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'I was wrong,' Rus Thompson says during sentencing in voting case

It wasn't a perfect consensus but all sides seemed satisfied with how the voting fraud case against political activist John "Rus" Thompson concluded in State Supreme Court on Wednesday morning.

Thompson, 61, was sentenced to three years probation on his guilty plea to offering a false instrument for filing, a Class A misdemeanor.

Thompson, a longtime resident of Grand Island, had continued to vote in the town in 2015 after he had moved to Niagara Falls.

Thompson was arrested a year ago and faced felony charges of voter fraud. His attorney, Thomas Eoannou, has maintained from the beginning that Thompson, a vocal critic of  local government, was targeted for political reasons.

"It would be naive to think election-year politics did not influence this prosecution," Eoannou said Wednesday before sentencing, when he asked Justice Russell P. Buscaglia to consider a conditional discharge of the case.

But, Eoannou said, they were grateful that the new district attorney and the judge agreed to reduce the charges to a misdemeanor.

"(John) Flynn took the politics out of the equation and preserved Rus' right to vote," Eoannou said.

Thompson was more contrite.

"I realize I was wrong. I admitted my mistakes. Thank you," he told the judge.

Buscaglia took the middle ground.

He mentioned that one letter written on behalf of Thompson blamed the offense on a "clerical error." Evidence showed, however, that Thompson knew he had been removed from the Grand Island voting rolls and tried to vote there anyway.

"What you did was intentional. What you did was not a clerical error. You knew full well you were not entitled to vote on Grand Island," Buscaglia told Thompson.

The judge agreed that the district attorney was right to move the charges to misdemeanor level, but he also said he did not believe that Thompson's prosecution was politically motivated or frivolous.

"We all know voting is one of the most cherished rights guaranteed in the Constitution," Buscaglia said. "It is something that needs to be protected."

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