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Vote-buying claims in Harvey mayoral race trigger county investigation

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Cook County authorities are investigating claims that residents of south suburban Harvey were paid to vote for a candidate in last week’s mayoral race, potentially helping the candidate advance to an April runoff election.

The accusations include the possibility that vulnerable Harvey residents, including some addicted to drugs, were paid up to $40 to vote for the candidate, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Cook County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Sophia Ansari confirmed a probe was underway.

“There is an ongoing investigation with the clerk’s office involving voter fraud in Harvey,” Ansari said. She declined to provide more details, including whether a candidate or some other person or group was suspected in the investigation.

RELATED: Six charged in Harvey corruption probe, feds say

But sources told the Sun-Times that one of the candidates that possibly benefited was Harvey Park District President Anthony McCaskill, who finished second in the February election — only 178 votes ahead of the third-place finisher.

Contacted earlier this week, McCaskill said he knew nothing about the investigation and said he was caught “a little off-guard” by the allegations.

“My campaign has never paid anyone to vote,” McCaskill told the Sun-Times. “I can assure you that I have no knowledge of this. … As far as I’m concerned, this is hearsay.”

Finishing in the top spot was first-term Ald. Christopher Clark with 33.6 percent of the vote, or 1,097 ballots cast in his name. McCaskill was second with 24.5 percent, or 802 votes. Trailing in third-place was third-term Ald. Keith Price at 19.1 percent and 624 votes.

It was unclear how widespread the alleged vote-buying was or whether it would have been enough to change the election results.

Price, who believes he was hurt by the alleged activity, said he has been in contact with the sheriff and the Cook County clerk’s office and has provided information supporting the claim.

Among the evidence Price gave to authorities were several videos that purport to show interviews with voters who said on camera that they were given between $20 to $40 to vote for McCaskill.

The interviews were videotaped by Price’s friends and political operatives with connections to Price’s campaign after possible voters were spotted being picked up in vans at strip malls, sources said. Those shown on camera provided their names and home addresses, and detailed how they were drawn into the alleged scheme and what they received.

The Sun-Times viewed seven of the videos and confirmed the names and addresses of those interviewed. The people in the videos, however, could not be reached for comment.

None of the videos show an exchange of money or any direct evidence of vote-buying, other than the statements from those interviewed.

Price doubted any legal action could be taken by county authorities, but he said he hoped the investigation could lead to a new election.

The four-term incumbent Mayor Eric Kellogg was prevented from running for re-election by a term limit referendum spearheaded by Clark.

In addition to Clark, McCaskill and Price, four other candidates — including Police Chief Gregory Thomas — ran for mayor, but none finished with more than 10 percent or 300 votes.

McCaskill had received several endorsements from business and labor groups, and from Secretary of State Jesse White.

“It’s always rumors around campaigns,” McCaskill said. “I don’t think no one is stupid enough to give money to someone to go vote.”