A judge sentenced a Rendon woman to five years in prison Wednesday for voting illegally in the 2016 presidential election while she was on supervised release from a 2011 fraud conviction.
Crystal Mason, 43, waived her right to a jury trial and chose to have state District Judge Ruben Gonzalez assess her sentence.
J. Warren St. John, her defense attorney, said after the verdict that an appeal had already been filed and that he is hopeful his client will soon be released on bond.
"I find it amazing that the government feels she made this up," St. John told the court. "She was never told that she couldn't vote, and she voted in good faith. Why would she risk going back to prison for something that is not going to change her life?"
According to a report released in 2016 compiled by the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice reform advocacy group, more than 6 million felons in the United States and nearly 500,000 in Texas were ineligible to vote in 2016.
During her testimony, Mason — who served just shy of three years in federal prison — told the court that she was assigned a provisional ballot after she arrived at her usual polling place and discovered that her name was not on the voter roll.
Gonzalez, who questioned Mason during her testimony, asked why she did not thoroughly read the documents she was given at the time.
The form you are required to sign to get the provisional ballot is called an affidavit, Gonzales told Mason. "There's a legal connotation to that, right?" Gonzales asked.
Mason responded that she was never told by the federal court, her supervision officer, the election workers or U.S. District Judge John McBryde, the sentencing judge in her fraud case, that she would not be able to vote in elections until she finished serving her sentence, supervised release included. She also said she did not carefully read the form because an election official was helping her.
During cross-examination by Tarrant County prosecutor Matt Smid, Mason was reminded that she had jeopardized her freedom in the past by violating federal tax laws.
Sacrificing her freedom to vote was not something she would knowingly do, Mason told Gonzales.
"I inflated returns," Mason said. "I was trying to get more money back for my clients. I admitted that. I owned up to that. I took accountability for that. I would never do that again. I was happy enough to come home and see my daughter graduate. My son is about to graduate. Why would I jeopardize that? Not to vote. ... I didn't even want to go vote."
Mason was taken to jail after the conclusion of her trial on Wednesday as a chorus of small children leaving the courtroom waved and said, "Bye-bye, Big Mama."
Improper tax refunds
Mason, who was known as Crystal Mason-Hobbs at the time, pleaded guilty to fraud in 2011. As part of her plea agreement, she was ordered to pay $4.2 million in restitution, according to court documents.
The fraud charge stemmed from a tax preparation business Mason and her ex-husband, Sanford Taylor Hobbs III, owned and operated in Everman in which they submitted inflated tax refunds to the Internal Revenue Service on behalf of clients.
Mason later divorced her husband, who received a similar sentence after he also pleaded guilty. Mason testified Wednesday that she has remade herself since her release from prison, including getting a degree in a new field and getting a new job.
She had gone to vote at her mother's insistence and brought her driver's license as identification, according to her testimony. When poll workers could not find her name on the list of registered voters, Mason said, she obtained a provisional ballot and was coached through the process by a worker.
Mason testified that she did not remember the form saying anything about people on supervised release being prohibited from voting.
To register to vote in Texas, a person must be 18 and a U.S. citizen and cannot be a convicted felon or have been declared mentally incapacitated by a court. In Texas, convicted felons can have their voting privileges restored after fully completing their sentences.
The Tarrant County case of Rosa Maria Ortega, a 37-year-old Grand Prairie mother of four who had a green card, drew national attention. Convicted of voting illegally, she received a sentence of eight years in prison for voting in the 2012 general election and the 2014 Republican primary runoff.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.