Campaign drops appeal after emails demonstrate possible fraud attempt

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Former Student Government Presidental candidate Yaman Desai stands outside the room where the appellate court hearing, intended to review evidence that his campaign violated student government rules, is about to be held Monday night. Desai and his running mate resigned after evidence surfaced that Desai had in fact asked Ainee Athar via email to lie in order to obtain information about the Maddison Gardner campaign.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

Student Government presidential candidate Yaman Desai and running mate Whitney Langston dropped out of the election Monday after the campaign’s ethics came into question by the Election Supervisory Board.

The board disqualified Desai’s campaign Monday afternoon for violating the election code and committing fraud by misrepresenting itself to the web designer for opponent Madison Gardner’s campaign in an attempt to obtain incriminating information about the Gardner campaign’s financial records. Desai’s campaign immediately filed an appeal of the board’s decision to the SG appellate court, which heard their case Monday night.

Emails obtained by The Daily Texan demonstrate that Desai asked one of his campaign agents to lie in order to get the information. After the Texan described the content of the emails to the appellate court seeking clarification, Desai withdrew his appeal.

In a Feb. 15 email from Desai, he tells international relations and global studies senior Ainee Athar to ask James Skidmore, a Gardner campaign web designer, for any records that could prove Gardner had violated the rules by receiving professional services without reporting the cost in his financial disclosures. Desai told Athar he needed proof to incriminate Gardner later on that day and to lie about her identity to get Skidmore to release information if necessary.

“You should be able to call them and just ask for the info,” Desai said in the email. “If that doesn’t work, we might be able to ask the ESB to look into it and force Madison to produce some record. Try calling and saying that you’re with Madison’s team/a friend and he asked you to call because he needs a copy of the invoice and you need it sent to you so you can print it. It’s a bit of a long shot, but it’s worth a try.”

Under the original complaint to the board, Gardner campaign manager Alex Jones stated that Athar identified herself to Skidmore as an “election supervisory representative.” During the hearing, and before the emails were obtained, Desai and Langston said Athar presented herself as an agent for their campaign without their consent.

Langston and Desai said they had never met Athar before Sunday, so they should not be held responsible for things she did before she was an agent of the campaign.

In Athar’s email reply to Desai on Feb. 15, she said she would not lie to the web designer because it would get Desai in trouble.

Athar said she was told by Desai not to come to the hearing on Monday. She said she was shocked when she heard Desai and Langston lied about her involvement in the campaign and attempted to pin the blame on her. She said she had no intention of identifying herself as part of the supervisory board but instead thought “election supervisory representative” was her title for Desai’s team.

“If I had been told to go to the hearing I would have been willing to go [there] and say that this was something that I did,” Athar said. “Not that I willfully lied but that I just made a mistake with the wording, and I would have stepped down if [Desai] asked.”

Gardner’s campaign manager communication studies junior Alex Jones said he brought up the misrepresentation claim because Athar had filed complaints against Gardner. When Jones was made aware of the emails from Desai to Athar, he said he did not know how to react.

“The evidence they supplied [and how they got it] is what the Board classifies as fraud,” Jones said. “It’s unsettling someone would be allowed to get their name tainted to win a Student Government election because that could affect [Athar’s] career in the future.”

Gardner said his campaign has been very careful to tell their approximately 120 team members what they can and cannot do. He said the change to the Election Code and the section that reads candidates will be disqualified if they exceed 20 percent of their spending limit in fines drove them to be extremely careful.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to Yaman and their campaign team,” Gardner said. “It just goes to show the impact of what negative actions could do.”

The Election Supervisory Board ruled Gardner was in violation of the Election Code for renting wood from the Fiji House for $1 per week, a rate much lower than the market value. The Election Code states contributions and expenditures or in kind efforts must be listed and valued at their fair price, as determined by the Election Board. Gardner was issued a ten percent violation fine against his campaign. The Board did not deem Gardner’s website to be in violation of the Election Code and recommended no action because there was no evidence to prove the website was designed by a professional, said ESB co-chair Truc Nguyen.

Desai confirmed he and Langston were withdrawing their disqualification appeal and the disqualification from the ESB stands.

“There are a lot of great people on this campus and they believed in our mission,” Desai said. “I hope that things we fought for continue to be a part of student government and I hope that even if it’s not us that can achieve our goals that someone else will achieve them, and I hope students who supported us will still have opportunities on campus.”

Printed on Tuesday, February 21, 2012 as: ESB disqualifies Desai campaign