Fort Worth

Woman at center of illegal voting case headed to federal prison for parole violation

A Texas woman sentenced to five years in prison for illegal voting will now have to leave her children again for almost a year and return to federal prison.

Crystal Mason, 43, of Rendon, who was convicted in state court in March of illegal voting, was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison Thursday for violating the terms of her parole that were issued in a 2011 tax fraud case.

She was also given two years and two months of probation in the case. Mason has two weeks to get her affairs in order before reporting to federal prison to begin her sentence, U.S. District Judge John McBryde ruled on Thursday.

McBryde recited a litany of Mason’s past crimes that went back to when she was 17 that the court considered before rendering its sentence.

Mason’s attorney, Alison Grinter, said her client’s past behavior has nothing to do with the case at hand.

“This is really about whether someone can be rehabilitated,” Grinter said outside the courthouse. “We are deeply disheartened that Mason is returning to prison for voting in the 2016 presidential election. The federal government has stepped over the state. But we’re grateful that the attorney for the government agreed to allow her to spend two weeks with her kids.”

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From left: Attorney Alison Grinter, minister Dominique Alexander, attorney Kim T. Cole, and attorney Justin Moore talk to the media after Crystal Mason, 43, who was convicted in state court in March of illegal voting, was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison Thursday for violating the terms of her parole in a fraud case. Mason hearing was at the Eldon B. Mahon U.S. Courthouse in Fort Worth, TX, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. Max Faulkner

McBryde said that Mason pleaded guilty to committing a huge fraud against the federal government, and prepared more than thousands of income tax returns that contained false information for her clients. Mason was ordered to pay more than $4.2 million in restitution and was in default on her payments, McBryde said.

“That offense combined with other criminal conduct is in itself disturbing,” McBryde said.

But McBryde went on.

At 17, Mason attempted to set fire to a structure and was given deferred adjudication probation, which she violated, McBryde said. Mason’s probationary term had to be extended two times, according to McBryde.

“That had the potential to cause a great deal of harm,” McBryde said about Mason’s act of arson.

Mason was also given probation in forgery by possession of a check with intent to pass and tampering with government record cases, McBryde said. Then McBryde told Mason he was going to give her a break.

“In this case a two-year sentence is available,” McBryde said. “I will give the defendant the benefit of the doubt and sentence her to 10 months imprisonment and 26 months probation.”

McBryde also said that he instructed Mason during her sentencing in the tax fraud case that she may be stripped of some of her civil rights, which included voting in elections. McBryde also ruled during the hearing that the federal government was not obligated to await the conclusion of the appellate process in Mason’s illegal voting case.

The conviction in state court is sufficient, McBryde said.

Grinter asked McBryde to consider alternatives to prison, including house arrest and sending Mason to a halfway house, but the judge said the defendant had to go to prison. Mason has no way to appeal McBryde’s decision and was fortunate that the federal prosecutor did not challenge the request to have some time before she was ordered to report to federal prison, Grinter said.

“The idea is that you walk in and never walk out,” Grinter said.

No appeal for revocation

Mason was found guilty in March of casting an illegal ballot in the 2016 presidential race and was sentenced to five years in prison.

A jury found that Mason cast that ballot while she was serving out her term of supervised release, the federal government’s equivalent of parole from prison.

Mason was sentenced to five years in federal prison in 2012 after pleading guilty to one count of conspiring to defraud the federal government.

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Crystal Mason, 43, of Rendon, who was convicted in state court in March of illegal voting, was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018, for violating the terms of her parole in a fraud case. Mason is exiting the Eldon B. Mahon U.S. Courthouse in Fort Worth, TX, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. Max Faulkner

Mason served more than three years in federal prison on that fraud sentence and has 11 months remaining on her term of supervised release.

If Mason’s appeal is eventually successful and her conviction is overturned by a higher court, no judge can refund the prison time she will spend after her term of supervised release is revoked, her attorneys said.

If the state appeal is not successful, Mason would also have to serve the state’s five-year sentence.

In June, her motion for a new trial in the illegal voting case was denied by State District Judge Ruben Gonzales, who issued the original sentence.

Prison for illegal voters rare

Most people convicted of illegal voting do not go to prison, according to records obtained from the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

Of the prosecutions of 366 counts of illegal voting or other voting irregularities that were resolved and reported to the attorney general’s office between 2005 and April 26, 2018, only nine people have received prison sentences, according to Texas Attorney General Office records.

The longest prison sentence reported was eight years and was handed down to Rosa Maria Ortega.

Ortega’s case is pending in the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth and there has been no indication from the court as to when a decision might be forthcoming, according to Ortega’s appellate attorney, David Pearson.

Ortega is free on bond. Clark Birdsall, the attorney in her illegal voting trial, speculates that she may no longer be in the United States.

Birdsall stressed that Ortega’s location was speculation on his part.

“Ortega is facing an eight-year sentence and a lengthy prison term and deportation afterward to Mexico,” Birdsall said. “If I’m Ms. Ortega why would I wait around for a Texas Department of Criminal Justice tour before heading to Mexico.”

When Pearson was asked about Ortega’s location or when he last spoke with her, he said that information was protected by attorney-client privilege and not releasable.

In Mason’s case, her attorneys saved most of their ire for Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson, who they said had the most discretion as to what cases should be prosecuted.

Kim Cole, one of Mason’s attorneys, contends that because of Wilson’s prosecutorial over-reach, Mason is headed to prison in two weeks after being convicted in a trial where prosecutors failed to prove their case.

“This is akin to a public lynching,” Cole said.

The prosecutor who tried the case, Matt Smid, disagreed with that assessment.

“The DA’s office has said that we will not apologize for enforcing the laws of the State of Texas. It is against state law for a person on federal supervised release to vote in Texas,” said Smid, chief of the White Collar Crime and Public Integrity Unit of the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office. “We believe it is not an ‘accidental vote’ when the voter drives herself to the polling place and votes after signing a warning against illegal voting and after being warned not to vote by her defense attorney. That is why the state judge found her guilty and the federal judge revoked her supervised release today.”

But Wilson’s opponent in the upcoming race for the Tarrant County district attorney’s position, Albert Roberts, called the outcome of Thursday’s hearing unfortunate.

“We encourage people to vote and when they do, they are incarcerated,” Roberts said.

Mitch Mitchell: 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3

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