The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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November 5, 2011

Illegal voting charge was 'a mistake'

MANKATO — The minute he heard the news, via a nervous phone call from his father, Raul Valdez says he knew a major mistake had been made. And that his life was about to take an unexpected turn.

“I never doubted it,” Raul Alejandro Valdez said.

He was charged with a felony last month for illegal voting. And as The Free Press does with many felony charges, the newspaper reported it.

But in the days that followed, the truth of Valdez’s situation has emerged: He didn’t do what has been alleged. When the court documents say he, a convicted sex offender, knowingly voted when he knew his voting rights had been revoked, it is in fact false. Law enforcement confirms that. And now the  Blue Earth County Attorney’s Office has dismissed the charges against Valdez.

Still, Valdez, as of mid-week, remained on record as facing felony charges in Blue Earth County District Court.

“It appears that a mistake was made,” said Capt. Rich Murry of the Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Department, who signed off on the complaint.

The investigator on the case was Jerry Billiar. In his report, which was forwarded to prosecutors, he concludes his investigation of Valdez’s case with this statement: “Valdez was not in violation when he voted on 11/04/2008.” Billiar’s report also lists the case’s status as “closed.”

That report was filed Aug. 17, 2010. Fourteen months later — and roughly one month before the statute of limitations would expire — Valdez was charged with a felony.

Assistant Blue Earth County Attorney Mike Hanson could not be reached for comment for this report. But in a voicemail left with a reporter he said, “(Valdez’s attorney Jim Fleming) had approached me about the case after I had filed it. He gave me some documents, I reviewed those and have filed a dismissal of the case.”

Before the dismissal, Valdez couldn’t understand what was taking so long.

“They are refusing to see the facts,” Valdez said. “I feel like I am being singled out.”

The case’s genesis is a colorful one.

In 2008, Valdez cast a vote in the presidential election. After the election, the county was given a list of names by a group that follows voting rules and infractions, a list of people they believed voted illegally. And it wasn’t just Blue Earth County. Such challenges took place across the state, and prosecutions occurred in several counties.

While The Free Press was unable to determine who gave the list to Blue Earth County, a group called Minnesota Majority is said to have been behind the filing of charges in a handful of counties including Ramsey, Hennepin and Beltrami. Minnesota Majority did not respond to attempts to contact them.

Minnesota Majority has been one of the major proponents behind the push to eliminate what it calls widespread voter fraud. In the months following the election, the Republican Party backed up the group’s claims.

Fleming said he saw the original article about Valdez’s illegal voting before he met Valdez. Days later, Valdez came into his office, told Fleming his story, and Fleming, an attorney with Maschka, Riedy and Ries, took the case pro bono.

He said that after reading the police reports, he dug into the rest of the documents pertaining to Valdez.

There are two sex crimes in Valdez’a past, both relating to the same victim. Valdez says it was a consenting relationship that he had when he was 18 with an underage girl. He was charged initially in 1994 when the relationship was discovered and again in 1995 when the girl became pregnant. By 2001, he had completed all terms of his sentence for those crimes but was still required to register as a sex offender.

In 2003, he failed to notify authorities of a change of address and was placed on probation. By August 2006, as per a letter from the Minnesota Department of Corrections, all of Valdez’s civil rights were restored.

Fast forward to the months following the 2008 election. Detective Billiar investigated the case, reviewed the previous crimes and the documentation of the restoration of Valdez’s civil rights, and requested no charges on the Valdez illegal voting investigation.

Fleming said he confronted Hanson of the County Attorney’s Office on these facts. He said he asked that they treat Valdez fairly. But, from Fleming’s perspective, it appeared that, even in the face of facts, there was a reluctance to see that a mistake was made.

“I like Mike. Mike does a good job,” Fleming said. “But I’m at a loss as to why we got here.”

Valdez, by the way, when he went to vote that day, cast his ballot for Republican candidate John McCain.

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