The Justice Department secured the first conviction this week in its hunt for the millions of non-citizens President Donald Trump has claimed voted illegally in 2016.
Italian citizen Alessandro Cannizzaro, 47 of North Carolina, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of voting by an alien. U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle sentence Cannizzaro to a $200 fine.
Cannizzaro, a registered Republican, passed a citizenship test in 2003 but officials never let him know when he could take his citizenship oath. That apparently led Cannizzaro to believe he was eligible to vote when his family headed to the polls in 2016.
“I never checked the status of me if I was okay to vote,” Cannizzaro said, according to HuffPost. “So I’m here today to take full responsibility, and I’m deeply sorry.”
Cannizzaro still wants to become naturalized, he told Boyle. But his guilty plea could put him at risk of deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — even though he has lived in the U.S. for 20 years, has a wife and two children here, and has no previous criminal record.
The government and Elliot Abrams, Cannizzaro’s lawyer, briefly disagreed over a 2005 letter in which the government says it asked Cannizzaro to be fingerprinted before he could become a citizen. Abrams said his client never received the letter and had tried to comply with all the naturalization requirements.
Boyle largely agreed with Cannizzaro and declined to impose probation, which the government asked for and Abrams agreed to.
“Well, I mean, his position in the case and in the law is what I would refer to as substantial compliance,” Boyle said. “I mean, he didn’t take the oath, but he’s probably unique ― maybe not ― but probably unique in the fact that he years ago pursued naturalization and apparently satisfied all the prerequisites to naturalization other than the administration of the oath, which would be materially different from somebody who just lied categorically about it.”
The case is one of 20 cases federal prosecutors have brought in North Carolina against non-citizens they claim voted illegally in 2016. It’s not clear whether the indictments are part of a larger push to prosecute non-citizen voters, like Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a close ally of President Donald Trump, has pursued in his state. But a group of Republican lawmakers praised the North Carolina effort in a letter to the Justice Department on Tuesday.
It’s likely that many of the defendants in those cases did not know they couldn’t legally vote, a HuffPost investigation found in August.
“I have a clean record,” one of the defendants told HuffPost on condition on anonymity. “I never hurt anybody. It’s pretty crazy… I’ve never been in trouble with the law or anything.”