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Profile: Yolanda Pena
Yolanda Pena was a participant or observer in the following events:
US Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico arranges for lawyer Patrick Rogers, a prominent Republican in the state, to meet with an FBI supervisory special agent assigned to work with Iglesias’s voter fraud task force (see September 7 - October 6, 2004).
Citation of 'Fraudulent' Registration - Rogers complains that large number of voter registration forms in the state are fraudulent and must be investigated. He cites the case of 13-year-old Kevin Stout, who received a voter registration card in the mail and apparently completed it. Police soon discovered that the card was the result of a forged voter registration form apparently filled out by Christine Gonzales, a former canvasser for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) who was being paid on a per-registration basis; that organization had identified Gonzales three months earlier, fired her, and reported her to the authorities. (Stout’s father is Republican activist Glen Stout, who contacted New Mexico Republicans before contacting law enforcement.) A federal judge refused Republican efforts to change the state registration laws in response to the ACORN issue, and as a result hundreds of presumably Democratic voters registered by ACORN retained their registrations. New Mexico Republicans are furious. Citing the Stout case, state Representative Joe Thompson (R-NM), who was one of the Republicans contacted by Glen Stout, displays Kevin Stout’s registration form to reporters and proclaims, “We have proof” of massive and systematic voter fraud in New Mexico. He announces a lawsuit he and Glen Stout will file against New Mexico’s Democratic Secretary of State, Rebecca Vigil-Giron. Rogers brings the Stout issue to Iglesias’s attention. Rogers’s colleague, lawyer and Republican activist Mickey Barnett, will later say that he and other Republicans hired a private investigator to identify and locate Gonzales, but the private investigator failed to find her.
Republicans Demand More Information on Voters before Elections - Four days later, Rogers tells Iglesias and Rumaldo Armijo, Iglesias’s executive assistant, in an email that because New Mexico Democrats are casting doubt on the validity of his voter-fraud claims, he wants to “dig up all past info” and asks if there is “any easy way to access the public info related to voter fraud from the [US Attorney’s Office] (public) files? Asap? Before Nov 2?” Rogers is referring to the date of the upcoming state and federal elections. (Barnett also sends emails demanding that Iglesias investigate the canvasser, whose identity he does not know.) Iglesias promises to look into Rogers’s request and “let you know what is publicly available.” Iglesias soon finds a case prosecuted in the early 1990s and provides Rogers with the public information about that case.
No Prosecutable Cases; Republicans Outraged - The FBI will later identify and interview Gonzales. Both Iglesias’s office and the Justice Department will find that there is insufficient evidence of criminal behavior in the matter to warrant her prosecution. Iglesias will later say that this case is the strongest one to come out of the entire task force’s proceedings, and even it does not meet the standard for criminal prosecution. New Mexico Republicans are frustrated, having intended to use the Gonzales case to further the Thompson/Stout lawsuit. Barnett complains that Iglesias “appoint[ed] a task force to investigate voter fraud instead of bringing charges against suspects.” Matt Henderson, ACORN’s lead organizer for New Mexico, tells reporters that the lawsuit is “no different from what was going on in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. This is about a set of people trying to stop another set of people from voting.” [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Atlas, 2010, pp. 214-216]
Allegations Collapse under Scrutiny - Even before Iglesias begins his investigation, the allegations of voter fraud had begun to unravel. Several voters admitted accidentally filling out two registration forms. A large majority of the 3,000 “suspect” forms, upon examination, actually showed legitimate attempts by citizens to register to vote. On September 7, a district judge dismissed the suit against Vigil-Giron. ACORN member Yolanda Pena told the press of attempts to make false claims of voter fraud, and showed the press a copy of Kevin Stout’s registration card—it appeared to have been filled out by a child, not an ACORN worker, and seemed to have been done as a prank and not as an attempt to fraudulently register a young boy. “Instead of taking responsibility for this boy’s prank,” Pena told reporters, “the Republicans used it to try to ram a lawsuit through the courts that would have made it harder for minority voters to vote.… We are delighted that [the Republicans] lost in court. Their dirty tricks are racist and un-American.” Another ACORN representative tells reporters that he cannot understand why Gonzales’s name is on Kevin Stout’s registration form, as he had already fired Gonzales for altering other canvassers’ cards to falsely claim credit for having voters fill them out. Gonzales could not have helped Stout fill out his card or filled it out on his behalf.
Lawsuit in Response - New Mexico Republicans were enraged at the suit’s dismissal and the ACORN press conferences, and attempted to file a criminal suit against Henderson, alleging that he had broken the law by keeping photocopies of submitted registration forms. (In 2000, Henderson and ACORN chapters in New Mexico had indeed kept such photocopies. At the time, that was a legal practice. Since then, the law has been changed and ACORN, like other voter-registration groups, has ceased keeping those forms. Rogers will also insist that Iglesias file felony charges against Gonzales.) New Mexico Republicans will demand that Iglesias aggressively investigate Henderson and ACORN, charging Henderson with “perjury” and “suspect” practices (see September 23 - October 2004). Iglesias will later say of Gonzales, “It appeared that she was just doing it for the money.” [Atlas, 2010, pp. 215-216]
'Gin Up Voter Fraud Publicity' - In 2008, Iglesias will tell reporters that even though he found no evidence of voter fraud, he was ordered by the White House to, the reporters will write, “illegally prosecute baseless cases against innocent citizens, just to gin up voter fraud publicity.” Iglesias will say, “We took over 100 complaints” from New Mexico Republicans. “We investigated for almost two years, I didn’t find one prosecutable voter fraud case in the entire state of New Mexico.” Iglesias will blame his refusal to prosecute those cases for his 2006 firing (see December 7, 2006). “They were looking for politicized—for improperly politicized US Attorneys to file bogus voter fraud cases,” he will say. [Huffington Post, 10/28/2008]
Entity Tags: Joe Thompson, David C. Iglesias, Christine Gonzales, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Glen Stout, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Yolanda Pena, Rumaldo Armijo, Patrick Rogers, US Department of Justice, Matt Henderson, Kevin Stout, Mickey Barnett, Rebecca Vigil-Giron
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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