MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A former Alabama lawmaker on Tuesday pleaded guilty to a voter fraud charge that he rented a closet-size space in a home to fraudulently run for office in a district where he did not live.
Former state Rep. David Cole, a Republican from Huntsville, pleaded to a charge of voting in an unauthorized location.
A judge sentenced Cole to serve 60 days at the Madison County Jail. The remainder of a three-year sentence was suspended, and he will be placed on probation for that time, according to the terms of the plea agreement with prosecutors.
Circuit Judge D. Alan Mann ordered Cole to report to jail by Oct. 17 and pay $52,885 in restitution. Cole resigned from the Alabama House of Representatives in August after agreeing to plead guilty.
Cole, who was elected in 2022, signed a lease in 2021 to pay $5 per month for a 5-by-5-foot (1.5-by-1.5-meter) space in a home in order to run for office in House District 10, according to the plea agreement.
Cole had some mail sent there but never “stepped past the entry foyer” on the two times he visited the location he claimed as his residence, it said.
Alabama law requires candidates to live in a legislative district for one year before they run for office.
Cole signed the lease for the space two days after a redistricting plan was enacted that placed the home where he had lived since 2014 in another House district. He provided an altered version of the lease — which specified he was renting a house and not a smaller space — when media questions arose about his residency, prosecutors wrote in the plea agreement.
Cole signed another lease in 2022 for an apartment in District 10, but he continued to claim a property tax break from the county by saying he resided at his house, according to the plea agreement.
Cole is a physician and military veteran.
“Dr. Cole admits and takes full responsibility for the mistakes he made in the political process. He entered the process to serve his community. (He) has lived a life of service including serving for 22 years in the Army with tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Egypt,” Bill Espy, a lawyer representing Cole, said in an August statement.
Accusations that Cole did not actually live in the district had been ongoing since his campaign.
Another Republican asked the Alabama Republican Party to investigate claims that Cole did not live in the district, and Elijah Boyd, the Libertarian candidate in the district, had filed an election challenge in civil court arguing that Cole did not live in District 10 and was ineligible.
Cole is the third Alabama lawmaker to face criminal charges this year and the second to resign.
Rep. Fred Plump Jr., a Democrat from Fairfield, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. He resigned in May.
And sate Rep. John Rogers, also a Democrat, was indicted last month on charges of trying to obstruct a federal investigation into the possible misuse of state grant money.