Ronnie Neal Terry — the vice chair and a former chair of the Patrick County School Board — was indicted Monday by a grand jury on one charge each of election fraud and forging public record in what he calls “a foolish mistake.”
The charges apparently are because of the way Terry gathered and attested to signatures on the petition required for him to seek re-election in November.
Terry, 56, of Meadow of Dan runs and co-owns Terry’s Body Shop. He said this is his 12th year on the school board. He served as board chair four or five years and as vice chair about three years, he said.
Indictments on file in Patrick County Circuit Court give scant details about the allegations and don’t specify how the charges originated.
Terry is charged with election fraud for an incident on June 5 or June 6, when he is alleged to have made a false statement or filed a false report.
The forgery charge comes from an incident between March 10 and June 15, when Terry is alleged to have forged or falsely certified a record that by statute requires legal proof.
“He [Terry] is alleged to have forged signatures on his Petition of Qualified Voters that he filed with the registrar’s office,” Patrick County Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Vipperman wrote in an email. “The investigating officer is Special Agent Billy McCraw with the VSP [Virginia State Police].”
The Patrick County Sheriff’s Office indicated that VSP was asked to investigate because a local official is involved. Two persons contacted at the state police did not respond.
Terry said he was notified Thursday about the indictments and that he had made arrangements to turn himself in on Friday. He said he has been led to believe he probably will be released on his personal recognizance. He said an officer told him it would take 30 minutes or so.
And he provided the most information about the situation, saying he “screwed up” and takes responsibility.
“I messed up on the paperwork and signing something I shouldn’t have signed,” Terry said. “I turned it in. They checked it out. There were some discrepancies. I take full responsibility. I’ve never been in any kind of trouble.”
As Terry explained it, a candidate has to certify he saw all the people sign his petition to get his name on a ballot. Terry said the Virginia State Police investigator indicated to him there were roughly eight to 10 people’s names on his petition that Terry didn’t see the people actually sign the petition.
Terry estimated there were 180-plus names on his petition in all, and that only about 125 names were required for his name to be on the ballot.
Terry wouldn’t comment on how those eight to 10 names got on his petition if he didn’t actually see those people sign their names.
He said he collected most of the 180-some signatures himself, and the ones that he didn’t, he is taking responsibility for.
“It’s on me,” he said.
Reaction from election and schools officials was a mixture of “no comment” and surprise.
Warren L. Rodgers Sr., secretary of the Patrick County Electoral Board: “Our board, we discussed it, and decided it is better for everybody not to comment right now.”
Betty Bowman, electoral board chair; Jerry R. Adams, electoral board vice chair; and Registrar Susan R. Taylor did not respond to phone calls and/or emails seeking information about how the charges came about.
David Martin, acting superintendent of Patrick County Public Schools, said: “I’m just learning about this for the first time. I’m surprised. I’m shocked. I can only hope … that things turn out in a positive manner. I have worked with him since July 1 and enjoyed it.”
Brandon J. Simmons, chair of the school board, also said this was the first he had heard about the charges.
“I’m surprised. This kind of hit me off-guard here,” Simmons said. “The two years I’ve been on the board, I’ve had no problem with Ronnie. We’ve gotten along well. He’s a great colleague.”
Said Terry: “I should have been more diligent. It’s on me because I signed the papers. I got in a hurry and needed to get everything done. It was a foolish mistake.”
He added, “I just screwed up on some of the stuff.”
“I’m sorry this happened. It shouldn’t have happened. It’s up to me to fix it. I apologize,” he said.
He called it “a stupid mistake.”
Paul Collins is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. Contact him at 276-638-8801, ext. 236.