CARROLLTON, Texas — A candidate running for mayor of Carrollton was arrested Wednesday night on multiple felony charges of voter fraud after investigators found 25 mail-in ballots that were allegedly forged, sources tell WFAA. He faces 109 felony charges.
Zul Mohamed, 39, faces 25 counts of knowingly possessing a ballot with intent to defraud, a second-degree felony, and 84 counts of providing false info on a voting application, a third-degree felony, according to jail records.
Mohamed is being held at the Denton County jail. His bond has been set $332,500.
He had been seeking election against incumbent Mayor Kevin Falconer.
Mohamed recently ran for a spot on Carrolton's City Council in 2018 but was unsuccessful at lost to Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Pat Cochran.
On Thursday morning, county and state investigators executed a search warrant at Mohamed's home in Carrollton and found 25 ballots, the Denton County Sheriff's Office said.
Denton County Sheriff's Office said investigators focused on Mohamed on Sept. 23 after they noticed that many ballots were being mailed to the same address. Mohamed allegedly sent 84 applications for mail-in ballots.
Investigators made contact with Carrollton residents whose ballots had been requested and learned the residents told them that they had not requested any ballots be mailed to the P.O. Box, the sheriff's office said.
“These individuals in Carrollton, if this guy had been successful, they could’ve shown up on Election Day and been denied their right to vote because it would’ve shown that they’ve already voted," said Denton County Sheriff Tracy Murphree.
The ballots were sent to a mailbox that the sheriff's office said Mohamed allegedly rented with a fake ID and that allegedly belonged to a nursing home facility, which was later found to be false.
Investigators began a surveillance of the postal facility and inserted an undercover officer there.
On Oct. 7, investigators saw that a box of the requested ballots were picked up from the P.O. Box and investigators continued to surveil the suspect.
A search warrant was obtained to search the Mohamed residence, where investigators found the box with the ballots including several that were open, the sheriff's office said. The fake ID was also found.
Sheriff Murphree says that Mohamed also had applications for Dallas County.
"He lives right on the Dallas-Denton County line. And to another mailbox in Dallas County. The attorney general’s office is going to pick that part up since it’s not in our county," he said.
Mohamed was placed under arrest.
A second-degree felony carries between two to 20 years of prison with a possible fine up to $10,000. A third-degree felony carries a two to 10-year prison sentence and also a fine of up to $10,000.
The Denton County Sheriff's Office in conjunction with the Texas Attorney General's Office, Texas Department of Public Safety and the Lewisville Police Department were involved in the case.
“We’re going to continue to work with our elections office and look for any signs of voter fraud we’re going to very aggressively pursue any allegations of voter fraud in Denton County," said Sheriff Murphree.
The mayoral race is non-partisan, meaning candidates don't have to declare a party.
A small election team sniffed trouble
Frank Phillips, the Elections Administrator for Denton County, told WFAA that he alerted authorities about the requested absentee ballots when he noticed they were being sent to a P.O. box.
"When we see that, we double-check the address," Phillips said. "It sends up a red flag when you have a large number of ballots going somewhere like that."
Phillips is working with roughly 40 election workers at the moment. His office, like many in the area, is sending out record amounts of absentee ballots due to the pandemic.
Many are going to seniors over the age of 65 who don't feel comfortable voting in-person.
Phillips said that so far, his office has sent out 30,800 absentee ballots. In 2016, that amount was just 12,353.
"We've been working overtime," Phillips said.
Absentee ballots have come under fire from GOP members including President Donald Trump, suggesting that they can be easily manipulated.
WFAA and longtime Fort Worth Star-Telegram Political Expert Bud Kennedy have pointed out in prior reports that fraudulent ballot collecting, which is what police structured their charges around, isn't unheard of in Texas but is usually seen in smaller races.
However, Phillips said safeguards in his office prevented any of the ballots in question from being cast.
"We have processes in place to help identify that, and it worked. We were able to stop it," Phillips said.
With election day less than 26 days away, election officials are facing newfound scrutiny regarding mail-in ballots.
But Phillips said he and his team are working hard to show voters that they shouldn't question the integrity of this election.
"As long as there are human beings in this world, somebody is going to try to subvert the system," Phillps said.
"But you also have people like us who are going to do everything in their power to stop that."
WFAA reporter Matt Howerton contributed to this report.