IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz said a Democratic strategist who was convicted of identity theft sent him an email that appeared to be from his brother and falsely suggested the two had received illegal payments from Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign.
Zachary Edwards, a former 2008 Obama campaign aide who later worked for a Democratic consulting firm in Des Moines, pleaded guilty in March to misdemeanor identity theft. Prosecutors said Edwards attempted to use Schultz’s identity or that of his brother, GOP activist Thomas Schultz, to falsely implicate Schultz in public corruption.
But prosecutors and investigators never elaborated on what Edwards actually did, and Matt Schultz had declined to talk about it until Thursday, when the first-term Republican revealed details about the case during an interview with The Associated Press. The mystery surrounding the case had fueled speculation about what happened, especially since Edwards was arrested soon after Santorum won the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses with a key endorsement from Schultz, a rising star in the Iowa GOP.
Schultz said he received a personal email from an account purportedly belonging to his brother Thomas, who launched a website in 2010 to get Santorum to run for the White House. He said the e-mail indicated that his brother would be receiving funds from Santorum and that “there would be a steak dinner in it for me.”
“He sent an email that was just a lie trying to make it look like my brother and I were doing things we weren’t,” Schultz said. “He was trying to make it look like my brother and I were receiving funds from a presidential campaign, which was absolutely not true.”
Schultz, whose office runs elections in Iowa and maintains business filings, said that he knew the e-mail sent in June 2011 was fabricated almost immediately because “it didn’t make any sense” and the e-mail address was different than his brother’s. He said he did not respond and turned the e-mail over to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the Iowa Attorney General’s office. Schultz has declined to make the e-mail public, saying it was not official business because it was sent to his private account.
Edwards, 29, was arrested in January on a felony count of identity theft. He was immediately fired from his job as with Link Strategies, a Des Moines-based consulting firm that has close ties to U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin and other Democrats. Firm founder Jeff Link said he was greatly disturbed by the charge against Edwards but that his actions were carried out on his own time and “unrelated to his work with Link Strategies.”
Edwards joined the Obama campaign in early 2007 as an organizer in Nevada and directed “new media” operations in several primary states before working as the campaign’s director of new media in Iowa during the general election. He later joined Link Strategies, where he provided clients with “innovative web-based research tools, video analysis and production, and web-based communication tools.”
When Edwards sent the phony e-mail to Schultz in June 2011, the Iowa Democratic Party had a pending ethics complaint against Schultz that claimed he used public resources to campaign against former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a GOP presidential candidate. Schultz had used his office to send a lengthy press release blasting Huntsman’s decision to skip the Iowa caucuses, and at least one liberal blog had questioned whether the attack was coordinated with his brother on Santorum’s behalf. State regulators dismissed the complaint.
Edwards’ attorney didn’t return a phone message.
Schultz, 32, said he has never met Edwards but he believed he was targeted because of his high-profile push for a law to require voters to show identification at the polls, which Democrats oppose.
“I can only assume that someone wants to try to stop me. I’m trying to fight for integrity,” he said. “Zach Edwards pleaded guilty and I’m satisfied with that … He’s taken responsibility for his actions and I’m ready to move on.”
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