Texas

Illegal Texas voter ready to start prison sentence to ‘hopefully get back to her kids’

A Grand Prairie mother of four who drew national attention after a Tarrant County jury sentenced her to eight years in prison for illegally voting soon will head to prison.

Rosa Maria 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.

The Second Court of Appeals issued an opinion in November upholding the original conviction and sentence given to her.

“Ms. Ortega considered her options to move for rehearing or petition for discretionary review, and she decided to waive any further delay,” David Pearson, Ortega’s appellate attorney, said in an email to the Star-Telegram Tuesday. “She wants to get the sentence over with and hopefully get back to her kids.”

Ortega has been back in the Tarrant County Jail since Jan. 31 after her bond was ruled insufficient and a warrant issued for her arrest on Jan. 2. Court records show the bond had been ruled insufficient because Ortega allegedly failed a urine analysis test.

The Second Court of Appeals had issued a mandate Jan. 30, officially sending jurisdiction over the case back to the trial court and clearing the way for Ortega’s prison sentence to begin.

“The mandate was routine appellate procedure after the appeal was denied, and was expected,” Pearson said.

‘ICE hold’

Ortega will remain in the Tarrant County Jail until she can be transferred to a Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison. She is also being detained on an “ICE hold” by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, court records show.

Illegally voting is a second-degree felony, punishable by two to 20 years in prison. But Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office has noted that Ortega could be eligible for parole in less than a year.

Even so, officials have said she likely faces deportation after serving her sentence.

Voter fraud

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 said 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.’”

During the trial, prosecutors noted that Ortega illegally voted five times between 2004 and 2014, including in the 2014 Republican primary runoff.

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.

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For 23 years, Deanna Boyd has covered crime for the Star-Telegram. She digs deep into the stories behind the tragedies and hosts Out of the Cold, a podcast about unsolved murders in North Texas. She is a University of Texas at Austin graduate and has won several journalism awards through the years.
Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.
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