Dozens of felons told the ABC15 Investigators they were illegally registered to vote in Arizona after putting their trust in a former Phoenix mayoral candidate.
“I'm here not to defraud anyone; I've never done that; I've been honest all my life,” the former candidate, Tim Seay, told ABC15 Investigator Melissa Blasius last month.
Seay’s rights restoration claims
In the 2020 Phoenix mayoral race, Seay released campaign videos claiming he was helping felons rebuild their lives.
“I've been restoring rights for the last year-and-a-half,” Seay said in a video posted in September 2020. “Me and my partner, we've established over 1,200 restorations of rights.”
When the ABC15 Investigators recently caught up with the Seay, he told a different story.
“Not one time did I say on Facebook or anywhere else that I restored your rights,” Seay said. “Did I get you able to vote? Yes.”
The ABC15 Investigators has been in contact with dozens of felons who met with Seay in the past year. Due to their criminal convictions, they could not legally vote - or even register to vote - until they restored their civil rights. State law is clear. Violating that rule could send them back to prison.
“It's terrifying,” Christina Calabrese said.
After serving time in Perryville Prison for drugs, Calabrese got a job and was trying to regain custody of her daughter. A friend told her about Seay. Calabrese said to start the civil rights restoration process, she texted Seay with her personal information including a photo of her driver’s license, her email address, and the last four digits of her social security number.
They set an appointment for July 6. Calabrese went to a Masonic lodge in south Phoenix where Seay is Grand Master.
“He told me that I owed restitution but that he talked to them and not to worry because his foundation would make them an offer to settle it,” Calabrese said.
Facebook photos show Calabrese was one of at least 55 people who went to Seay for rights restorations that day. Those people walked out of the meetings after taking their picture with Seay holding their voter registration confirmation from the Service Arizona website.
Restoration paperwork never filed
Tammie Cook first talked to Seay in June. She also wanted her civil rights restored, so she could vote.
"I wanted to have a voice, and I thought this was a dream come true,” Cook said.
Cook, who had three prior felony cases, became suspicious because everything happened so fast. Texts show she sent Seay her personal information on June 16. Records show she was registered to vote the next day.
Cook later called Maricopa County Superior Court to double-check on the rights restoration process.
“My rights have never been restored,” Cook said.
Experts on felony rights restoration will join ABC15's Melissa Blasius Wednesday at noon on the ABC15 Facebook page to answer viewer questions about felons, rights restoration, and voting.
Nathaniel Zachariae, with two felonies in his past, said he also was registered to vote after reaching out to Seay.
Like Cook, Zachariae said he checked with the court and found his civil rights had never been restored.
“The lady was like, ‘Oh, my God, you're like, the 100-and-something person that's called in the last week,’” Zachariae said.
Trina Nash said a similar thing happened to her.
“I was kind of confused why I didn't have to sign any kind of court documents for him to restore my rights,” Nash said. “I feel silly because I should have known.”
“I didn't register them to vote,” Seay said. “The team was to get people to get registered to vote, but you asked me, did I physically do that? No, I did not do that, but I take full responsibility of whatever went on in this building.”
“He should absolutely be ashamed of himself,” said Calabrese.
Restoring voting rights
People convicted of one felony in Arizona automatically get their rights restored after they finish their sentence and restitution. Everyone else must apply at the court where they were convicted, according to longtime defense attorney Ken Countryman.
“Once you fill out the application, and you submit it to the court, and you wait a time period, they'll mail you notification whether or not it's been restored,” Countryman said.
The process can take three to five months, and the application and final order from a judge appear in your case file.
“It's actually illegal for you to register to vote or to vote before you get that order,” Countryman said.
The Service Arizona website, where Calabrese, Cook, Zachariae, and Nash were registered, even warns false voter registration is a Class 6 felony. To finish the application, someone must check a box saying they have not been convicted of a felony or their civil rights were restored.
“I didn't illegally register anyone to vote,” Seay said. “I'm positive. Everyone that came to me and said that I didn't get, get, get my rights, I said, ‘Okay, let's refile.’”
Seay continued, “[To] those who said that they, they got cards or whatever: Unregister, unregister, unregister, and we'll go through the process again.”
Seay admits mistakes, offers corrections
In a July 14 Facebook post, which was later deleted, Seay wrote “Something has [sic] terrible went wrong with the process,” and “I have not intentionally tried to commit fraud.” He also sent an email to at least some of his clients with attachments to the proper paperwork to file for civil rights restoration in Maricopa County.
“If there's some things that I've done wrong, I'm here to make those corrections,” Seay said. He added that he did not charge people money for his assistance.
“He tried to make it sound like it was like a court clerical error or something,” Nash said.
Several people reported Seay to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, which issued a statement to ABC15 neither confirming nor denying an investigation but saying voter complaints are taken seriously.
During the ABC15 interview, Seay seemed undaunted.
“If I have to go to jail to make a change, I'll do that,” Seay said. “I'm not worried about that.”
Seay had a half-completed rights restoration application on the table. He said people must now deliver their own paperwork to court.
“I'm here to help people, and that's all I do,” Seay said.
Tim Seay has not been charged with any crime.
If you have been in contact with Tim Seay for felony rights restoration or voter registration help, ABC15 Investigator Melissa Blasius wants to hear from you. Email her at Melissa@abc15.com.