Former aid to GOP congressman charged with vote fraud

GASTONIA, N.C. (AP) -A worker in the 2004 election campaign of Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., has been charged with election fraud, a charge McHenry said was politically motivated.

A Gaston County grand jury on Monday charged Michael Aaron Lay, 26, of Pioneer, Tenn., illegally cast his ballot in two 2004 congressional primary runoffs.

The indictment said Lay's official address was in Tennessee but he used the address on McHenry-owned property to vote. Lay declined to comment Saturday on the charge.

But his lawyer Thomas Goolsby said he was innocent. McHenry, who was re-elected last year, said Lay was a law-abiding citizen.

Lay earned a law degree this week at the University of Tennessee. "It's unfortunate that political opponents chose to target this young man in order to attack me," McHenry said in a statement. "In the end, the facts and the law are on the side of this decent, law-abiding student, and he will be found innocent of this baseless attack."

McHenry won the 10th District Republican nomination in 2004 when he beat Catawba County Sheriff David Huffman by 86 votes in a runoff.

Lay was a political director and organizer for McHenry in that campaign.

The warrant against Lay hasn't been served, but Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell said he would have it served within a week.

Lay said he now lives in Raleigh and plans to practice commercial and civil litigation law.

He said he does not know if he'll be able to take the bar exam with a felony charge hanging over him.

"It hurts just thinking about it," Lay said.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) AP-NY-05-12-07 2129EDT