changed numerous times:
– January 2002: From Harmony Church Road in Darlington to Fountain Street in Havre de Grace
– November 2003: From Fountain Street in Havre de Grace to West Bel Air Avenue in Aberdeen
– January 2006: From West Bel Air Avenue in Aberdeen to North Parke Street in Aberdeen
– February 2006: From North Parke Street in Aberdeen to Harmony Church Road in Darlington
– February 2007: From Harmony Church Road in Darlington back to North Parke Street in Aberdeen
– December 2007: Back to Harmony Church Road in Darlington
– February 2009: From Harmony Church Road in Darlington to Ravenswood Court in Joppa
– February 2012: From Ravenswood Court in Joppa to South Rogers Street in Aberdeen
While not quite a nomadic as her husband, Ann Helton also changed her voter registration address from Darlington to Havre de Grace to Darlington to Joppa to Darlington to Aberdeen in the past decade.
Also, ever since initially filing for Homestead Property Tax benefits in 2008, the Heltons have continuously claimed the Darlington farm as their principal residence.
It was also pointed out that, as of October 25, an online database of rental properties available in Aberdeen in connection with BRAC listed 3 S. Rogers Street, Aberdeen as “turn key office space” available for rent.
After Helton mentioned that he did his laundry at the Aberdeen office, Kreamer and Hiob compared water usage rates for the office to their own personal water usage. “Water usage at 3 S. Rogers Street during the summer of 2013 was less than half the usage of Ms. Kreamer for the same time period, and Ms. Kreamer lives alone,” Armold wrote in her decision.
Hiob also testified that the water usage at Helton’s Aberdeen office was less than half the minimum water usage billed as a matter of course by the City.
The complainants also produced evidence that, in August 2011, Helton had recommended to the Redistricting Commission a mapping plan that would have included his Harmony Church Road farm in the 34th Legislative District. That recommendation was not adopted, and the Darlington farm remains in District 35.
In her final determination, signed and dated December 10, 2013, Armold ordered the Harford County Board of Elections “promptly to change the voter registrations of Arthur Henry Helton, Jr. and Ann C. Helton to their bona fide residence address” on their Harmony Church Road farm in Darlington.
Helton said he was caught off guard by the hearing, during which any and all evidence was admissible and he was unable to object to any statements made against him.
“It was sort of like a hearsay court; you could say anything you wanted to say,” he added.
Helton, who has owned property in Aberdeen for 54 years and represented the area in both the state senate and on the county council, admitted he keeps an office in the South Rogers Street house, “but it’s also my home” – pointing out that it’s roughly the same size as his house in Darlington.
False Claims, Possible Fraud
Outside of the issue of Helton’s pending candidacy, Armold also opened the possibility of further action against the Heltons after what she called “fraudulent” behavior.
“There is evidence to suggest that Mr. Helton has fraudulently signed his wife’s name on voter registration applications and other legal documents. Furthermore, there is a significant amount of objective evidence that Mr. and Mrs. Helton both lied under oath about their residence when they testified in these proceedings,” she wrote.
Hiob, who once worked with his family on Helton’s failed state senate campaign in 2002, said he feels “more confident that the system can actually work if you have enough credible evidence.”
“Working as a team, Barbara Kreamer, Richard Marts, Adam Hiob, and I garnered more than enough evidence to support our complaint. And in this case, challenging Art and Ann Helton’s claimed residency at 3 S. Rogers Street in Aberdeen, the hard AND circumstantial evidences were overwhelming.”
My family and I have known Art Helton for many years. We worked hard supporting his failed State Senate campaign in 2002 (but that was before we knew the REAL Art Helton). Since then, we’ve learned what kind of people Art and Ann Helton are, and if everyone knew what we know regarding their tactics and ethics, the only votes they would receive when running for elected office in ANY district would be from each other,” Hiob added.
As for Helton’s political future, while he looks forward to the opportunity of defending himself and producing witnesses during an appeal, Helton said that, should this order stand and his voter registration officially be moved to Darlington, he will call off his District 34 senate campaign and will not seek an office in District 35.
“I have no plans to run for anything else. That’s a place [District 34] I thought I could be of benefit,” he added.
This is hardly the first time Helton’s candidacy has been called into question based off where he claims to hang his hat.
In 2010, Rovall Washington, an Edgewood Democrat running against Helton for the District 34 state senate seat, filed an administrative complaint with the Harford County Board of Elections challenging Helton’s residency claims, voter registration, and candidacy.
Armed with photographic evidence, testimony from neighbors, and his own eyewitness accounts, Washington hinted that Helton’s alleged infraction may go beyond more than simply an incorrect address and might be considered “possible fraud.”
The full Final Determination is posted below: