A Grand Prairie mother of four who drew national attention after a Tarrant County jury sentenced her to eight years in prison for illegal voting has lost her appeal.
The 2nd Court of Appeals this month upheld the original conviction and sentence of Rosa Maria Ortega.
“This case underscores the importance that Texans place on the institution of voting, and the hallowed principle that every citizen’s vote must count,” Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a written statement. “We will hold those accountable who falsely claim eligibility and purposely subvert the election process in Texas.”
Ortega, who was released from jail on an appeal bond a month after her 2017 conviction, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Calls to her appeals attorney, David Andrew Pearson; brother, Tony Ortega; and ex-fiance, Oscar Sherman, were not immediately returned.
And the attorney who represented her during the trial said he has lost touch with her.
“It has been two years,” said Clark Birdsall. “I don’t know where she is or what happened to her.”
Ortega, 39, could still file a petition for discretionary review with the Court of Criminal Appeals. It is not known whether she’ll be allowed to remain free on an appeal bond should she seek the review.
Voter fraud has been a longtime concern for Texas lawmakers, who have said that was part of the reason they passed a law requiring voters to show a photo ID when voting.
There have been several cases of voter fraud recently filed by the attorney general’s office in Tarrant County. Among them, an alleged “voter fraud ring” in Fort Worth that led to the indictment of four women: Leticia Sanchez, Leticia Sanchez Tepichin, Maria Solis and Laura Parra.
Ortega, who has a green card and isn’t a U.S. citizen, was convicted on two counts of illegal voting and sentenced to prison in February 2017. She was released on an appeal bond the next month.
Illegally voting is a second-degree felony, punishable by two to 20 years in prison. But Paxton’s office noted that she could be eligible for parole in less than a year.
Officials have said she likely faces deportation after serving her sentence.
“Prosecutors showed the jury proof that Ortega illegally registered to vote in 2002 and voted in four elections in Dallas County,” a statement from Paxton’s office stated. “The prosecutors established that when Ortega moved from Dallas County to Tarrant County in 2014, and correctly indicated she was not a U.S. citizen on her voting registration form, the county informed her in writing that she was ineligible to vote.
“Nevertheless, Ortega applied to vote again, this time falsely insisting she was a U.S. citizen. She illegally voted five times between 2004 and 2014.”
That included the 2014 Republican primary runoff.
During the trial, Ortega — a citizen of Mexico — testified that she believed she had the right to vote.
She told the Star-Telegram after her trial that she believed she was wrongly used as an example of voter fraud.
“I thought I was doing something right for my country,” she told the Star-Telegram from jail in 2017. “When they gave me the sentence, they just broke my heart, and they didn’t just break my heart, but I already knew my family was going to be broken, my kids especially.
“To me, it’s like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this. I just can’t.’ ”
Support for Ortega
Documents show that Ortega was brought to the United States as a baby and received a green card when she was a child, which does not mean she’s a United States citizen.
An investigation began after the state received reports that she had voted illegally.
Court records show that there have been some letters written to state District Judge Robb Catalano, who oversaw the original trial, by the general public on Ortega’s behalf.
Isaiah Marron of Washington wrote noting that it is important to “preserve integrity in American voting systems.”
“However, regarding the case of Rosa Ortega, there is no good reason for an 8 year sentence,” Marron’s letter stated. “Surely the mercy of God calls us to a far more reasonable, fitting response.”
Simon Han of Carrollton also weighed in on the ruling.
“It is clear to me that the punishment does not fit the crime,” Han wrote. “I urge you to let common sense and compassion speak louder than political posturing.
“A mother’s life and her children’s lives are at stake. For these reasons, I ask that you convert her prison sentence to probation through ‘shock probation.’”