After being found guilty on crimes related to the 2020 election involving ballot harvesting, a former Democratic mayor of Arizona received a sentence.
Guillermina Fuentes, 66, reportedly received a sentence of 30 days in jail and two years of probation on Thursday after the judge rejected her request for leniency and only probation because he did not think she had properly taken responsibility for her acts, according to reports.
Former mayor of the border town of San Luis and member of the school board, Fuentes. The Associated Press said that her situation attracted the attention of law enforcement during the August 2020 primary and “ultimately resulted in charges against Fuentes and another San Luis woman.” She admitted to procuring four primary early voting ballots.
She “has pled guilty to a criminal violation of Arizona’s ‘ballot harvesting’ law, which prohibits anybody but a person’s relative, housemate, or carer from returning ballots for them,” the AP continued in a separate statement. Alma Juarez, one of her co-defendants, pleaded guilty to the same crime, but it was reduced to a misdemeanor after she promised to assist the prosecution.
Assistant Attorney General Todd Lawson sought a year in prison for Fuentes, arguing before Judge Roger Nelson that the case is really about ensuring safe and fair elections under the law. Hers is the first case prosecuted under the 2016 law, which was upheld last year by the U.S. Supreme Court, the AP added.
“Nelson told Fuentes that despite a parade of character witnesses and a probation officer who wrote a pre-sentence report saying in court last week that she was remorseful, Nelson said he didn’t believe it, and then quoted from the report,” the AP noted further.
“The defendant acknowledged responsibility for carrying ballots for someone else. However, she stated, ‘I’m not a criminal,’” Nelson read. “Well, you are a criminal. You committed a criminal offense. I don’t think you recognize that as a criminal offense. That’s the problem that I have.”
The judge acknowledged the parade of character witnesses from the community who spoke in defense of Fuentes as her attorneys argued for a sentence of just probation. However, Nelson said that also weighed mightily on his decision to put her behind bars.
“Many of the things that were put forward as mitigating factors, I think they’re also aggravating factors,” he said. “You have been a leader in the San Luis community for a long time. People look up to you, people respect you, and they look to what you do.”
The AP added:
Fuentes collected the four early voting ballots from acquaintances in San Luis and gave them to co-defendant Alma Juarez while working at a table outside a polling place where she was urging people to vote for a slate of city council candidates. Juarez carried them inside and put them in a ballot drop-off bin.
A city council write-in candidate videotaped the exchange outside the polls and called the sheriff’s office. The attorney general’s election integrity unit quickly took over the investigation.
During Fuentes’ trial, prosecutors alleged in papers filed with the court that she was actually running a sophisticated operation and used her status as a figurehead in local Democratic politics “to persuade voters to let her gather and, in some cases, fill out their ballots. But they dropped more serious charges of conspiracy and forgery and both pleaded guilty to a single count of ballot abuse,” the AP added.
“People voting for others and taking their ballots has long been a problem, or at least it has been reported to be a problem,” Nelson said. “Everyone active in local politics was aware that a new law had been passed. You were aware that the statute was new and even appealed to the Supreme Court.
Fuentes will automatically be removed from the local school board as a result of her conviction, and she will no longer be eligible to hold elective office as long as the felony is still on her record. After serving her two-year probationary sentence, she can serve again if the charge is downgraded to a misdemeanor, the AP reported, adding that she was told to report to jail on April 16.